This week we profile one of the planet’s oldest and smallest breed of cow, The Miniature Zebu. The breed dates back as far as 3000 BC, making it the world’s oldest cow breed and stands at just three and a half feet tall.
The miniature zebu dates back thousands of years. It first found home on the coast of Southern India, where the climate enabled the animal to develop a tolerance to high temperatures.
It is thought that the breed originated from Southern India and also Sri Lanka.
It is thought that the breed remained small due to it’s original surroundings, with smaller animals better suited to living in a group of islands such as Sri Lanka. These closed environments led to a series of inbreeding which caused the side-effect of stunted growth. The breed are often referred to as Nadudana in India, which means small cattle. It is thought they are descendents of the Indian Auroch, like most other zebu cattle breeds. They are also thought to be part descendents of the Sanga cattle breed.
It was back in 1991 when things started changing in the world of Miniature Zebu Cattle in America. An International Miniature Zebu Association was formed in that year and this organization was created by 29 Miniature Zebu owners and other people interested in the miniature breed. That year a survey was carried out and found 50 Miniature Zebu breeders who had a total of 118 bulls and 289 cows. It also found a further 23 zoos who had a total of 25 bulls and 42 cows. Today reports suggest that there are over 177 breeders of Miniature Zebu Cattle in the United States, with exact numbers of the breed unknown.
One of the first known and reported sightings of the breed in America was at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
They are well known for their ability to withstand high temperatures. They have developed this through years of living in warm climates. They also have a higher tolerance to insect attacks, than their European relatives. These traits are obtained from their highly active sub-dermal twitching muscles and sweat glands.
Bulls are usually larger than females. Bulls can reach weights as high as 275 kgs, while cow weights vary from 136 to 180 kgs. Most animals are under 42 inches at time of full maturity, meaning they are at maximum three and a half feet tall. It takes a Miniature Zebu almost three years to reach full development. Newborn calves usually weigh between 8 and 10kgs, measuring up to 18 inches when born, whilst they are approximately 45 kgs upon weaning.
The come in a range of colours, from black to spotted red . Bulls are usually darker colours than their female counterparts. Bulls are widely known to have a well developed black shaded hump on their backs, similar to the Brahman breed. They have erect ears which are not droopy but pointed, while they also have medium sized horns that point up or sweep back. Both male and females have a dewlap, as well as a hump on their shoulders.
Why Miniature Zebu:
The zebu would not be a breed best matched to beef production. Therefore their use would be more associated with zoological gardens, breeding farms, shows, junior rodeos in the US, milk production and even as pets.
They are used for milk production due to the high yields they can produce. An average cow can produce up to a gallon of milk per day, which is heavily rich in butterfats. The breed is not suited to beef production, due to their low carcass yield of 30%.
They are becoming popular in arid regions though, due to their durability and ability to cope with high heats. They require little to no space and they also require very little care. They can easily adapt to most climates, having resided in the most testing of climates.
Small, durable and the oldest breed of bovine in existence. The Miniature Zebu has been around for thousands of years already and it surely will be around for thousands more.