Have a Dexter Dairy Cow

Author Rose Marie Belforti spends some quality time with her Dexter cow.

Author Rose Marie Belforti spends some quality time with her Dexter cow.

By Rose Marie Belforti

My husband and I have a great interest in the promotion and conservation of the Dexter  breed and hope to bring awareness to the importance of raising and farming with Dexter  cattle. Our small cattle can do important work for sustainable agriculture. There has been  an amazing surge over the years in goat ownership, and there are numerous goat  cheeses on the market now. The Dexter can have the same acclaim. A “contented cow” is   joyful thing to behold!

Although there are a few Dexter dairies in the British Isles,  Australia, New Zealand and Canada, we are not aware of any at this time in the United  States. Our hope is that Dexter cattle will become more popular as we begin the trend  back to local family-run operations and away from large corporate factory farming. Our  small cattle have a lot of work power, and we think it is time for them to show off a bit. Our  dairy has grown out of a passion for “the little mountain cow,” and love for their rich, high  butterfat milk.

Dexter cows measure 34-42 inches at the withers. They do wonderfully on pasture and do not need any other supplements, although if one wants to feed a little grain or alfalfa, that is fine to boost the milk production a little, or give them extra energy after calving. But they  will do just fine on quality grass hay and pasture. Their milk supply is somewhere between  two and three gallons a day at the height of lactation, and the butterfat is high, like that of a  Jersey. The advantages of Dexters are that they eat less, take up less space and are  easier to manage than a full size cow. Moreover, they have not been bred to the hilt for one  trait, such as milk or beef, so their genetics are stronger, giving them an advantage  over the overbred breeds like Holsteins. They are “easy to finish,” which means they are ideal for grass-fed beef projects.

Dexters calve very well and do not require vaccinations in most areas because they are so hardy. They are clever, intelligent and interested—with spicy personalities! They make  good friends too!

We grass feed and pasture our cattle, and we use no drugs or other  additives in their feed or care. The milk is as clean and fresh as can be! We love our cows—each one is a friend and unique. They are part of the family. Their well-being comes first in our thoughts before  production concerns. Therefore, we make sure they mother their calves for as long as  they can before we wean the calves. Our cattle always have access to pasture, and are never confined. Since we are a small operation, we can have a humane approach to dairying. Caring for the cows is as important to us as milking them for cheese. That is very important in a world where dairying seems to forget tovalue that sacred animal—the cow!

With great appreciation, we thank all those who have helped us get started, and especially  we thank the greatest Beryl Rutherford, who kept Dexter cows in England for so many  years and introduced us all to the hope of having a chondro-dysplasia-free herd. Although  she is retired now, she has, through correspondence, been instrumental in rescuing us at  our most chaotic moments when training our cows, tending to their ailments, and all  aspects of hand milking and dairying. Without her advice and good humor, we would  certainly have given up!

We love the closeness we have with our herd. I think they like it too! Having quality time  with them twice a day, training them to become docile milkers and teaching them polite  manners in the milk parlor has been very rewarding. Don’t let anyone ever tell you a Dexter cannot be milked! We can tell you, after an entire summer of training one of the most stubborn gals ever—it can be done! Stick with it. Routine is the key to the heart and mind  of a Dexter. Do the same thing every day—that is what they like best. After a while, this  routine becomes what you like best too. It has been a very rewarding experience for us, and we look forward to many years of enjoyment making our new product and being with  our family of milking Dexters.

Let’s hope there is new interest in raising Dexters for the work they can do to bring milk to  our tables. We hope that our model for a Dexter dairy will inspire others and be an  example for others to build their their own dreams. Dexter milk is exquisite, and well worth our efforts.

See also Rose Marie’s article on setting up her small-scale cheese processing plant.

This article appeared in the Fall 2007 edition of Wise Traditions, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

3 thoughts on “Have a Dexter Dairy Cow

  1. Questions on milking Dexters I may have missed it but how long is your production time. I just bought a polled red Dexter heifer A2 that I plan on milking I want the butter/cream. Another Dexter breeder told me the Dexters are not good milkers they dry up when their calves are taken about 2 mths? We wean at 3-4 mths old. Now got me to thinking I also have dairy goats, maybe the dairy traits on Dexters are being lost because they are not being milked and milking/dairy is very genetic. So curious to see what you think

  2. Kathy,
    How separate is separate? Can they see and touch yet not nurse? Also, make sure mom has plenty of water to drink all night. Then when you tie mom to milk also tie calf so they are head to head. Milk mom and go process the milk. Leave the calf and mom tied so she can’t nurse for about an hour. Then take them to pasture. If mom nurses immediately after you are done she will hold up and not let down the milk.

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