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Deciding On A Dexter

Christine NelsonI’ve been pondering a family milk cow for quite some time. OK, I’ve been thinking about it since the day we moved out here, so over a year and a half. I originally thought a cow would not be an option on our small acreage, as I did not want to have to feed hay all year round and do a lot of supplemental feeding.

Everyone told me to get milk goats, and I really did try to convince myself that this was the best option for us to have a home dairy. After reading about and going to see a couple different breeds, I knew that I was a cow person for sure. Goats would involve changing a lot of our fencing and, I’m not going to lie, I found them to be downright annoying. Please don’t send me hate mail all of you goat lovers of the world!

Mini breeds seem to be the new thing lately, so I, of course, looked into the mini Jersey. After about choking on the $5,000 and up price tag, I moved on.

I read blog after blog, hoping for someone to have the exact answer on what kind of cow we should get. Or suddenly convince me that goats were in fact the way we should go. For some reason I thought I would have a magical epiphany on what to do.

My husband, Jacob, came across the Dexter breed, and we were intrigued. The idea of having a dual-purpose animal was appealing. We spoke with a nearby breeder and last summer were able to keep a Dexter cow/calf pair for about five weeks to see what living with cows was like. 

This past month we finally decided it was about time to take the plunge, so we put a deposit down on a heifer calf. She will come home to us this November/December once she is weaned.

Fifi, our reserved Dexter heifer.

Fifi, our reserved Dexter heifer.

Here are a few of the reasons we decided a Dexter was right for our family.

1) Price. Dexters are considered a small breed without the mini cow price tag. You can purchase a quality Dexter for half the cost of a mini Jersey. Although it was tempting to get a mini Jersey, I knew it would not be a smart financial decision for our growing family. We will just have to settle for a little less cream.

2) Size. A smaller Dexter will not eat as much as a full size dairy cow. They also tend to hold their weight better than some of the larger breeds. We still wanted to share pasture with a small herd of sheep and didn’t want everything to become overgrazed.

3) Less milk. Although the idea of having 3 to 6 gallons of milk per day sounds amazing (ice cream and butter, heck yeah!), I needed to consider that turning fresh milk into these other amazing things does take time. I’m perfectly happy with making smaller amounts of butter and cheese, in order not to feel like I’m drowning in milk All.Of.The.Time. We won’t be running a milk business, therefore only need to worry about our own personal dairy needs.

4) Dual Purpose. We’ve been purchasing Dexter beef for our freezer and have been very happy with it. We want to be able to raise the calves for beef. It feels so good to be able to provide so much nourishment for our family right from our own backyard.

5) Breeder Support. We are lucky enough to be within 40 minutes of a Dexter breeder. They will be able to help us when it comes time for breeding and any other new owner questions.

Most good breeders will obviously offer help, but I really liked that these folks are so close to us. If we decide to go with AI (they have the largest Dexter AI inventory in the country) for breeding and it doesn’t take, I know that we can bring the cow to them to try live breeding. I don’t know how many blogs I’ve read where they get a cow off of Craigslist and then realize they have no idea how they are going to get it bred, etc. The Adams’ are meticulous breeders and register all of their Dexters. If there are questions about the lineage, I know I can find the answers. They breed quality animals. This aspect gives me great peace of mind as we enter the world of cows.

Basically, choosing a cow is like choosing a house. You have to get what is right for you and your family. What may work for you or seem ideal may not work for someone else.

I’m happy with our decision and, although fresh milk is quite a ways off for us, I can’t wait to get started!

Fifi with her dam