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Dexter Cattle discussion

 
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My name is Ron. My wife and I are into our second year raising purebred Dexter cattle. Our herd is now up to 19 head. I thought it might be a good idea to start this discussion in order to answer questions about the breed and share what the Dexters can offer to permies looking to get into cattle regardless of the size or goals of their operation. I did a search on this site using the word Dexter and got some interesting results. Several folks have referred to Dexters as miniature cattle. Although Dexters are small in stature technically they are not a miniature breed. Dexters originated in Ireland and are the smallest breed of non miniature cattle. Dexters offer several unique traits when it comes to beef and milk production, management requirements, land requirements etc. feel free to ask questions and I look forward to hearing from other Dexter owner/breeders.
 
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Dexters were a breed recommended to me a while back.  Not sure if/when we'd get a cow, but I'm responding here mostly so I can easily keep track of the discussion.
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Andrew, feel free to ask any questions. I also work with the Purebred Dexter Cattle Association(PDCA). Forgot to mention, I’m located in the panhandle of Texas.
 
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Hi Ron. I am posting for much the same reason as Andrew.

So what can you tell us? What, in your view, are the best traits of the dexter as compared to, say, the industry or homestead standard breed for meat or dairy?

-CK
 
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When looking for a Dexter cow with milk as a priority, is there anything I'd need to look for? Most people selling Dexters where I live don't emphasise the milking abilities of the animal and have kept them as meat animals or lawnmowers, so I have wondered if any Dexter with the right temperament would be good for milk, or if it's best to wait around to find one that has been milked or is from a line of cows that have produced good amounts of milk?

Also I was wondering what their feed needs are compared to larger breeds? Do I need less pasture and hay for Dexters? How much good hay would one of them eat a day in winter? And how much good pasture is needed for each Dexter for the rest of the year?
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Chris,

Dexters are a dual purpose breed. They produce milk high in butterfat(3.5-4%) similar to a jersey. They make an excellent breed for grass fed beef. We slaughtered a grass fed 4 year old bull this summer. The beef has a rich deep red color and the flavor is wonderful. Stocking rates depend on rainfall and management practices however because of their smaller size, you can produce more pounds of beef per acre with Dexters than one of the larger breeds under the same rainfall and grass conditions. Dexter cows typically weigh 600-800 lbs, bulls weigh 900-1100 lbs. Dexters come in both horned(the traditional look) or polled and can be black, red or dun(a reddish brown color). All ours Dexters are black horned traditional variety. We stick with the horned variety because coyotes, bobcats and an occasional mountain lion are the predators in our area. With the horned cows, We haven’t lost a calf to predation. We don’t milk our Dexters, but several Dexter owners in the breed do milk their cows, some even have Dexter dairies. Dexter’s make an excellent breed for families looking to produce their own milk, beef or cheese or for folks with larger plans to produce grass fed beef or milk for local markets. They are an extremely hardy, healthy breed. The cows calve easily with calves usually weighing 35-45 lbs. Dexters are very fertile and on good pasture will breed back quickly. I turned our bull out and within 45 days all our cows were bred. Dexters are easy keepers meaning they thrive on a variety of forages. I have personally watched ours walk through rich green grass choosing to browse on weeds and nibble on brush before going back to the grass. I have seen our dexters even eat yucca while standing in a pasture full of native grass. No expensive feeds are required. Overall there are less maintenance and health costs with Dexters. In winter we feed ours good quality hay and a couple of pounds of range cubes per head per week. The range cubes are more of a treat to keep them trained to come to a bucket. Makes it easier to move them from one area to another when trained this way. Many dexter cows are long lived. It is not unusual for dexter cows to produce calves in their 15th year and beyond. We have a 14 year old cow that produced a calf and bred back this summer and is in perfect health. I know of a dexter cow in Missouri that this past summer produced her 16th calf at the age of 18. She is still going strong. Overall, horned or polled, they are a calm docile breed but as with any breed there can be individuals that are exceptions so when looking for Dexters pay attention to temperament. My wife and I can walk amongst all our horned Dexters without fear or worry. But I also paid close attention to each animals temperament as part of the selection process when buying them. As an example of the general overall temperament of the breed, we could easily walk amongst the cows with newborn or young calves. My wife characterizes the temperament of our cows as resembling a friendly dog. I hope this gives you a good idea of some of the traits of the Dexter breed.
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Kate,

We chose Dexters because of the native short grasses in our area and the limited rainfall. We typically average about 19 inches of rain per year. So far this year we have had about 17 inches. We have extended periods of no rain and hot weather. During those times our native grasses go dormant to survive. The stocking rate rule for our area for the typical sized beef animal is one cow/calf pair per 19 acres. However with Dexters, we were able to comfortably stock 19 head on just under 50 acres. Of those 19 head, there are two steers, one bull, two coming 2 year old heifers and the rest were cow/calf pairs. That is roughly 2.6 acres per head and cow/calf pair. In areas with higher rainfall, good rich grass and using rotational grazing and good management you could conceivably stock two possibly three cow/calf pairs per acre. Just remember as that calf grows so does it’s nutritional requirements and if all you have is an acre I wouldn’t try the three cow/calf pairs.

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t milk our Dexters. If you would like, I can put you in touch with a lady that used to have a Dexter creamery and made artisan cheeses. She still has some Dexters she milks for her own use. Send me a pm with your contact info and I will ask her if she would be willing to fill you in.

 
Ron Metz
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Hi Kate-

I forgot to answer one of your questions. How much hay does a dexter require per day. Of course that depends on the quality of the hay. I have bought good quality native prairie grass hay for my cows and they do great on it. No need to go out and spend a fortune on alfalfa. Also feeding a little bit of alfalfa as a treat is not harmful, feeding just straight alfalfa can cause bloat. How much hay to feed? If good quality grass hay, the rule of thumb is about 2% of the body weight of the adult animal per day and adjust for conditions. In other words on  extreme cold days, up the quantity a bit. And if you are milking or the cow has a calf nursing up the quantity a bit. So if you have a dry(non nursing, non milking) Dexter cow that weighs 700 lbs. she will need roughly 14-15 lbs dry matter of good quality hay per day under optimum conditions. Compare that to the typical 1500 lb beef cow that will consume 30 lbs or more dry matter hay per day under non extreme conditions.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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What would be a good rough estimate of cows/acre (or acres/cow) for Dexters?  Assume temperate climate, moderate to high rainfall (50"/year).  Intensive rotation (max 3 days per paddock, average 1-2 days) would possibly be employed.  

Oh yeah, no irrigation.  So dry months might require hay rather than grazing.
 
Kate Downham
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Thank you Ron : )

That is very helpful information.

I will PM you my email address to pass on to the Dexter cheesemaking lady.
 
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Thanks for starting this discussion!  I've been looking at dexters for my next place and planning to start small and go with artificial insemination as I see a great selection of straws available on the dexter breeders page, but read that the success rate with AI can be low, like 50-60%.  Is this something you have ever tried or have you always had a bull?

Also, do you have an estimate for gallons of water per cow per day?

Thanks!
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Andrew,

Stocking rate is determined by several factors. Soil condition(fertility), types and quality of available forage, rainfall and management practices. To determine your stocking rate, I would do a survey of the types of grasses available in your pastures. I would do a soil analysis to determine fertility in each of your pastures to see if anything is needed. At 50” ave rainfall a year, sounds like you have plenty of moisture. If you rotational graze and don’t overstock, you should be able to make it through dry spells without feeding hay. I’m curious to know with 50” of rain, how long do your dry spells last?

Our farm is in what is called the short grass prairie region of the Texas panhandle. It’s not unusual to have periods of no rain that last 3-6 months. In 2011, we received 2 inches of rain in 10 months. Before we bought our first dexters, I took soil samples in the areas we were going to fence for pasture. Our soil is a sandy loam. I was surprised when the soil test results came back saying nothing was needed. Our pastures have predominantly native grasses such as side oats grama, blue grama and buffalo grass. We also have some varieties of blue stem. It’s imortant to know what types of grasses your cattle will be grazing because not all grasses offer the same nutrients. For example, blue grama is a shorter native prairie grass than even when dry can have as much as 12-14% protein. Compare that with say Johnson grass which produces a lot of volume but may only contain 5% protein. I’ll give you another example. I bought some Dexters in eastern Oklahoma. When I arrived at the ranch, the cows were standing belly deep in grass but were pretty thin. The soil was very sandy. I suspected the soil was lacking in nutrients, therefore the grass was putting out volume but was also poor in nutrients. Got those cows home and within a couple of months, they were visibly putting on weight grazing our short native grasses rich in nutrients. if you know the condition of your soil and the types of grasses/forage you have it will be easier to determine your stocking rate using a rotational grazing system. Keep in mind, stocking rate is a fluid thing that depends on many factors and can change from year to year. Hope this gives you some guidance and feel free to ask any other questions.
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Buster,

You are asking the right person about artificial insemmination. I am an AI technician certified by both Texas A&M university and American breeders Service(ABS Global). Success rate in AI is directly related to breeding at the proper time during the heat cycle, proper handling/thawing of the semen and the skill of the technician. When I was working for the bull stud and managing the heat synchronization/breeding of beef herds in south Texas, I achieved an 82% success rate. At that time, most beef producers would turn out clean up bulls after AI was completed to catch anything that didn’t take. If you have good nutrition, the semen is handled correctly and the technician is skilled, AI can be a very effective way to improve your herd without the expense and management considerations of keeping a bull around.

On the water consumption question....a good rule of thumb is 1 gallon per 100 lbs of body weight per day during cool weather. 2 gallons of water per 100lbs of body weight per day during hot weather. Adjust accordingly for lactating cows, cows being fed hay and during periods of extreme heat. Hope this helps.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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Ron Metz wrote:I’m curious to know with 50” of rain, how long do your dry spells last?



Typical is to have no rain in July and August.  Some years June and September can be pretty dry.  This year however we actually got enough rain throughout the summer that my grass never really went dormant like it usually does.  It slowed down, but didn't stop growing.
 
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Ron Metz wrote:Hi Kate,

We chose Dexters because of the native short grasses in our area and the limited rainfall. We typically average about 19 inches of rain per year. So far this year we have had about 17 inches. We have extended periods of no rain and hot weather. During those times our native grasses go dormant to survive. The stocking rate rule for our area for the typical sized beef animal is one cow/calf pair per 19 acres. However with Dexters, we were able to comfortably stock 19 head on just under 50 acres. Of those 19 head, there are two steers, one bull, two coming 2 year old heifers and the rest were cow/calf pairs. That is roughly 2.6 acres per head and cow/calf pair. In areas with higher rainfall, good rich grass and using rotational grazing and good management you could conceivably stock two possibly three cow/calf pairs per acre. Just remember as that calf grows so does it’s nutritional requirements and if all you have is an acre I wouldn’t try the three cow/calf pairs.

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t milk our Dexters. If you would like, I can put you in touch with a lady that used to have a Dexter creamery and made artisan cheeses. She still has some Dexters she milks for her own use. Send me a pm with your contact info and I will ask her if she would be willing to fill you in.



Enjoying the thread Ron, thanks for making it.

I hope to run some cattle in a year or three, and have been considering Dexters as I suspect I could sell more by the side with the much smaller sides.

One catch is that slaughter costs on a per lb basis go up, due to quite a few more animals per arbitrary quantity.. and in my area slaughter and butcher is a gov enforced monopoly with no price controls, so you can probably imagine how expensive it is.


Do you believe your Dexters are much easier on the land than an equal poundage of full size cattle? 19 'half-size-ish' is a long ways off the 4 head that a direct comparison to that single cow-calf pair would imply, and feed consumption seems pretty linear with mass...
 
Ron Metz
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Hi D Nikolls,

Yes, slaughter costs will vary depending on the individual business doing the processing. We have a processor about 15 miles from our farm. They are inspected, but not for resale. Their costs are less than a processor that is federally inspected for resale packaging. They charge a $60 kill fee and .60/pound processing and packaging fee. In the case of using a “not for resale” processor in Texas the animal has to be sold alive to another individual at which time it becomes their property. I can deliver it to the processor but the new owner makes the arrangements with the processor as far as how they want the beef butchered. When it is ready they pick it up and pay the processor. I can’t have the animal butchered then sell the beef. It has to be sold alive pryor to processing. If a customer only wants a side of beef, then they have to find friends or family members to take the other half legally before processing. If you use a federally inspected processor and the beef is packaged for resale, you have more expense involved. It costs the processor more to have a federal meat inspector on hand to inspect, grade and stamp the carcass. Plus you have labeling, packaging costs and storage costs after you pick the product up. On the other hand you can charge more per pound of beef for this convenience to the customer. The bull we processed produced about 350 lbs of beef. That easily fits in a typical upright or chest freezer. The advantage to Dexters is the smaller cuts which are more practical for today’s families. Compare that to the typical 1100-1200 lb steer coming out of a CAFO. It will dress around 60% producing about 650 lbs of beef in larger cuts. Most families today don’t want to worry about what they will do with 650 lbs of frozen beef.

Because of their weight dexters are easier on the land. Their is much less soil compaction in pastures. They are also less picky eaters. Therefore you stand less of a chance of your better grasses being over grazed while others are ignored. Selective grazing exhibited by other beef cattle breeds eventually causes certain grasses to die out while allowing other less palatable grasses and weeds to take over.

Yes there is a direct correlation between feed consumption and size. But there is also another aspect to think about and that is feed consumption vs pounds of gain. Some beef breeds require more pounds of feed and more expensive feed to get a pound of gain. If you look at it that way, you will see the advantage of dexters over other larger beef breeds. Large beef breeds have higher costs associated with growth, maintenance and sometimes per pound of gain.
 
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Andrew Mayflower wrote:What would be a good rough estimate of cows/acre (or acres/cow) for Dexters?  Assume temperate climate, moderate to high rainfall (50"/year).  Intensive rotation (max 3 days per paddock, average 1-2 days) would possibly be employed.  

Oh yeah, no irrigation.  So dry months might require hay rather than grazing.



Andrew, this is a question that is very localized, Look up on your extension service for "units per acre" and it will give stocking density for full-size cows. These are fractionally smaller so you get a higher number. Lower number fractionally by how many acres you need to reserve for dry season, wet season etc. I don't have cows but the math holds for sheep, when weight is accounted. I assume on the low end then with rotational grazing and silvopasture will see- the forage will tell me in a year.

Greg Judy has a great series just out on how to start rotating:



And he is awesome, Other recent videos talk about smaller frame cattle- dexters or not. We have several friends that had high mortality with Dexters, I assume they were very inbred. You need to source any "breed" carefully becuase they tend to get pretty inbred unless breeders are very meticulous. And lets face it most of us aren't.
 
Ron Metz
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Hi TJ,

Yes Greg Judy is a good source for general info on rotational grazing. He is also a regular contributor to the Stockman Grass Farmer publication. His breed is South Poll which is a newer composite breed developed by one of the members of the band Alabama. Greg says his cows weigh 1000 lbs.

As far as several of your friends having high mortality with Dexters that is definitely not the norm for this breed. As a matter of fact it is exactly the opposite. They are very hearty cattle with excellent immune systems, high fertility and calving ease. I would be interested to hear more from your friends and what the circumstances were surrounding their Dexter’s mortality rate characterized as high. Maybe you can get them involved in this conversation or possibly relate some of the issues they were having yourself.
 
Tj Jefferson
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They had five, one was three (bull) died of a presumed stroke per the vet. One had some tumors and presumed cancer or immune issue. Not sure about the third, but they only had five and this was in the first four years. Again, a breed is only as good as the genetics and there are a great many issues with small scale farms unknowingly having very close relatives back breeding. Liely all the dexters around here are from a small lineage as no one pays to inseminate (which would be smart) and they just trade bulls which are probably cousins not very removed.

I devour anything Greg puts out, he has made so much progress and has given me some great ideas (despite doing sheep here). Tell him he has a fan club! I even dress like him, I'm not into the Salatin "Pearl Jam thrift store look"!
 
Ron Metz
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TJ, thanks for the info. Out of curiosity, what area are you and the cattle from? Are the Dexters in question registered stock?
 
Tj Jefferson
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Virginia and
I think so. They were in 4H which normally is breed oriented I think
 
Ron Metz
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TJ,
If the Dexters were being shown in 4H then yes, they would have to be registered stock. It sounds like your friends may have been sold some inferior stock. I can assure you the three animals with health issues you mentioned are not representative of the breed as a whole. Your friends are more than welcome to contact me or the Purebred Dexter Cattle Association(PDCA)for guidance or advice in locating responsible Dexter breeders in the Virginia area and/or quality Dexter cattle. Thank you for mentioning your friend’s unfortunate situation. The PDCA is very customer oriented and would be happy to offer assistance however they can.
 
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I am late to the party...but just wanted to drop in and say hello to all you Dexter folks.  I have been raising purebred Dexters for 8 years and really enjoy them.  We are very small only sell 2 calves per year and raise them for breeding, but if someone wants to buy one and eat it they can.  I remember when we got involved with Dexters and had a bunch of questions so please reach out if you have some.  I certainly do not have all the answers but after 8 years I can tell you all the wrong things we have done. All of our Dexters are ADCA registered, PHA and Chondro non-carriers.  Our bull is red, homozygous polled and all of his offspring will be horn free.   Just so you know there are 2 organizations that register Dexters, PDCA and ADCA, I do not know very much about how they differ, maybe someone can fill me in?  I do remember there was some disagreement about something and people got mad, and arued...blah blah blah....who cares?  Just raise Dexters is what I say.
 
Ron Metz
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Hi Zeek,

Welcome to the discussion. Where are you located? Im in the Texas panhandle northwest of Lubbock. I initially was a member of ADCA because the dexters I bought were registered with them. Since then I have become an active member of PDCA and registered all my breeding Dexters with that organization. However I do maintain a membership with ADCA in case a buyer wishes to register a purchase there. My herd is pure horned. This past breeding season I used a Dun horned bull. All my breeding cattle are genetically tested before registration. We have embarked on a pasture raised beef program and will have some steers ready for market this summer.
 
Zeek McGalla
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Hi Ron, I am in Ohio about 45 minutes west of Pittsburgh.  For some reason, this area isn't really demanding Dexters, but we manage to sell our calves each year.  In fact, we have never sold a Dexter to someone who already owned them....well one time in the past 8 years.  Our goal was to raise quality breeding stock and that sent me to Nashville to buy our bull.  
 
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Hello, i am looking for advise on starting my own dexter herd.  I went and looked at some dexters yesterday.  I looked at two bred cows and a little bull calf.   I have pretty much decided to get them, but have a few questions.  First cows were put in with a bull the end of june which should hopefully have them calving next spring. My question is will my little bull calf born in febuary 2020 most likely be able to service those two cows next july? at 12-17 months.    The next question is the biggest question i have.  They also had a little heifer that was born on 5-20   she is in with the same bull the two big cows are in with.  She would of first been exposed to the bull roughly at 13 months old.  That seems to be pretty young and could lead to calving issues.   What is the general time frame to breed heifers.   Do they ever have calving issues? is this a huge red flag?  I would rather she wasnt even in with a bull  and would be able to breed her with my little bull next summer to giver her plenty of time to mature..   thank you in advance.
 
Brett Senft
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the little heifer was born on 5-19 excuse me.  she is roughly 14 months old now and in with a bull.
 
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Interesting discussion.  When I get to move onto my land I am thinking of the breed.  From recollection I believe the live weight to meat ratio was higher with this breed versus larger cattle.  Is it true the "horned" strain is heartier and more suited to homestead conditions?  I seem to remember something along that line.  I know there are some here in NC selling grass-fed dexter and I will make it a point to get to know them.  Most of my neighbors have larger breeds but for the homestead a smaller carcass to deal with make sense for me.  
 
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I just bought a 2 yr old bull. Also a cow with a heifer calf for a small start up herd. I was wondering as Brett was about the age to start breeding. Do i need to separate the baby when she is old enough to come into heat or can nature just take its course? Right now she is only four months old so when would I need to worry?


I love these little cows!!!  I do home butchering which is why I got this small breed - they are perfect for me and I couldn't be happier with my breed choice. The bull is very tame and calm and polite to the ladies. I don't think I would feel comfortable to own a different breed of bull having never raised cattle before. I have the neighbors bringing their jersey milk cows down for visits. Everyone was excited to have a bull in the area and he seemed to get the job done even with the full size ladies.
 
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Will Dexters marble up if grain finished?  We raised a grassfed steer several years ago.  It was good, but the meat didn't have the slightest bit of intramuscular fat.  I'd like some marbling on the next one.
 
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Im curious about dexters and have other kinds of questions:

They are tiny. My ground is wet in winter.
Does the udder/teats drag on ground when full?
Are the teats smaller too?
How much milk yield can you expect daily, if calf sharing?
Can a dexter bull impregnate a jersey cow (if i put them on a hill perhaps?
From reading this thread, they seem to be indiscriminate grazers, i that correct?
What are they like in heat? like a 45 degrees aussie summer day?
What are the bulls like?  Beef or dairy demeanor?
Do they do snow, and wet ground well?  
I dont feed grain, but rotational graze, so moving em daily. How are they to handle?

sorry, thats a lot of questions, but this is a breed, that my land would prefer over a jersey, and the buttermilk is high enough for cheese! So considering moving to them.


 
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Michelle - I'll try to answer.  Please note that my experience is limited to a small herd and a short time period (two years).

1) none of my cows drag
2) I couldn't compare teat sizes ... but I'd imagine they are smaller
3) I have a tenant that milks one of the cows, one of the smaller ones (~400 lbs?).  They calf share and milk once a day, and not every day of the week.  High production seems to be about a half gallon although that has dropped as her calf weans.
4) a bull will impregnate any cow within reach!  I met a breeder mixing dexters and Charolais.  The bull seemed child-like next to the mature cow, and yet there were offspring...
5) I'd have to re-read the thread to remember the "indiscriminate grazing" part.  They have favorites, but they do browse, clean up apples and, when desperate, they'll eat dry stuff (my cows are spoiled...)
5) I dunno about 45, we max out around 37.  They just hide in the shade and drink more water.  They don't seem to eat much when its hot.
6) I can't speak to the breed, but to possibilities.  My bull is more like a dog than something threatening.  He loves attention, is incredibly mild mannered, never makes noise (except for little grunting noises when his chin is scratched) and can be lead.
7)  My cows love the snow!  Wet ground hasn't been an issue, I just try to make sure thay have a dry place to lie down.
8) No grain for me, just grasses.  Rotational when able and hay when not.  They see me creating new paddocks and wait to be let in.  For further paddocks they'll just follow me when I call them (inside a laneway...).    Mine eagerly take treats out of my hand as well so they are very easy to encourage.

I'll add ... for the most part the cows are fine with a single-wire fence.  The young ones get out and cause trouble, but the adults stay put so long as they aren't super hungry.  We have a simple agreement - I keep them fed, they stay in the fences.  If they feel I'm not feeding them ... all bets are off!
 
Michelle Muphys
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Hmmmm, interesting.

The milk yield will probably be the deciding factor. Hopefully there will be some more info to come from someone who milks them.

 
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I only have 1/2 acre of pasture and am wondering if that would handle a Dexter steer that would go in the freezer in the fall.  If so, I would need to buy a calf each year and then pay for butchering.  Does it actually save me money when all is said and done to raise a Dexter on my pasture versus buying beef?  
 
Eliot Mason
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Beth:

A 1/2 acre is enough room for a single steer to move about, but probably not enough to graze on.  Expect to purchase hay.

Common beef breeds of Angus, Hereford, etc seem to reach slaughter weight in about 24 months.  Dexters are more like 30 months.  And you'll find that your butcher treats the steer differently if they are more than 30 months old and you can't get any cuts containing the backbone  (Its a mad-cow thing, and I think its for all beef but its possible its just for USDA stamped processing).  Anyway, I wouldn't expect that you could get a yearling in the spring and expect to slaughter in the fall.

As to a financial benefit ... that depends entirely on your slaughter & butchering options, cost of acquiring a steer, cost of supplementary feed.  The benefits might instead by measured in peace-of-mind about where the beef came from, how it was raised, what it was fed and an opportunity to have a butcher do just what you want.
 
Andrew Mayflower
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A yearling acquired in spring and slaughtered in the fall will be 16-20 months old.  They'll be big, but not as big as the typical 24-28 month slaughter age.  A smaller and/or slower growing breed will reduce the size too.  That might get it down to a size you could home slaughter/butcher.  DIY is a ton of extra work, but it also saves a LOT of money.

As far as the half acre goes, you'll definitely be purchasing feed.  That steer will eat your lawn to mud in a few weeks.  If you want the best life for him on that small of a property you'd need to set up an area as a sacrifice paddock.  So 6-8" of compacted sand graded to drain well.  Keep him in there when the grass is too short for grazing and feed him hay.  You'll need a plan for dealing with the manure.  Otherwise you'll have a huge mess.  When the grass is tall enough let him out to graze.  He'd get probably a few days grazing then a couple/three weeks in the sacrifice paddock.  
 
Eliot Mason
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Andrew ... clarification please: are you referring to Dexters at 16-20 months and 24-28 months?  My understanding, backed by observations of my ickle herd, is that slaughtering a Dexter steer before 28 months is a sad affair.  Maybe I need to feed more or my grass is really poor but a three year old wasn't even 1,000 lbs.  My current steer is 16 months and looks like 400-500 lbs.

Your observations about small animals are spot on.  I used to buy a whole hog (slaughtered) and do all of the butchering.  Totally manageable.  But I tried to butcher a half steer and that nearly broke me (didn't help that it was cut into un-labled chunks that may or may not have been primals).  A 500 lb steer would be manageable - you'd probably want some sort of hanging cooler space though.
 
Beth Mouse
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Thank you so much Andrew and Eliot--that really helped and it pretty much tells me I can't have a steer...not even a small one.  For the heck of it, do you mind telling me if it could graze our front lawn?  We have a large front lawn but it isn't pasture grass.  In the past, I have had 2 sheep on my pasture and then butchered in the fall.  Problem is, we end up with alot of lamb in the freezer and nobody likes it except me.  I really wanted a mini-jersey and was thinking I could milk but was told 1/2 acre isn't enough for a mini-jersey (and her calf).  Did Andrew mean there are smaller breeds of cows I could raise for butchering?  I do have a sacrifice area that isn't super large, not sure of dimensions off top of my head.  I have an acre in Boise, but only 1/2 acre in pasture grass and sure I can't butcher here and really don't want to honestly.  So I know that will be an expense and I have how much it cost to butcher the sheep filed and am not sure after buying the lambs if it saves me money by not buying lamb cuts at the store.  
 
Eliot Mason
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Beth - well a steer COULD eat the front grass down.  But a cow/steer doesn't want lawn grass - they want tall, nutrient dense grass.  The usual 3" lawn isn't easy to eat, and doesn't offer much volume either.  If you want to let that lawn get to be 12-16" (or more) and be a variety of grass that does that ... well, to a cow grass is grass and they are equal opportunity eaters and they don't care if its the "front lawn" or a pasture.

The acreage requirements for a mini-cow and calf vary regionally. Theoretically a cow-calf pair needs something like an acre.  Some cattle are kept in very small areas and just fed hay ... its not the worst life a cow could have, but everything looks nicer (and functions better) if you have enough space to actually rotate them through.  The grass doesn't think that being trampled all summer and left alone all winter is good enough, and without rotation it won't be long before your pasture starts to decline in productivity.

Two points on butchering sheep vs cattle  - IMHO butchers have a fixed slaughter fee per animal, and then the butcher fee is per pound.  The slaughter fee makes lamb relatively more expensive.  Where we were (in SW Wisconsin) there was nary a butcher to be found that knew anything about butchering lamb, but everybody knows beef (and deer!).

I think Dexters ARE a smaller breed you can raise for butchering.  There is generally a balance of economics, and there is a curve of age*yield weigh*feed consumption that suggests there are optimal ages for slaughtering a steer.  It can always be done earlier (veal...), so there is no reason you CANT slaughter at a younger age its just not the usual practice.

Another point -- cows are social, herd animals.  I think its unkind to have just one.  At least other barnyard animals - goats seem solid companions - give social contact.  One of the things I love about my mixed-age herd is they really behave like a family group and seem better for i.

p.s. You can send your lamb to me. : )
 
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