If you mess with the bull at Locust Knoll Farm in Clermont County, you can guess the outcome.
“But when they come up to your hips, it’s not quite as terrifying,” said farm owner Kristina Sanders.
Her herd of pint-size bovines – they’re about one-fourth as large as conventional cattle – have been scaled down through selective breeding. The miniature cows produce annual offspring that are sold to learning farms or to those who simply want the animal interaction without going face to face with 1,000 pounds of beef.
“I think our farm appeals more to a fantasy of what a farm is as opposed to what most working farms really are,” Sanders said.
There’s no doubt that her animals are better suited to decorate a pasture than to be featured at a summer barbeque. Although Sanders says she’s found she shares a similar attitude toward her animals as the region’s commercial cattlemen.
“They really love (their) cows,” she observed.
It was memories from visits to a family farm as a child that initially drove Sanders to a Brown Swiss steer named Franke.
“I always loved the country and I loved the smell of the barn,” she said.
Franke had little to contribute to the nearby dairy farm where he was born, but Sanders thought he’d be a good addition to the 15 acres she had just purchased.
“I put him in the back of my brand new Volvo station wagon,” she recalled.
But at 7 feet tall, Franke grew to be too big for comfort for some of the farm’s visitors. Sanders said the only thing to fear is his slobber. Nonetheless, she sought out a “more reasonably sized” animal. That’s when she got wind of miniature cows out West that had been bred for children’s rodeos.
The animals turned out to be a perfect fit for her farm and a growing customer base of small acreage landowners looking to preserve a piece of their agricultural heritage.
Living with livestock
For anyone new to raising farm animals, there is a learning curve.
Roger High, an Ohio State Extension sheep specialist, said there are several important considerations when bringing home farm animals for the first time.
“Water may be the most important thing,” he said.
Farm animals consume a lot of it and hoses simply don’t work in the winter.
“You can only carry so much water,” he said.
Other considerations include shelter, fencing, available time and the individual needs of a particular species.
“Know where to ask questions and don’t be afraid to go to educational programs,” he said.
A local Extension office is often the best resource, according to High, but Ohio State University also has state specialists dedicated to different types of animals.
High also said that the No. 1 cost for livestock is feed.
“You might have to purchase hay; you’re probably going to have to purchase grains,” he said. “We generally would expect that 70 to 75 percent of costs is going to be feed costs.”
Sanders said that the hardest lesson she has learned is that if an animal gets hurt it’s usually because of human error. For example, animals won’t see a rusty wire or a protruding nail and hay that has become moldy can cause illness. Sanders also has learned to be adaptable.
When it’s time to deliver an animal to a customer, it goes in the back of the Jeep or in the minivan and “away we go,” she said. And for those who pull up behind her at a red light, “it’s always hysterical because there’s a cow looking out the back window.”
While stopping at a campsite during a cross-country delivery, she and her husband shared a two-room tent with a cow after the animal began to bellow when it was tethered outside.
“Camping with a cow was pretty comical,” she admits.
Sanders is glad to see a growing interest in livestock, even if it is at the hobby level, because it is helping to keep land in agriculture.
“I’m hoping to preserve that rural dream and fantasy that everybody has,” she said.