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Our New Dexter Calf, Cattle Decisions, and General Farm Updates

| 1/24/2011 3:39:00 PM

Samantha BiggersJanuary brought a lot more cold weather to Biggers Farm. It also brought the addition of a Dexter bull calf courtesy of Misty Ridge Bess and Old Orchard Hrothgar. He is our first Dexter calf born on the farm. It is amazing how easy Dexters calve. On New Year's Day my husband and I noticed that Bessie's udder was pretty tight so we figured she would calve in a day or two. The next morning there was a calf on the ground. Bessie had already cleaned him up and fed him. At the time we did not know if the calf was a heifer or a bull. Bessie was a little nervous and still recovering a bit, so it was a few days before we discovered we had a bull. Although we were just happy to have had a healthy calf and no delivery complications, I have to admit we were hoping for a heifer this time. Our herd is not yet as large as we would like. We are going to try to train this calf as an ox.

Bessie being leery of the camera. 

As some of you might know, we were working with a Jersey-Holstein cross to be our farm ox. That did not work out for us. We have not been impressed with how the Jersey-Holsteins do on a pasture based system nor have we been impressed with their intellect. The one we were trying to train learned some of the basic commands quite quickly, but after that it became apparent he really was not interested in working with us. He started running away every time he even saw a halter. We switched where we are feeding the cattle hay recently, and it took us FIVE times of trying to show the Jersey-Holsteins where the new hay was before they figured it out. They would just come back to the top of the mountain and moo for food when they had all they could ever want waiting at the bottom of the hill. We literally had to wave it in their face before they got it, and the only reason they made it that far is that I called our Dexter heifer, Linda Lou down. With the Dexters all you have to do is yell.

Since the Dexter bull calf was born on the farm, and we have been handling him since day 1, he will be more bonded to us. We learned a lot trying to train the Jersey-Holstein. This spring and summer we will also have more time to spend training him. I also need to research how to make a harness for him to train with. They are very expensive to purchase, so I want to see if making one is feasible.

Part of our decision to not raise any more Jersey-Holstein crosses is based on the fact that they seem to be incapable of getting fat on grass. Industrialized farms have bred cattle to be finished on grain. You have to be careful when buying cattle if you want a grassfed operation. Our Dexters stay fat on just grass. A lot of the heritage breeds do very well on grass, so more and more people are choosing them. That said, raising a dairy calf or two can still make sense and be a good option for the small landowner who wants some beef for the freezer and maybe sell a steer to pay the property taxes. For a grass based beef and dairy operation like we wish to have in the future, we will be better off with just the Dexters. We also only intended on raising cattle other than Dexters until we reached the goal of having a decent sized herd of Dexters.

Bessie and her hours old bull calf  

12/16/2013 8:47:29 AM

I am delighted to hear about these Dexters! The first time I ever saw one was close up, in a stony field (I was taking a shortcut across) on a small island off the West coast of Ireland. Small as they are, they are still PLENTY big when one sneaks up on you from behind: I was taking a hiking break and just sitting on a rocky outcrop--suddenly a methany whoof and a damp touch on my shoulder!

Nebraska Dave
1/25/2011 10:17:49 PM

@Samantha, sounds like life on the farm has been keeping you busy for sure. We had Holstein and one Jersy milk cows when I was in High School. It was my final two years on the farm. We could call them in with the usual "Come Boss" cow calling but that was only because they knew it meant food and udder relief. We weren't a big operation and only netted about 10 gallons of milk a day which we ran through a cream separator and then fed the skim milk to the hogs. We would end up with about 10 gallons of cream a week which we took to town and sold. I can't believe that it covered the cost of taking care of the milk cow herd. My whole share of the deal was $10 a week. It gave me car gas money for the week as back then we had gas wars and quite often the price of gas would get down to $.20 a gallon. One dollar would buy 5 gallons of gas which would be enough to cruise the city all night long. I guess those days are gone huh? Have a great day on the farm. May all your calves be heifers.

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