Monday, March 10, 2008

Happy Mountain Panda Mini Cattle


To find the last cattle ranch in Covington Washington you have to drive into — not through a huge suburban development. Happy Mountain Mini Cattle’s six acre “ranch” is surrounded-- tucking themselves in on over 30 acres, Dick and his wife Arlene and family are the last vestiges of rural farm life in Kent Washington.

This farm is small by design. Dick and Arlene grow mini cattle-- and have been growing their own small cattle for over 30 years.

How did he start farming? "My wife said-- I grew up on a farm in Snohomish County-- and I want our kids to grow up on a farm, too." She wanted the farm as context for learning how to work.

"We started the industry-- with hereforts and angus. We lasted a few years at another farm near here. Then finally we got taxed out. We started selling five acre lots off when we need to-- finally ended up with just 5 acres -- and decided it was time to move here."

I can tell you that all it took to get this farm with our mini cattle was a trip to England. They have over 850 breeds of cattle over there. And they aren't big cows. They don't have the room. And there they were --
we found original stock for the mini cattle we grow."
"Did you know why? Well it was really a practical matter. The cattle in England were grown on small lots-- no more than 5 acres. So having small animals was really livestock efficient."

And this is our niche business. We started with small cows-- different breeding techniques to get smaller and smaller cattle.

Why does Dick and Arlene's trademarked Mini cattle look so different from the cattle we call American Angus and Herefords?

“Well-- the American Cattle started with the same stock that came from England -- short cows. But instead of keeping the cows small-- cattle breeders made them bigger and bigger.

Cattle here in America could get bigger and bigger because we didn't have to be so concerned about feed- it was subsidized with public grazing rights across the West.

After WWII -- beef producers realized they had an opportunity to feed all these new veterans returning from the war-- and making babies.

But America is changing again. People are living in smaller and smaller spaces. And there is growing concern about the harm caused by cattle overgrazing America's public lands run by BLM and Forest Service.

Now America is beginning to look and feel like England -- with higher density and less space to grow livestock.

So mini cattle make sense for more people today.”

Dick knows his business. “There are 6 niche markets for our mini cattle:

1. Breeders
2. Show
3. Minimilker
4. Pet
5. Organic Beef
6. Farm grown grass fed beef

So far we've developed 18 breeds. And we're involved in marketing and selling semen, embryos, breeding stock-- everything you'd see with the bigger American cattle.

There was no registry for our mini cattle. So we started "International Cattle Breeder Registry" to establish Animal pedigrees. We now have over 34,000 registered worldwide.

Today we have the largest website for cattle.

And probably the smallest parcel of land. Six acres we own -- and we lease the rest from Puget Power & Light. So we have 36 acres to work.

The power company doesn't want to develop it. So we keep some of it fenced off and wild -- as a buffer.

But here we have all this land and little cattle-- almost 50 here today-- with different breeds.”

What practices do you keep to mitigate mud and manure?

"Well-- we have smaller hoof size -- and they are gentler on the land as a result. The impact on the pasture is less when you see the mini cattle. We have some mud in the feeding area but otherwise significantly more feed efficient. There is also less damage to trees, and because the mini cattle are lighter impacts on the ground we see more wildlife and more species. We don't have any big herds."

We've taken some pasture and fenced it off so no one gets in but wildlife. We have deer. opposums. squirrels, coyotes, blue birds, blue jays, hawks and eagles. Because we have three areas set aside for wildlife, we have quite a nice buffer for them in the midst of this big suburb.

How much do animals eat and poop? Where does the land drain to? What do you eat?

Dick said "They're all pets. Sell when 4 months of age. We deliver our mini cattle all over the world."

“ I don't have an exact measure of how much they poop. But we scoop up all the manure -- once or twice a day. Composts over there on the hill when it gets to be a pile 12 feet high we move it out over in back and let it sit for 2 years.

It is great for flowers- and we get master gardeners coming by to dig it up and carry home.”


Three generations growing cattle.

“Our son Mike and and daughter Michele run Happy Mountain Cattle Ranch every day now. And my grandson is helping out when he is not in college. He is learning business right now and working with his Dad.” Said the proud Grandfather.

Dick has worked as a college professor at Highline CC-- teaching entrepeneurship, salesmanship, and how to start a business. He taught for 34 years, juggling the ranch and mini cattle with his wife and raising a family. And he started 16 different businesses!

His business background and teaching has helped Dick protect his work-- he has trademarked all his brands of mini cattle. coming up with products that no one else has in the world.

Where is he headed with the little cattle business? “We hope to keep it in the family-- and have the grandchildren celebrate a third generation of mini cattle.”

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