The ultimate Homesteading cow

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by Unregistered-1427815803, Jul 30, 2004.

  1. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    My little herd is new to me and they are still being developed into a working herd but everything I've read in historic reference says that the American Milking Devon is the perfect breed for the crofter.

    The following was written nearly 200 years ago.

    "Few for instance, could afford to breed cattle with exclusive reference to the pail, the yoke, or the shambles! For either of these objects a different breed would be take, while, under all circumstances, for all these purposes combined, we should pronounce in favor of the North Devon. It is from this stock that the famous New England oxen are descended. Being of moderate size, and active and thrifty, they are adapted to a wider range of country; and being in itself an unmixed distinct natural breed, if we may say so, it transmits and preserves its peculiar qualities with remarkable uniformity as to shape, size, color, temper, and action: and without demanding, in order to keep them up to the mark, that practiced skill and extraordinary care in the selection of the breeding stock which had been for many years exercised in the formation of some other artificial breeds, choosing for that purpose individuals in every case most free from defects, and possessing the greatest number of the points which it may be the object of the breeder to establish."

    The Milking Devon cow will weigh with the Jersey but keep on much rougher forage, and but 1 to 2 cwt more than the Dexter and with none of the Dexter's inherent genetic problems. The family caw may be broken to pail and yoke to doubly work for her provender, and when her productive life has reached its autumn, she will make good beef. Her offspring, heifer or bull will make a fine beef. An adult Milking Devon cow wieghs about equal with a Dexter oxen and again will give milk, calf, and work ot the crofter.
     

  2. Informed breeders of dexters do not ahve any probems with "Genetic" issues. The fact is that you can keep 2 dexters on what it would cost to keep one full size cow and at between 2-4 gal of milk/ day that is more than enough to support most families.

    Dexters have one of the highest conversion rates of food and there beef is first rate. There are a number of good breeds for dual purpose, like Devons, milking Shorthorns, but I woul put my Dexters against anything on a pound for pound cost of keeping any day !!!!

    Chris Ricard
    Celestial Farms
     
  3. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    I do not wish to step on the toes of Dexter lovers, and I even looked into buying a few Dexters myself for a while, but I kept bumping into lists of problems inherent in the Dexter breed.

    Breed a short legged cow to a short legged bull and end up with half of the calves dead.

    Arthritis

    Bulldog Calves

    Hateful temperaments

    Even when they seem small they will weigh with some perceived larger breeds; it’s just that many Dexters are so short legged that they seem to be the Basset Hound of the cattle breeds.

    Even if none of the above were true, the Dexter being so short-legged would make it nearly impossible for me to reach under them to milk them. I’m 6’2” and find it difficult enough to reach under my Jerseys. I can’t imagine what it would be like if they were 6 to 10 inches shorter.
     
  4. You maybe should have looked at the Long leg animals. As for the temperment issues, I have seen very few dexters that have issues in this area. Our Jersey's when I was younger were worse......

    All except the temperment issues are items more prone to the short led animals. I do think that you also over stated the "Dead Calf" issue as well. As I said by breeding short leg to sort leg you have a 25% chance of having a bulldog calf. There now is a test available to know if your cow is a carrier. or just breed with a long leg Bull and then it is not an issue.

    Also the breeding life of the animal tends to be longer than most bovine. Dexters will continue to produce calves into their 20's .....I had one had her last calf at 18

    Chris Ricard
    Celestial Farms
     
  5. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    I meant no disrespect toward the Dexter cattle as a breed, but rather to say that they are not the "ultimate homestead cow". Between the short legs making milking more difficult and the achondroplasia gene making breeding a challenge, I personally think that for the "homesteader" a cattle breed without such problems would be a better choice. It is said the the Kerry, a branch of the root stock for the Dexter breed, or the Devon, another branch of the Dexter breed, would either be a better and less troubling choice.

    Certainly the Jersey has for 150 years proved its self to be the best pound for pound producer of rich milk for the crofter, and the Devon has for more than 2,000 years has proved to be a good milk producer, an excellent beef breed, and the finest in area of draft cattle.

    Jersey and the Milking Devon cows range from 8 to 12 CWT. It would be no problem to find either of these in the lighter weights, which would put them just 1/2 CWT heavier than a Dexter cow, and again, prooducing more milk or making better draft animals with none of the inherent problems.
     
  6. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    As Haggis previously stated, I don't want to step on the toes of any Dexter cow breeder/owner.

    What is the 'perfect' family cow is very subjective to the family in question. We had our Jersey bred with a beautiful dun Dexter bull and are anticipating the calving at the end of the month. That said, the offspring will be sold (or a bull calf kept for the freezer).

    In the Dexter breed, there are definite milking lineage and beef lineage, usually a cow from the milking lineage will only throw a 'beefier' offspring if bred to a beef lineage bull - the dwarf gene is a negative check mark. Dexters don't have the temperment to make a good oxen (especially when compared to the likes of a Milking Devon or Guernsey).

    True, the Dexter breed eats less because they are smaller, but when you have to raise two to get the amount of beef you would with one Angus cross, just where is the savings??

    We strongly considered the Milking Devon breed (even debated the very Devon herd Haggis eventually bought). We settled on the Jersey breed. We love the gentle nature and nurturing abilities of the cows and there are local Jersey bulls to service our cow. We've had many inquiries for raw milk sales that we are working to buy a yearling Jersey heifer. What our two Jersey cows can produce is more in line with what our usage will be. We would have to have 4 or more Dexter cows for the milk output. We might not spend any more on feed, but we there are other expenses that could double. Keeping a family cow isn't just about how much you spend to feed them - there is also the extra breeding cost (either natural or AI) and vet bills, double the cows means double the chance of vet expenses.

    The Milking Devon breed is still an option for us - Paul would like to train a couple steers into oxen (keep us in mind Haggis if your cows start throwing matched bull calves!!)

    For many, many people, the Dexter is the 'perfect' family cow - for others, it just isn't. Then there are those that say the perfect "family cow" is actually a goat!!!
     
  7. Carol K

    Carol K Well-Known Member

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    Hi Guys,
    well I have to agree with Chris, Hagis your math was a little out, it's a 25% chance on the short to short. But yes there is that chance, so breed wisely and just avoid it.
    MLF, I don't know what you would call a "good oxen" as I don't do oxen, but I just got back from the agm and was impressed by the 2 teams I saw there, one 16 years old boy also rides his steer bareback with a bridle on., but like I said I don't know that much about oxen, just what I saw.
    On the beef issue, I think the idea about dexters is that you get a good size carcass for the "home" freezer, and you are not left trying to fit in that huge angus that you may not get through in a year.
    As said though, it really is all in what you need on your homestead, that's why there are so many choices of cows, lucky for us. No toes stepped on by the way, it's good to get perspectives from all.

    Carol K
     
  8. Just to address a couple of the negatives claimed against Dexters:

    I have 9 Dexters; two bulls and 7 cows. They came from widely separated heritages. They are the most gentle, peaceful animals. All my visitors go away saying so. My herd bull is a friendly pet. He loves having his back scratched. Most of the Dexters come to me whenever I'm in the field.

    It's so easy to avoid the bulldog gene entirely. Just make sure that either your cows or your bull or both are long legged. Solves the short legged milking complaint also. Most other breeds also carry such a dwarfism gene. Especially the dairy breeds.

    Having a cow as small as a Dexter is a plus in many ways. You can get twice as many in your barn. you can own two and only milk one. Milking 1.5 gallons is far easier on the hands than milking 4 gallons. You can fit one into the average size freezer. With bigger cattle you either share with someone or buy a humongous freezer.

    You can have a Dexter or two on a 3 to 5 acre homestead and still have room for a lawn, garden, pool and play area.

    As far as stepping on the toes of a Dexter breeder/owner; it's bad enough having a Dexter step on your foot. Can you imagine having an Angus do it? It happened to my neighbor with his Angus. Ouch!

    As far as the perfect family cow being a goat, Well my 8 goats coexist with my 9 Dexters perfectly. So you don't have to chose which is best. Just have both.

    Gene
    Paradise Farm
     
  9. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    Carol,
    I am not saying that the temprament of the Dexter steer is not a friendly one. The dexter bull we had on our place was quite friendly (although I'd never turn my back on *any* bull!!)

    Some of the things that is judged about oxen is the consistent bidability and the ease of teaching, how well the 'get it' and how long they retain what the learn of the breed as a whole. *Any* breed of bovine can be trained as draft animals, some are just better suited for it.

    Dexters have their place on a small homestead and are a wonderful breed! I just don't agree that they are the 'ultimate' homestead cow.

    For our own homestead where we are not only striving to feed ourselves, but to also feed others and hopefully make our homestead self-sufficient, we need a larger breed of cow that gives a rich milk, that we can sell to the "Cement People". :)
     
  10. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    I think the gentle folk at Mullers Lane Farm are far more eloquent than I when discussing the "ultimate homestead cow", and I agree with them that the term "ultimate" means something different to everyone.

    My first encounter with the Dexter breed was 20 plus years but in a copy of the Mother Earth News, and the fellow in the article played up the dwarfism issue a sight more than it is today. He even went so far as to say that Dexters should not be bred to other animals due to passing on the dwarf gene. I understand that all breeds have recessive dwarf genes; I've onced owned a dwarf Hereford, but in the Dexter the dwarf gene prominent, or at least it takes DNA testing to prove it's not present, and breeding Dexters carrying the bulldog gene to cattle out of their own breed increases the possibility of ruining future breedings of larger stock.

    I stand corrected about saying that 50% of shortlegged X shortlegged calves would die, I was misquoting what I had read. I think it goes more like: shortlegged X shortlegged = 25% longlegged, 50% shortlegged, and 25% dead.

    But again, my point of view is that the "homesteader" is not a cattle breeder on anything but an extremely small scale, and certainly not a student of genetics. S/He is more likely on the land to feed themselves and family wholesome food, maybe raise a bit more than they need to sell or barter for what they cannot raise, and to simplify their lives.

    I love my Jerseys and was raised on farms where there were always Jersey cows present, but I can see where a breed like the Milking devon that doesn't give too much milk, forages with the best of them, makes a fair beef, and is the breed by which others are measured at draft would make a great addition to any homestead where the crafter was trying to be as self-sufficient as possible.

    The "ultimate homestead cow" is still in a state of development and each breed has their supporters, but each of us must be content just now with what is the ultimate homestead cow on our own homestead.
     
  11. Carol K

    Carol K Well-Known Member

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    I sometimes wish I had the time and inclination to learn about oxen, I do admire the people that train them though, and they do look awesome. MLF, cows sound somewhat similar to dogs for trainability if I'm reading you right, some train better than others,that's interesting, I never knew that, thanks I like to learn.

    I do agree entirely about what one calls "their ultimate" is not, someone elses.
    We are all so lucky to have found "our ultimate", whatever it is.

    Carol
     
  12. willow_girl

    willow_girl Very Dairy

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    There is a great story in an historical account of our area about an old guy who trained up two bulls (not oxen ... bulls!) as draft animals.

    They were Holsteins, and made quite a flashy pair. (There was a circa 1900 photo in the book of the dude with his team.) The writer noted that the bulls guarded the man's farm and wouldn't allow strangers on the place.

    According to the book, a strong bond formed between man and beast, and when the old guy died, one of the bulls stopped eating and quickly perished, while the other became so unruly that no one could handle it, and it had to be put down.

    On another topic, given the pleasant but, shall we say, implacable temperament of my Jersey, Dawn, I can't really picture them being used as draft animals! (Perhaps if you walked out front with a bucket of grain?!)
     
  13. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    Willow,
    I won't keep a Jersey bull on the place except for a few nights of breeding and certainly won't consider one for draft!

    Our own draft choice is a team of Belgian. For our purposes (farming hay), oxen are just too slow for our machinery.

    We did have a Milking Devon ox (single) here for a short while. Able was absolutely awesome and I fell in love with the breed.

    The reasons we have beeves on the place are for milk and for meat for our own family and for a few friends. We're not worried about having too much meat - there are too many people who are clamoring for grass fed beef. In the same sense, we are not worried about having too much milk - there is a great void to fill in Raw Milk.

    We don't have a lot of land (about 8 acres of pasture), but it is enough to sustain 3 draft horse, a mule and a couple bovine 8 months out of the year by rotational grazing.

    Given this, we looked for what we thought was the best for both applications and are sticking with full blood Jersey for our milk supply and an Angus cross for our meat.

    One of these days, (if I can convince Paul), we'll be switching to Milking Devons, but that's a big IF!
     
  14. Paul O

    Paul O Well-Known Member

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    Maybe I’m joining in late but I’m relatively new to the forum and have my $0.02 to add.

    We can argue about whether the term “ultimate” fits or not but I can see how Dexters would meet many homesteaders’ goals. My view of homesteading is to raise a few animals sustainably with the goal of producing good, safe food, with a little independence thrown in for good measure.

    In my case smaller is better. I have limited pasture. I’m more concerned with keeping the operation “right-sized” vs. maximizing efficiency and output. I think there are a lot of homesteaders with the same goals.

    I’ve read that Dexters can be maintained on as little as ½ acre per head. That sounds a bit optimistic but the point is still valid that they would need less than a larger animal. My small pasture could maintain several head nicely and still leave plenty of room.

    The genetic issues are well understood and can be controlled. All I’ve read bout the temperament, except in this thread, has been favorable. They are reportedly hardy and easy calvers, which sound like low maintenance. I’m not planning on milking right off but if, or when, I do one Dexter cow would provide all I need and still have left-overs for the pigs.

    So, I’d say Dexters could be considered an ideal choice for some folks albeit not everyone.
     
  15. MullersLaneFarm

    MullersLaneFarm Well-Known Member

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    Which is why we went with the Jersey breed. It was the best of both worlds. We didn't have to pay an outrageous amount for an animal that was already familiar with hand milking, she throws good calves, we have a nice output of milk for family, friends and hogs, and she keeps well on little more than an acre.

    Speaking of which - when someone tells you they can keep an animal on "so much" land, be sure that the type of land/pasture they have is similar to yours. What I can keep on 1 acre here in IL would need 10 acres out in CO.