Downsizing Livestock with Mini-Cattle

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The other day, the Los Angeles Times did a story on the increasing number of ranchers and farmers raising miniature cattle to cut costs and produce meat and milk more efficiently.

These cows average 500 to 700 pounds, about half the weight of their full-figured counterparts, but they are not genetically engineered freaks. Rather, the article says, they are drawn from the original smaller breeds brought to the United States in the 1800s. Today's bovine behemoths were bred in the 1950s and '60s, when farmers were more concerned with getting more meat than using feed and grasslands efficiently.

It sounds sensible. The animals eat less in proportion to the amount of meat and milk they produce, so they give the farmers more bang for their buck. And because they require less land for grazing and producing feed (and, as a farmer in the article notes, produce less methane), they might also be kinder to the environment. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, "the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent—18 percent—than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation."

But, I wonder, are these tiny Herefords and Anguses too adorable to eat? I'm probably not the best person to ask, since I haven't had a bite of beef since 1987—like my co-blogger Amanda, I turned vegetarian in my teens, though I have gradually, and selectively, added some meat back into my diet. The reasons I avoid beef are many, but I'm sure cuteness factors into it. I feel a lot less guilt about eating a cod than a furry animal with big, sad eyes. And the only thing cuter than a big, furry animal is a wee version of a big, furry animal.

People like me are the reason People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched its recent campaign to rename fish as "sea kittens." I must admit, it hasn't worked on me yet, and I'm pretty much their target audience. Surely, they'll have an even tougher time convincing the kind of people the fast-food chain Jack in the Box was going after with its commercial for mini sirloin burgers, which features "cows the size of schnauzers."

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