Ask Patti Seeley about her mini-cows and her eyes light up with excitement.
There's a great future for her miniature Lowline Angus cattle, she believes, as the industry takes a closer look at these smaller replicas of standard Angus cattle.
With a background in agriculture, Seeley wanted to put her knowledge to good use when she moved to her current operation near Crockett.
"When I woke up to the fact that I needed to do something again, I looked around. My degree specialized in cattle," Seeley says. "I wanted to get back to cattle. But I was alone, and I didn't want something that was going to go screwy and hurt me."
Seeley started investigating her options and discovered miniature cattle. She started first with a miniature Jersey/Zebu cross.
"When I found Lowline Angus, miniature Angus, I went Bingo!" she said. "So to start off I got a bull and put them on the Jersey/Zebu cross. When I saw the calves and the heterosis that resulted, I said, `Wow, this is incredible!'" Lowline Angus have a breed registry of their own, and Seeley was sold on the miniature cattle's potential. She has made it her mission to convince the world.
"What I've found with the breed is a number of things," she says. "The docility factor. I've been with them since 2000, and I haven't been kicked, stomped or threatened by anything. I can go to any momma with a new calf, pick that calf up and stick it under them without a problem. I can pick up the calves. Birth weight is 35 to 45 pounds."
Seeley finds no need for working chutes. The miniatures don't destroy fences. "Then I realized the meat is incredible. They have a seven and eight inch ribeye—perfect restaurant size," she says. "The meat's very low backfat, but very marbled inside for tenderness and flavor." Seeley raises only organic, grassfed cattle, and she's found the Lowline's consistency in genetics to be a big plus.
"There's so much going on in grassfed right now that I compare it to grapes," she says. "If you do not have this kind of grape, you will not produce that kind of taste. A Pinot Noir...you need a Pinot Noir to produce a Pinot Noir. You can't just throw a bunch of stuff together and get the same taste. I believe that's a lot of it right there."
Admittedly, Seeley is in the seed-stock business and runs mainly fullblood Lowlines. The breed was established at the Trangie Research Center in Australia to provide quality seedstock to the Australian cattle industry. The foundation stock was purchased from the famous Glencarnock herd in Brandon, Canada. The last outside introduction into the Australian herd was in 1964. From thereon, the herd remained totally closed until 1993, when the herd was dispersed. Seeley's registered full-bloods are descendents from the original herd.
A fullblood Lowline bull stands 38 inches at the hip, and weighs around 1,200 pounds. A cow is anywhere from 500 to 700 pounds. "I can put two or three of these on the same ground as a regular cow," Seeley says. Although she slaughters few calves, she sees a promising future for the cattle.
"If you have a 1,200 pound steer, I can put two of mine on the same ground. When that 1,200 pound steer is slaughtered, there's about 800 pounds of meat," she explains. "I have a little better cutout on the miniatures. I've been getting 430 to 500 pounds on my carcasses, hanging weight. So when I finish, I have two animals and double the steaks."
Seeley sells most of her cattle as seedstock. A fullblood bull runs around $3,500. Heifers start at $5,000, and the "prices are going up because the demand is sky high," she says. Most of her customers, Seeley says, are people with small acreages. "I'm finding my clients are 50 years and above. They're close to retirement or retired. They have small acreages, anywhere from 12 to 60 acres is average. They want to make some money with them, but they also want an ag exemption on their land. And, you've got to admit, they're darn cute to look at. They really enjoy just seeing them out in the pasture."
Her vision is to populate the world with miniature cattle, and to that end she has developed a miniature Brangus for southern states and countries. "They do exactly as they're supposed to. They're parasite resistant, they stand out in 100 degree weather, eating," she says. "And they're gentle and the meat's good." She's also interested in breeding miniature dairy animals and dual purpose breeds for small countries like Cuba, "that need to get back on their feet."
So is there a demand for the miniature cattle beef? Seeley's quick to say yes. "There's a restaurant in Idaho that's selling Lowline meat, and it's considered a gourmet item," she says. "People are coming from all over. I was asked this year by the Texas Organic Gardners and Farmers Association to supply 400 steaks. I couldn't do it. I probably couldn't do it in the whole country." Seeley says her East Texas neighbors were skeptical when she first started raising the miniatures.
Now, she says, there's growing acceptance. "The first thing that happens is they go, `Well that figures, you're a woman. You're crazy,'" she relates. "And then they see how many I've sold, and for some of the prices."