Colorado couple show the exotic breed, take them to petting zoos and use them as therapy animals in nursing homes
DENVER, Colo. — When visitors pass through the barns at the National Western Stock Show, many skid to a halt when they pass the miniature Zebu section.
They stop, stare and then whip out their phones to get a photo of the little horned cattle that stare back passively from big brown eyes with fluttering eyelashes.
“We were talking about how many thousands of people have pictures of our cattle on their cellphones,” said Will Hughes, who has owned Zebus since 2015.
There are 76 strains of Zebu, and the miniatures are part of that family.
Originally from Indonesia and India, this strain of Zebu is naturally miniature, standing a maximum of 42 inches behind a prominent hump on the neck. The bulls reach about 450 pounds while the calves are less than 20 lb. at birth. They have black, red, grey and salt and pepper coats. Many have horns that poke out at any angle.
They have coffin-shaped heads, large dewlaps to dissipate the heat and a small hump on the neck.
They were introduced to the United States at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and since then have proliferated in small pockets around the southern half of the country.
“We have Americanized the Zebu in the United States. They look completely different than the cattle in India,” said Hughes.
He and his wife, Julie, first saw them at the Colorado State fair and were attracted to the little hump-backed cattle that had a reputation for docility.
“My wife and I are not farmers. We grew up as city folk and lived in a residential area,” he said.
They bought some land and added the cattle to the property, partly to keep the grass under control. They were also looking for a hobby so they show them, take them to petting zoos and have introduced them as therapy animals at nursing homes.
“It is a hobby that turned into a full-time job,” said Julie.
Will works for the state of Colorado as an IT manager, while Julie is in the medical field.
The local junior hockey team in their hometown of Pueblo, Colorado, adopted one of their bulls as a live mascot. He walks out on the ice during home games’ opening ceremonies under a spotlight before the puck is dropped.
They are also working with the state 4-H program to introduce miniature Zebu as an alternative cattle project because they are smaller and easier for young child-ren to handle.
There are two breed registries — the American Miniature Zebu Association and the International Miniature Zebu Association — with several hundred members, as well as a national miniature Zebu club.