There is no better way to ensure the survival of the family in case of a SHTF scenario and to create a sustainable homestead than to grow and raise your own groceries. There are a plethora of traditional farm animals which can help keep the family well-fed year around or during a long-term disaster, but when both space and budget are limited, one stands out above many of the rest – Dexter cattle.
Dexter cattle, or miniature cattle, are perhaps the best pound-for-pound value in the bovine realm. The mini cows are one of the smallest breeds of cattle and do not need as much room to roam – or pasture to feed them, as regular size cattle. Most Dexters are primarily black, but some versions of the miniature breed come in either a dun or red fur tone. They have beautiful white horns which are tipped in black once they reach adulthood.
The miniature cows and steers require about one half-acre of pasture per animal – or approximately 12 to 15 pounds of hay and a small supplement of grain as deemed necessary over the cold winter months. They are not picky eaters and can get by just fine on overgrown pastures or less-maintained pasture.
Dexter cows and steer appear to be an extremely durable breed regardless of the climate where they roam. Miniature cow breeds now span the country and exist successfully about anywhere, including both Florida and Alaska. The mini cows are often seen wandering happily about their pasture even when the thermometer dips very low and a significant amount of snow is on the ground.
The miniature cows grow to just about 36 to 44 inches at the shoulder. The Dexter cattle breed boast a lean mean and rich milk. They are known to be a very gentle breed – and much easier to manipulate than their far larger, and sometimes hard-headed, peers.
The number of preppers and homesteading families which have embraced the miniature cattle concept in recent years has surged. The reasons Dexter cattle are become more popular goes far beyond budget constraints and space limitation issues.
The miniature cows produce about one to two gallons of milk per day. One cow produces enough milk to fulfill the needs of a typical family, without any going to waste or causing extra work to turn into a semi-shelf stable edible. Standard size cows, like a Holstein, produce around 10 gallons of milk each day. That’s a whole lot of milk to deal with and store if not participating in some type of herdshare agreement with others who either raw milk fans or prefer to pasteurize their own milk to avoid added hormones and other unnatural additives in commercially produced milk. Dexters have also been frequently and successfully used a “nurse cows” and provided milk for up to three calves in need to a surrogate mom.
Milk from the mini cows has a 4 percent butterfat milk when fed for production. At the height of a mini cow’s lactation period it has been known to produce up to 5 gallons of milk a day. Milk form a Dexter cow has also been heralded for how easy it is to digest. Because the fat globules in the milk are extremely small, it is less irritating on the stomach than milk from a standard-size cows. The cream from a mini cows’ milk has also been known to easily separate, making it a cooperative ingredient when making both ice cream and a very rich butter.
Dexter cows produce about 400 pounds of meat. Full-size cows or steers produce 600 to 800 pounds of beef. Mini cow breeders brag on not only the excellent flavor of their beef, but its juicy tenderness as well. Typically, grain-fed Dexter cattle will hit the 250 pound mark in only 12 months. A large Dexter cow or steer can weigh in at 500 pounds in 24 months. They dress at approximately 60 percent of their live weight.
Feeding two mini cows or steers is typically less or the same as providing feed for one regular cow or steer – but the amount of pasture space required to properly house them still remains far less. If you have only the space of budget for one standard size cow and becomes ill or lost, the entire meat harvest has been lost. But, if two mini cows are purchased instead and one cow becomes ill and dies or has to be put down, the family will still have access to 400 pounds of beef to make it through tough times.
They might be small, but they are still mighty. Dexter cows are known to take to a yoke both quickly and easily. The miniature cows and steers appear eager to please, making them a great bovine to work with for both first time farmers, homesteaders, and newbie preppers. Their complaint personality make them great teachers for children in the family. Youngsters may be able to most safely learn how to care for, milk, and mange livestock, when working with the miniature cattle breed. Equally easily and safely, an elderly and even experienced member of the family can still help contributed to the daily workings of the prepper retreat or homestead by taking are of the Dexter cattle with far less fear of being injured or needing assistance than compared to handling standard-size cows and steers.
The mini cows most likely originated in Ireland and found their way to America in the early 20th Century. The one significant drawback with the Dexter breed is a genetic reproduction problem which appears to most often plague the smaller stature mini cows. Sometimes Dexter cows give birth to “bulldog” or stillborn calves with deformed faces.
Dexter cows commonly calve without any assistance from human hands. The need to glove up and use a calf puller is almost unheard of for miniature cow breeders. When their hooves hit the ground, Dexter calves weigh about 45 pounds. When they are weaned at around seven months, they typically weigh about 250 to 350 pounds. Both cows and steers continue to grow until they hit close to six years old. Some Dexters have continued to calve until they hit the ripe old age of 15 – and can live to be more than 20 years old.
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