NEW YORK – Your next pet might go "moo," not "meow."
Tiny cows could be the next big thing in household animal companions. And that's no load of bull.
"They're almost like a dog, but they don't jump on you," miniature-cattle rancher Dustin Pillard said.
Pillard has been the most visible of the nation's ranchers of miniature cattle, touting the little creatures as the newest exotic pet.
Whereas a normal-sized cow stands 5 to 6 feet tall at the shoulder and averages 1,500 pounds — and about twice that for bulls — Pillard's cattle stand only 33 to 40 inches high and weigh a relatively light 300 to 500 pounds.
They're the descendants of Zebu cattle, a distinct breed of small cows from southern India. In the 1920s, a handful of the creatures were shipped to the United States and placed in zoos. Nowadays, though still relatively rare, miniature cows have made it onto commercial farms. The next step, Pillard says, is introducing them into people's homes.
A firefighter by trade, Pillard began raising cows 10 years ago, hoping that the cows, at $1,000 and up, would appeal to rodeo fans.
"Rodeo's really caught on in the last few years," he said. "These cattle are for someone who likes going to rodeos to see the rodeo bulls and wants something that looks like one but is the size of a small dog."
Miniature-cattle rancher Ralph Sowers has been breeding his animals so tiny over the last 20 years that the idea of dog-sized cattle might not be an exaggeration in a few generations.
"They're getting still smaller yet," the Ft. Bragg, Calif., herdsman said. "I want to get them down to 30 inches or less."
Pillard keeps 20 adults on a mere 10-and-a-half acres in his Rockwell, Iowa, farm.
They come in the same colors regular cows do, but best of all, they're lovable, Pillard said.
"They're really mellow like a dog. They like to be brushed and are very sociable — they will come if you call them," he said.
Sowers said the cows love people — and that the feeling is mutual. He's had buyers take the li’l animals back to homes from Florida to Hawaii.
"They're real people-oriented animals," Sowers said. "They have a wonderful disposition. And I found that there's a lot of people who want little cows for pets."
They can also be taught tricks. One man trained one of his cows to lie down while another one leaps over it, Pillard said.
"Cattle are smarter than people think," he said.
And cheaper. Pillar said it costs only about $30 a month to keep a mini cow in hay in winter. In the summer, as long as you've got grass in the yard, your cow will feed itself for free —and keep your lawn trimmed.
But don't count on having your little bovine friend curling up at your feet like a cat or dog: Miniature cows are not indoor animals.
"They don't take up a lot of room, but they're still large animals and still weigh quite a bit," Pillard said. "I don't know if they could be housetrained."
There are, however, a couple of pretty impressive benefits to miniature cows that even a cuddly puppy can't match.
"They can produce up to two gallons of milk a day, just enough for a small family to meet their needs as far as milk goes," Pillard said.
And if the relationship doesn't work out, there's always a very practical out: Miniature cows make nice, juicy 8 oz. steaks.
"A lot of people prefer the smaller cuts," Pillard said. "And they're actually pretty lean animals."