If you are like us, you have a good bit of land, but not quite enough to raise grassfed beef for a business. We have around eight acres of fenced pasture, and approximately 10 acres of hayfield. The rest is used as the garden, grapevines, orchard, smaller paddocks for wintertime and room for the children to roam.
But, if the thought of going into a beef business intrigues you, all is not lost. Dexter cows just might be the option for you. With Celtic roots, these cows normally do not get any bigger than 600-750 pounds and stand at 36-42 inches tall at the shoulder.
They only need about a 1/2 acre per cow and they are great foragers. They do well on pasture which makes them an excellent choice for a grassfed or foraged based operation.
They are very winter hardy, as they grow dense winter coats. This means that they do not need elaborate housing to keep warm.
Not only do they have excellent meat, they also make great milk cows as well, averaging about 1 1/2 to 2 gallons a day with 4 % butterfat. That being said, some are more dairy type than meat type, if you are looking for more beef, choose wisely! Steers usually dress out at 50-60% live weight.
Smaller size means less intimidating! They are also easier to handle than a full size cow. The mothers are very attentive to their young and can birth with little or no problems.
If you venture into starting your dream herd, you must look into genetics. There are two genetic disorders that could be fatal, chondrodysplasia and pulmonary hypoplasia anasarca. Although being a carrier of one of these traits isn't necessarily deadly, breeding it to another with the trait can be. Responsible breeders have tested their cattle, so this shouldn't be too much of an issue.
The costs of Dexters can be a little expensive, but if you take into account reduced feed costs along with cheaper housing and equipment, plus, bringing good prices at brood-stock sales, it could mean more profit for you.
Dexter cattle can make a great addition or sole enterprise for your small farm. They have been around for a long time and also make a great dual purpose breed!
If you would like more information, go to American Dexter Cattle Association. Also, a great book to get you started, Small Cattle for Small Farms (Landlinks Press).
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