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Dexter cow acreage?

 
pollinator
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Can I keep a pair of dexter cows on an acre of pasture using intensive rotational grazing? Any input would be great,      Huxley.
 
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It might be possible, but I would plan on feeding at least some hay. Dexters can survive without a lot of feed but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for them. People sometimes underfeed them because of how "scrappy" of a breed they are, but it isn't humane. In your climate you might have decent grass growth year round, so that would be a benefit. Supplementing with vegetables and fruit would also help. Are they for meat?
 
Huxley Harter
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Meat or milk, not sure which yet.
 
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If not, buy hay.
 
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Having a mini CAFO is probably not a good idea. A full size cow requires at least 2ac of good pasture (even with rotation) so a Dexter needs at least half that per head. Stressing them out will incline them to poor health. Just some thoughts...
 
Timothy Markus
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Barbara Martin wrote:Having a mini CAFO is probably not a good idea. A full size cow requires at least 2ac of good pasture (even with rotation) so a Dexter needs at least half that per head. Stressing them out will incline them to poor health. Just some thoughts...



There are many people who have the pasture to graze more than a head/acre.  They are not CAFO.
 
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The most intensively I have seen cattle grazed was about 3.5 acres per head. This was after 30 years of improvement through planned grazing. That land is amazingly productive. Those cattle were moderate framed so running dexters on that land could probably be done at 2 acres/head. The cattle were fed bought hay through the winter.

I think on 1 acre you could have 2 dexters without damaging the land. You would need to do a rotation that allowed for complete recovery. This would require bringing in feed for them to supplement pasture. This would work with either dairy or plain meat. For dairy you would want to feed them while milking them, which most people do anyway.
 
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I think to compare a homestead-scale operation where you have a cow or two on less acreage than you'd prefer, one acre for two head rather than two acres for one head, is somewhat, if not misleading, certainly obfuscating; feed lots are terrible, but two cows on an acre, even with a calf each, isn't the same as a CAFO.

In that scenario, while the timing would be tight, and there would probably be need for a sacrificial paddock, there's more than enough room for a cow to exhibit a full range of cowish behaviour, especially if  they don't get up to tonne-weight like some animals bred for meat.

I also think that the quality of the pasture needs to be taken into account. A healthy pasture growing in living soil will outcompete degraded pasture on poor soil. Theoretically, healthier pasture means fewer mouthfuls for the same nutrition, meaning less walking and chewing required, suggesting that healthier pasture will translate to more weight put on per mouthful.

Less ranging also means that it would take longer for them to graze a pasture, leaving more time for regenerating paddocks.

And let's not forget we're talking about dexters, here. These aren't South Devons, here, nor even Charolais.

One idea that could be looked into is the current state of affairs concerning mini-cattle. The last I checked (maybe a decade ago), there was a mini-dexter, or a mini half-dexter, bred down using traditional breeding and animal husbandry to produce a dual purpose meat and milker that would thrive at two head to an acre.

Personally, when I move out of the city, while it definitely won't be the first thing I do, nor even the first dairy animals I purchase, I would love to have a couple of mini-Jerseys, just for the milk and cream. Apparently, the minis produce a greater amount of milk per pound of animal than the standard beasts, without a loss in milk quality.

And keep in mind that, properly managed, you will be improving your pasture by running cattle on it, meaning that the amount and/or quality of vegetation that pasture can sustain will increase.

But let us know how you do, and good luck.

-CK
 
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I've got local friends who raise Dexters (grass fed and grass finished).

Personally, I've got two acres available of pasture with future dreams of grazing ruminants.  

He has advised against Dexter or any cattle and made the suggestion of sheep instead.

I've been putting more thought towards hair sheep and hope this comment helps.

A pair of animals might be tight grazing, and for a lonely animal if one dies.

Good luck!

 
Huxley Harter
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Chris Kott, thanks for the info. I am considering mini dexter or mini zebus to milk or beef for family use.
 
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We raise dexters for beef and usually only have 3-4 at a time. One acre is not enough for us and I think even if we had them on 5 acres they would destroy it from walking on it.  We have really good soil with an acre pasture broke up into 3 lots.  We planted rye, clover, dandelions and plantains.  We also have our own hay field and sorghum silage for winter storage.  We rotate them from plot to plot about once a week depending on weather from May until October.  We only leave them on it during the day, and wait 2 days after a rain.  While in the corral area they have all the hay they can eat.  We get them to come in with a little bit of grain.  We green chop with an old mower on rainy days so during the growing season they always have some fresh greens.  We have found that timing is important for the pasture.  Not letting them pound it down while raining increases the pasture yield for us.  Sometimes we have to buy a little hay, but last year was a bad year for good quality hay and we had 26 round bails given to us.  The dexters seem to pick through it and are growing fine.  
 
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Let’s look at the numbers: 1 acre is 4000 square meters.

Grazing of more than 3 days on the same paddock is not good. A paddock should recover between grazing, so let’s take 3 weeks recovery time, which is really short! It may be possible to have a recovery time that short in the growing season, but it is not always that short.

Let’s take 20% dry matter in the grass, and a feed intake of 15kg dry matter per cow. Gives 75 kg of grass per cow per day, or 150 kg if you have two cows.
For the ease of calculation, let’s assume you graze the cows one day in each paddock, and let the grass regrow for 3 weeks. It gives you paddocks of 190 square meters.

Can you grow 150 kg of grass in 3 weeks in your paddock? In other words, is there 0.8 kg of grass per square meter every 3 weeks?

Edit: here a good link on grass husbandry
https://onpasture.com/2019/03/11/the-most-effective-pasture-rejuvenation-method-ever-and-its-free/
 
Timothy Markus
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Huxley, I'm not sure if your goal is to be able to provide all the feed from your property.  If so, it would be hard to do on just 1 acre, though I think you could get there eventually by improving the pasture and maybe through silvopasture techniques.  Regardless, 1 acre is plenty of room for two cows, and you can bring in any hay you need.  

If you bring in hay, you're not only getting the feed value, but also the fertility that your cows are putting down. I would definitely rotate them, but the quickest way to improve pasture is to get animals on it and bring in fertility.
 
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