A diary of the projects, hurdles, rewards and family life at we recorded at Wise Acres, our former homestead in Horsefly, BC. (Careers and teenagers have forced us back into the city, at least for a little while.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Welcome Mildred...Millie for short

This is Millie, our Dexter cow and her little bull calf (unnamed as he is destined for the freezer). We have been thinking about getting a cow for a while now and have been researching what would be the best breed for our little homestead. I came across this article in Mother Earth News and it peeked my interest in the Dexter breed. Here are a couple of points from the article...

Pound for pound, no bovine can match the diversity of Dexter cattle, one of the smallest cattle breeds. Standing just 36 to 44 inches at the shoulder, Dexters are the perfect old-fashioned, family cow. Gentle, versatile and economical, Dexters efficiently turn pasture into rich milk and lean meat, if you're so inclined. In recent years, interest in Dexter cattle has surged worldwide. Here's why:

They're the perfect size for the family homestead.
One Dexter cow will give about 1 to 2 gallons of milk a day, a much more manageable amount for a single family than the 8 to 10 gallons a typical Holstein yields. If you raise a Dexter for beef, you'll need room in the freezer for about 400 pounds of meat, rather than 600 to 800 pounds you'd get from a typical full-size steer.

Looking after a Dexter can be fun for children
and can give them a sense of accomplishment. With proper attention and training, a Dexter can be easily handled by even the greenest homesteader. Don't expect that dazed-cow stare, though. "For their small size, they're pretty lively," Conroy says. Dexters can be trained like oxen to plow or pull wagons, and their strength belies their size. At the same time, that size makes them less intimidating to children and adults.

Dexter cows produce about 1 1/2 to 2 gallons a day
of about 4 percent butterfat milk - over a full 305-day lactation-when fed for production. (Some exceptional cows can put out up to 5 gallons per day at the height of their lactation.) The fat globules in Dexter milk are very small, which makes the milk more easily digested. The cream easily separates and makes outstanding butter and ice cream.

Dexters are a hardy breed that performs well in a variety of climates. In North America, Dexters are raised from Alaska to Florida. Many breeders note that all the Dexter needs is a place to get out of the wind and sun. Many animals even prefer to stay outside in the snow in the middle of winter instead of going into the barn.

Easy and economical to keep, a Dexter consumes about half of what an Angus or Hereford would under the same conditions. A half acre of good green grass per animal, or 12 to 15 pounds of hay and a little grain each day is enough in temperate climates. The cattle are ideal for grazing on older or overgrown pastures.

The cows usually give birth without assistance, and using a calf puller is virtually unknown with Dexters. Calves weigh about 45 pounds at birth, and by the time there weaned at 7 months, they may weigh between 350 and 500 pounds. Both sexes will continue to grow until 5 or 6 years old. Some Dexters have lived to more than 20, and many continue to calve for more than 15 years.

Sounded just right for us so I started to look around BC, to see who had some for sale. I also convinced my neighbour, Sara who was looking for a milk cow, that Dexters would work for her too. As it turns out, she located a pair of cows with calves for sale, just down the road from us and her hubby went and picked them up on the week-end. Sara also agreed to keep them at her place until we have a shelter for them and our fencing done (hopefully this summer). These pics were taken at her place...
This is Bessie, Sara's cow...
They are amazingly friendly...
but I still find the horns a little intimidating...
They are bred and due in June. We plan to milk them once we are all used to each other.