Rachel and Kevin Naumann take their kids, Hudson, 7, and Smith, 3, to visit the mini Highland cattle they are raising on their K + R Ranch in Spicewood. Staff photo by David Bean
Drivers heading to a distillery and winery on Burnet County Road 408 South in Spicewood often slam on their brakes as they pass K + R Ranch. Some jump out of their vehicles to get a closer look at the mini Highland cattle that Rachel and Kevin Naumann began raising last summer.
“It’s an art,” Rachel said of the family’s latest ranching endeavor.
The Naumann family has been raising cattle on their land on either side of CR 408 South for 150 years. Rachel and Kevin currently have two dairy cows, a handful of Angus, chickens, and, most recently acquired, eight mini Highlands, a herd they want to expand.
“We still have the boring cows,” said Kevin, referring to the Angus. “But we saw these and thought they were pretty interesting.”
Miniature Highland cows are native to the Scottish Highlands and known for their diminutive size and the shaggy fringe that covers their face and eyes. Despite their predilection for cold mountain air and lush pastures, they fare well in the hot and often arid Texas Hill Country clime.
“They are one of the most resilient breeds,” Kevin said. “They shed their coats when it gets hot, and we brush them a lot, especially in the summer. They shed and they stand in the stock tanks a lot to cool off.”
Sometimes called pasture puppies or mini moos, these boutique cows grow no bigger than 36-48 inches tall at the hip. A regular, full-grown cow is usually around 62 inches at the hip. The minis max out at about 800 pounds compared to the average weight of mature Hereford, which is around 1,400 pounds.
The goal in raising minis is to breed them small, which requires specific knowledge.
“There’s a lot of science — genetics — involved,” Kevin said. “We’ve been very intentional in the way we are designing the herd.”
The key is to breed cows that have the bovine chondrodysplasia gene (chondro positive), with cows that don’t have that particular gene (chondro negative). The chondro gene creates shortened legs, but breeding two positives can be fatal for the calves. The Naumanns have two chondro-positive bulls, so they have to be sure to buy only chondro-negative cows.
Three female members of the herd are already pregnant.
“It’s super interesting to learn about it,” Kevin said. “It’s exciting to be part of the front end of something that’s going to be growing.”
The couple works with their two sons, Hudson, 7, and Smith, 3, on the family ranch as well as with each other at the Highland Lakes Crisis Network: Kevin is the executive director and Rachel the operations director. Kevin is also president of the Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Taking care of the minis is their stress relief.
“The goal for us is to have family activities that we love to do,” said Kevin about raising mini Highlands. “And maybe make some money, too.”
The market for minis is getting bigger, whether as livestock or pets.
“The market for them is mostly people buying them as pets,” Rachel said. “We look at them as livestock, but we also love them as pets.”
Minis are growing in popularity as ranches shrink, Kevin added.
“People want to have cows and agricultural tax exemptions,” he said. “People with 10 acres even can have several cows on their land.”
The Naumanns have both massive and mini cows. The minis are kept on 75 acres of the family spread on the eastern side of the county road. The family has another 200 acres on the western side of the road, where most of the bigger cows are kept. Kevin and Rachel sell eggs and might soon be selling milk and meat from the mini moos.
“I hear it’s good beef, leaner than most,” Kevin said. “It’s one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world, so people have eaten them for a long time.”
Mixing the livestock business with pets might turn out to be emotionally trying, especially since the Naumanns are naming their animals after family members.
“We talk about them like humans because they have names,” Rachel said.
Hudson, the 7-year-old, is so attached to the animals that he had a Highland cows birthday party with cow cookies (not to be confused with cow patties).
Selling Louie, Lloyd, Lucille, Maybel, Jolene, Alamarene, Charlene, or Isa may be hard, whether as pets or products.
“It will be sad,” Kevin said. “It’s sad even when we sell the big cows. Even I get attached to them, but it’s all part of life. You have to learn these life lessons.”
Naming the herd after family members is as intentional as the breeding techniques for size, color, and durability.
“We wouldn’t be doing this without our family, so we choose to let them live on through this,” Kevin said.
Fortunately, they have a big family.
“We have a lot more names in the pipeline to use,” he said.
Skinny on the minis
Here are a few fun facts about mini Highland cattle, a growing tiny breed on shrinking ranches.
The hair of a mini Highland is called the dossen and protects its face from wind, rain, sleet, and snow in the winter and sun and pests in the summer.
Both cows and bulls have horns, but the bull’s horns have a wider base and tend to point downward. Cow horns point upward.
Coats grow in two layers: an undercoat and an oily outer coat. The animals shed as the weather warms up.
Already docile and calm, minis become even more so with frequent human interaction.
One mini Highland needs only one-half to one acre of grass to thrive. A half-acre is fine if its diet includes supplemental grain.
Minis need friends. They get along well with other cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and dogs.
Each mini can cost between $1,800 to $3,500 or more. You have to be on a wait list to get one. They are in high demand and often sold before they are born.