‘The cavoodles of the cow world’: Miniature cattle and babydoll sheep making popular paddock pets

When 11-year-old Charlotte Stone has had a stressful day at school and needs some quiet time, she has the perfect antidote.

She walks out to a paddock at her family’s farm and pats some cattle or sheep.

“They’re pretty tame and they’re like your support animal,” she said. “It’s like an emotional support dog. You can come out to escape and be with the cows, just be there with them.

Charlotte Stone, 11, at her family’s Whittlesea property with one of her favourite pet cattle, Toro, the miniature Scottish Highland-Galloway cross. Credit:Jason South

“I don’t really talk to them, I just give them a brush.”

“She actually sings to them,” says her mother, Leanne Stone.

The property, Stoneywood, at Whittlesea, north of Melbourne, is not a conventional meat or wool farm.

Leanne and her husband John Stone, breed miniature cattle and sheep to sell to hobby farmers — as pets. The animals sell from about $2000 to $5000 each.

Charlotte, 11, and Jasmine, 17, with their paddocks pets.Credit:Jason South

Many clients are tree changers moving to farmlets in semi-rural or rural areas. To complete their picture of rural life, without going the full-blown ranch, the customers seek a few farm animals.

Leanne describes the miniature Scottish-Highland Galloway-cross cattle as “the cavoodles of the cow world”.

At the Hobby Livestock pavilion of the upcoming Whittlesea Show, which is on January 21 and 22, the Stones and other exhibitors will display “paddock pets” such as miniature highland cattle, babydoll sheep, miniature pygmy goats and miniature donkeys.

Jasmine (left), 17, and Charlotte, 11, and feeding the miniature cows on their family’s Whittlesea property.Credit:Jason South

Whittlesea Show is usually held in November. After two years’ absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show was postponed again last year due to floods.

Whittlesea Agricultural Society president Erica Hawke said there will be two shows this year, with the second in November.

Whittlesea has had huge urban growth but Hawke said the show, founded in 1859, retains a country flavour.

As well as livestock judging, poultry, horses and animal nursery displays, there will be free circus performances, ferret racing, boot throwing, and an apple peeling competition.

There will be sheepdog and motorcycle displays and wood carving. Each day at 3pm there is a grand parade.

Fans of the Show include Sarah and Adrian Southurst, who have three children aged from 11 to 18, and who recently bought five pet steers (de-sexed male cattle) from Stoneywood for their Kinglake West hobby farm.

The family paid a total of about $10,000 for the animals and it costs a few thousand dollars per year to look after them, including feed and vet care.

But the couple feel it’s worth it. The cattle “interact with our kids and their friends,” Sarah said. “And people aren’t as scared of the miniatures. They’re extremely friendly and have different personalities.”

The Southursts also own two alpacas, four goats, six sheep, 20 chooks and five ducks. And a dog and cat.

The family moved from a suburban block in Whittlesea to a 4.2-hectare hobby farm a year ago.

They were keen to give the kids a rural experience. “All of them love the animals, you’ll find them cuddling a chicken or patting, brushing or feeding a steer,” Sarah says.

Charlotte Stone with her miniature cows.Credit:Jason South

RSPCA Victoria education officer Rachael Laukart said interest in hobby farming and buying “paddock pets” had grown in the last 18 months.

People were seeking self-sufficient, sustainable and outdoor ways of life such as having a house cow. Or a few head of sheep to interact with and help keep the grass down.

“They bring a lot of joy and interest to people’s lives.”

Four education seminars for hobby farmers about livestock, called We Bought a Farmlet at the RSPCA’s Burwood headquarters have sold out. Tickets are available for a fifth, in May, and webinars are planned.

Laukart said prospective owners should research breed characteristics, and what shelter, fencing, food and land size livestock require.

Whittlesea Show January 21 and 22 at Whittlesea Showgrounds. Tickets and information are at whittleseashow.org.au

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