BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) She was a heifer barely waist high from the pastures of Silverton, Oregon, but Mae had the sparkle of a beauty pageant queen as a crew of extras powdered her flanks and shaved the peach fuzz from her hocks.
Rhinestoned cowgirls ran around getting ready to show. The groomer's boom box played "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey. "Just a small town girl / living in a lonely world" became an anthem for mini Herefords prepping Tuesday for the Northern International Livestock Exposition. Mae's game face was on.
Miniature Herefords are what the Hereford breed resembled before ranchers began pairing up larger stock to boost breed size, said Alyssa DuVal, of DuVal Farms. Mae is one of DuVal's, brought to Billings with livestock from three other ranches in what the traveling companions like to call a "cowavan." You can look at the historical photos on display at MetraPark and see the transformation to larger animals.
"I started showing them as an FFA project. They were easier to handle," DuVal told The Billings Gazette . Those FFA project cattle quickly became the norm at DuVal Farm, where Alyssa's father, Jerry, had grown tired of selling cows a half or quarter at a time to local customers who didn't have the space or the appetite to chew through an entire bovine in a year.
"One miniature Hereford is enough beef to feed an average family of four for a year," Alyssa DuVal said.
The minis also tend to produce more beef from an acre of pasture than conventional cattle. But there aren't many ranches in the mini Hereford business, only about 500 in the breed's association. The animals come from Texas where in the 1970s a rancher began pairing up his shorter livestock to create more compact cows. Minis are just smaller in stature. They're not dwarves. On average a mature mini weighs about 450 pounds.
Two minis eating in the same pasture as a full-sized Hereford will produce twice as much beef but while consuming less grass, said Dave Morris, a Whitefish rancher, whose three granddaughters showed mini Herefords at NILE. Even his youngest granddaughter, Addyson Morris, can steer a mini Hereford around the ring.
"They're fun to work with. Good personality. They're really good for young exhibitors to start with," said Eric Eldridge, who grooms miniature Herefords into show shape for the DuVals.
It's Eldridge whose boom box is piping '80s rock into the staging area. His daughter, Abby, keeps Mae calm as her father and brother Cade primp livestock.
The grooming scene is part NASCAR pit crew, part beauty shop. There are laundry baskets full of aerosol products, spray glue to give the end of a mini's tail a bowling pin shape, and a can of Pink Oil for "When you got to have that extra fluff," according to the label. There's even a paint can of "copper touch up" in the shade of Hereford bronze.
Eric Eldridge gets Mae's flank hairs poking straight out with a little product, then adds some baby powder to make it last. All tricks of the trade, explained Eldridge, who traveled to the NILE from Bruno, Idaho.
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com