Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Virtual Farm Tour :: Dexter Beef Cattle

The great thing about this year is that we have had an extremely severe drought which has led to grass that decided it didn't want to grow back as well ... hay that is scarce and expensive ... and lots fun in the heat! No really ... I think it is fairly obvious that it has been a difficult year in many places and as bad as it has been here there are probably areas that have had things worse. So, we are just plugging away with our Dexter beef.

When the farm began ... and really before the farm began ... I was working towards having the grassfed beef be the centerpiece enterprise of our farm. I read a lot of books on raising cattle, managing grass, management intensive grazing, and so much more. In fact the very first livestock we purchased were the Dexter cows and calves. I really wanted beef to be my focus, but once we really got going and moved to the farm it quickly became clear that the beef was going to be a small side enterprise of the larger farm business.

The reason is very simple ... land! We only have a total of 40 acres and from there probably only 25 or so acres are available for grazing (minus the woods/buildings). Those 25 acres will allow us to do a few beef each year (along with our Katahdin lambs), but with our limited grazing land right now it will never be a centerpiece. And, as things stand right now I don't see renting more land as a viable option ... so our purebred Dexter beef is a smaller part of our farm.

Now that I have that all out of the way ... how are things going? Grazing started out well this year, but it quickly became apparent that the grass would not be growing back. That along with my injury has meant less rotational grazing and more scrambling for grass! Nevertheless the cows and calves seem to be doing well and since we have had only bull calves for the last couple of years we should have more beef offerings the next couple of years.

I believe if you look over some previous posts you would see that I was beginning to question the Dexters because they don't produce as much meat as other cattle their size (Lowlines for example). I have been having some serious thoughts about at least crossing in some more beefy lines. Just this past Saturday though I think I ruled that out at the farmers market when I had multiple customers come up asking for beef and were disappointed that I was out because they said it was the best they had ever had! For now ... we're sticking with the Dexters.

There is my quick rambling on our Dexter beef ... if you have any specific questions I would love to share more!


Rich said...

Have you ever thought about grazing those wooded areas? Even if you could only get 10-15% more grazing, it would still be 10-15% more grazing.

My farm is different than yours, but I've got some areas of thick brush and trees that I'd like to open up (clear out the underbrush and lower tree limbs, etc.). From what I've read (and it sort of makes sense) if you can get the cattle to spend their nights in the woods they will start to turn an overgrown area into a more open woodland. Just go into the woods, run a temporary electric fence around the herd to confine them to a small area, and you get an almost instant park-like setting (or so the theory goes).

The idea (by coincidence, I think I originally saw it in a Holistic Management International video) is that there will be more manure in those areas because the cattle are bedding down. More manure means that the wooded area will start to turn from a fungal environment (from the leaves, etc.) into a more bacterial environment. Since grass needs a bacterial environment then grass should start to grow.

If I ever get my high tensile ran down to those areas and I get all the cedars cut down to start the clearing, I'll see if the theory works.

If your droughts aren't severe enough that you never have to completely de-stock and are forced to sell at the stockyards, I would think that Dexters would work fine for a small acreage.

Smaller cattle mean that you can stock more head of cattle per farm. And, you need a certain number of cows to justify having a bull, so smaller cattle mean less bull cost per calf.

Dexters might not work for me, but I can see how they would work in some situations.

Of course, if you could AI a couple of cows to a Lowline it might be worth it as a comparison (the lowline-dexter cross might be even more tasty).

Ethan Book said...

We are grazing the woods when possible, but since I'm not able to do much these days I haven't hit the woods as much as I would like or need to.

As far as the impact of grazing the woods ... running the pigs through them has made an AMAZING difference!

Steven said...

Wish I had some woods to try expanding into! We've been feeding hay off and on to extend the recovery period for our "grass" all summer. It's really bad down here. If it wasn't for the alfalfa, pig weed, and burmuda, we wouldn't have any grazing. The fescue and orchard grass stopped growing before summer arrived.

As you know, we have been crossing to a lowline bull for a while now. he's been great for increasing thickness on the calves. We still sometimes wish that we had more beef per animal but the lack of grass has something to do with that too.

Our bull stays FAT no matter what, it seems. I've actually picked out one of his yearling bull calves that I think we are going to replace him with. This little guy (named RonPaul) has looked like a bull from the time he was born and he's always checking cows just like his dad. We're not sure what we're going to do with Doc Nathan (the lowline) but we don't want to have to feed him all winter. We're leaning towards butchering him. I've heard great things about Dexter bull beef, I hope lowline bull beef is similar.

maplegirl916 said...

Ethan - When you say pigs made an amazing difference in the woods, what do you mean? We have a maple syrup operation, and I was thinking of rotating some pigs up there, but don't want to cause either immediate or future damage to our woods. Thanks.

Ethan Book said...

Maplegirl916 ... While I can't speak specifically to the impact pigs would have on a maple syrup operation I can share what we've seen (and I'll post more later). Basically our woods is fairly new growth (within the last 50 or 60 years) so there is a lot of undergrowth and worthless shrubby type of stuff. Since we put the pigs in the woods they have done a very good job of clearing a lot of that out of the way to the point where we can actually walk through it without trouble. The other side of the fence where they are not able to be is a total jungle during the growing season.

They will make some wallows and dig in some places, but it hasn't been anything to bad so far. Also, we rest the woods from time to time give things a chance to grow on the woodlot floor.

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