Sunrise_w_fog_002Around four weeks ago, our first cows arrived here at ‘Near River’. ‘Cindy’ and ‘Jenny’ came from Gail Cole, a breeder of some notoriety from Heron’s Creek here on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

They are Dexter cattle, an ancient breed originally from Ireland. Those regular readers will know the link to my wife Therese’s ancestry (she is from south-west Ireland!)

Descended from the old wild Irish mountain cattle, Dexters come from
south-west Ireland and seem to be similar in type to domestic cattle of
Iron Age Britain and early Christian Ireland. In the late 18th and
early 19th centuries they were selectively bred for small size by a Mr
Dexter on Lord Hawarden’s estate in Co. Kerry, and until the end of the
last century they were known as the "Dexter-Kerry". Even at this time
they were considered valuable for beef and for milk production.

They
are the smallest naturally occurring European breed, although some
other breeds have been ‘€œminiaturised’€ in recent years. The animals
vary in size, but are about half the size of a traditional Hereford and probably one third the size of something like a black and white Friesian milking cow.

Being
ideally suited to small acreages, Dexters require the same facilities
as other cattle, but because of their size and temperaments, yards and
fences need not be as high as for larger breeds.

Despite their
size, Dexter cows produce a rich milk relatively high in butterfat
(3.5% to 4%) and the quality of the milk overall is similar to that of
the Jersey. Dexters can reasonably be expected to produce 7 to 10
litres (2 to 2.5 gallons) per day. Some claim the milk is more
naturally homogenised than other milk due to the smaller fat globules,
and this can lead to cheesemakers sourcing Dexter milk, as Mark and Lesley do at Small Cow Farm in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

The
beef produced by Dexters is a "traditional" type, with a greater level
of fat "marbling" than is seen in modern supermarket type of beef. It
also tends to be darker, partially as result of the breed and partly as
the carcass is usually properly hung to produce a tender and better
flavoured meat. Some say Dexter beef is "sweeter" than other beef.

So why do I say that Dexters are sustainable? The reasons meld into what we are achieving at ‘Near River’ at 1466.

Dexters
have a lower body weight, hence cause less damage to the soil through
compaction, and minimise their impact on the land and environment.

They
are an easy calving breed as their breeding has not been tweaked about
as much as some cattle breeds. (An excellent trait for ‘new-farmers’!)

They are a ‘dual-purpose’ breed, meaning that they provide milk and beef.

Their temperaments are suited to smaller acreage, and the cows are exceptionally good mothers.

Because
of their lower feed requirement, about 40% more Dexters can be run in
the same area than other cattle breeds, making their farming more
efficient.

About the time our girls were delivered, my mate Ethan Book at The Beginning Farmer posted a story titled ‘Are Dexter’s a fad?’,
and I must say that the title of his story left me a little uneasy. But
as I went on to read the whole story, I discovered that Ethan’s reasons
for choosing Dexters were not dissimilar to ours. And I’ve pinched
Ethan’s closing comment here – "I don’t think Dexters are a fad that
will come and go. I also don’t believe they will become a commercial
mainstay. But, I do believe they are a great option for our farm and
many other farms like ours. I also believe they are a great choice for
families freezers all around me … and I will be working to convince
them of that!
If they are a fad … WHO CARES … I have a plan."

Yep, men with vision and plans …. gotta love that.

Sources

The Beginning Farmer

Dexter Cattle Australia

Small Cow Farm

Dexter Cattle info sheet Victorian Department of Primary Industries

"Dexter" by Valerie Porter from Practical Rare Breeds: A Modern Approach to the Breeding and Farming of Minority Livestock, published by Pelham Books, London, 1987, pages 95-98

Dexter Cattle entry at Wikipedia

7
Comments
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Near River Produce - Real food direct from our farm located on the NSW Mid North Coast