Dexter cattle

The more we have read and listened to about regenerative approaches to agriculture, the more it has become apparent that cattle play a vital role. Their trampling of vegetation helps increase soil organic matter and cross-grazing helps minimise parasite levels for both them and sheep.

Yet, cattle are a big step - they are much larger animals and you can't just get hold of one and turn it over if needed. Luckily, with advice and experience shared by local friends we thought it was a step we could take.

We have chosen Dexters for a number of reasons. They originated in Ireland where they would be set to graze on the hills and bogs, a terrain which has much in common with our farm. This being the case, they are hardy, perfect for our conditions. They are also the smallest native breed, making them easier to handle, with less need for huge (and expensive) facilities and putting the land under less pressure when it's wet. Our neighbours also keep them and were willing to share their bull. Their beef is reputed to be the best there is too!

The beginning of our herd

We both particularly liked the red type and had decided that polled would be preferable for our first foray into cattle. We had initially planned to look for some as we moved into summer but an opportunity came up and, judging by the relative lack of red, polled examples, for sale, we thought we should take it.

Talking to the breeder we were offered two older black cows, both in calf, as they would teach us about calving and likely have no problems, being very experienced mothers. Along with these we also bought two red yearling heifers that would be able to go to the bull later in the year.

These four pedigree, registered Dexters made the journey from Gloucestershire in March 2022. Daisy and her daughter Bramble are the older black cows, along with (as we've nicknamed them) Buttercup and Clover.

After a couple of weeks in a large pen in our polytunnel, while they settled in and got used to us, we led them out to the field in advance of calving.

Calving for the first time

We had an approximate idea of when they would be due to calve but in the end Daisy was a week earlier than expected and Bramble a week later. As Bramble's udder was so huge, every day we were thinking it must be today! But she kept us guessing and quietly popped out a calf one morning just a couple of hours after showing no real signs it was imminent.

Both cows had red heifer calves without any problems and both were up and mobile before we even found them - we couldn't have asked for a better result for our first time.

For names we decided that they would be called a combination of a local geographical feature, like a hill or reservoir, followed by a shade of their colour (red or black). So, Daisy had Gorple Ruby and Bramble bore Swinden Scarlet.

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