Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Dexter Cattle

Siobhan, 11-month old polled Dexter heifer.  Isn't she beautiful?

Dexters (mostly according to Wikipedia with my own comments interspersed) :
  • are the smallest European breed, being half the size of a traditional Hereford. A mature cow weighs between 6-7000 lbs. and a mature bull weighs about 1000 lbs. Our Sara weighed in at 775 lbs. when she left the farm where she went for AI (artificial insemination).
  • have a wide, deep body for their height, with well-rounded hindquarters which provide the best cuts of meat.
  • are usually black, but can also be red or dun. (They are the only breed that carries a dun gene.) We don't care about color since we are breeding strictly for milk and beef, not to sell to other breeders.
  • are often called "dual purpose," being used for both milk and beef, but they are actually the only "triple purpose" breed, also able to be trained as oxen if they are horned. Breeders that we have talked to prefer to breed for a good beef carcass at the same time they breed to improve udders.
  • mature in 18 months, providing small cuts of high quality "choice" lean beef. The beef is well-marbled, even when grass-fed, and darker than other beef. A Dexter is expected to "dress out" at 50-60 percent, slightly better than many larger breeds.
  • produce milk that is relatively high in butterfat (4%) with small globules that make the milk seem naturally homogenized. Some excellent milkers produce 2 or more gallons a day, although an average cow might produce more like a gallon for her family when shared with her calf.
  • are normally easy calvers and naturally good mothers. Many produce enough milk to easily nurse their own calf as well as others and still have milk for the family.
  • can be "short-legged" or "long-legged." "Short-legged" Dexters carry a mutated gene for chondrodysplasia.  If bred to other short-legged animals, there is a 25% chance of a deformed "bull-dog" calf that cannot survive.  We prefer to raise chondro-free Dexters, although many breeders love their chondro-affected Dexters and manage the mutation by never breeding two carriers.  For more information on chondrodysplasia, read this.  
  • may carry another genetic mutation called PHA which also causes the calf to be aborted. We are breeding to maintain a PHA-negative herd by using only bulls that have tested PHA-negative.  For more information on PHA, read this. 
  • were originally horned, but also have a polled (naturally hornless) strain.  Some breeders claim that only horned Dexters are “real;” however many highly-respected Dexter breeders specialize in polled animals.   We plan to focus on polled animals due to safety and ease of handling.
Our Dexters: T-Bone (steer), Siobhan (heifer) and Sara (cow) graze in late October, 2011.
Information from the American Dexter Cattle Association website:
  • Dexters originated in southern Ireland where they were raised by small land holders and roamed wild in the mountains.  They were first imported to the U.S. between 1905-1915.
  • They thrive outdoors in all climates, needing only shelter, grass, and fresh water.
  • "Dexters are . . . the perfect old-fashioned family cow."
  • Compared to other breeds, they are more economical at "turning forage into rich milk and quality, lean meat."
  • The ideal three year old cow is 36-42" at the shoulder and weighs less than 750 lbs.  The ideal three year old bull is 38-44" at the shoulder and weighs less than 1000 lbs.
  • A good milker can produce more milk for her weight than other breeds.  The daily yield is from 1-3 gallons with 4-5 % butterfat.  Some cows yield up to one quart of cream per gallon.
Siobhan enjoys a chin scratching from Herb while Zephyr looks on.
Information from the Purebred Dexter Cattle Association website:
  • BREED STANDARD  A dual-purpose animal is bred to serve two functions: milk and beef. The Dexter is to be compactly built, shorter in length than that of a true dairy breed but thicker in the thighs, hips, loin, and shoulders. Its disposition should be easy to handle and docile asits main purpose is to be a family cow. It should not be overly large and tall,or excessively small.
  • The Dexter is the smallest cattle breed in North America.  The standard cow size is the same for both registries, although the PDCA allows bull to be 38-46" at the shoulder.
  • "The breed was once quite scarce, but has enjoyed a surge in popularity as people find them ideally suited to the small farm or homestead."
Sara, Siobhan and T-Bone, our Dexter herd.
After learning all that I have shared above, we decided to raise Dexters because . . .
  • They efficiently convert grass, and grass alone, to beef and milk.
  • They are generally docile and easy to manage. Be sure to look at the next picture; you wouldn't want to do that with just any horned cow! 
  • They are dual purpose.  One thing that attracted us to Sara was that she was not only a proven calver and a good mother, but she had been milked  regularly.  Since we knew nothing about milking, we figured it would be good if our cow did!
  • All the breeders and farmers we talked to were highly enthusiastic about their Dexters, as well as eager to talk and share their knowledge.  There are several in our area that we have been able to visit.
"Behind every good man stands a woman with a strong point of view."
So that is the story of how we joined the family of Dexter owners.  We have a small operation, aiming to raise several calves a year.  The wonderful thing about Dexters is that they are the perfect cow for people like us as well as those who run large grass-fed beef operations and those who train and sell family milk cows.

That's why I call Dexters "The little cow that does it all."

Come by Zephyr Hill Farm and we'll be proud to show you ours!

2 comments:

  1. Great site: I didn't find the Dexter at first either.
    Jimmie Bauer - Moon Over the Mojave Dexters
    desertstreamthru@msn.com
    I use onewebhosting for my site. I love your site, so nice, clean simple - could you please share with me how its made. It is what I have been looking for, for years

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Jimmie. You'll probably laugh, but this is just a Blogspot (Blogger) blog! I love it because it's FREE and FLEXIBLE! You can add pages, which is what I did to make it work like a website. (I think you can add up to 20 now; it used to be 10). I just created a Blogger identity and went through the process of creating a blog. I used one of their basic templates, Watermark, and customized the colors, width of columns, etc. There are Widgets you choose from to add things on the side like I did. It's really not hard. I didn't know anything at all about it when I started, and I was able to figure it out.

      I'll copy this reply to your email address in case you haven't chosen to have replies on the blog emailed to you.

      I checked your website, and that's a really nice bull calf on your home page! I gather that's GlenLand Mr. Mojave. I noticed your bull Hillview Mr. Rite is deceased. Our heifer is by Hillview Red Wing. I was just recently checking out every single website with the ADCA and saw yours. Your photos of your animals are so much better than most! (The Bulletin just published my article about photographing Dexters. I can see looking at yours that I should have suggested rear end photos, especially for bulls, as a second or third photo. I guess that comes from not having had a bull! Live and learn.)

      I hope this all helps!

      Delete

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