The calf in the center of the photo below is a year old purebred Dexter steer. He has the typically overgrown “elf booties” feet that are a major flaw of the breed. Follow the red arrow in the picture and notice how his hooves are fluted, pointy and upturned.
The steer calf has never been kept on concrete and is kept on good, dry pasture with two slightly younger Kerry Simmental cross heifers that have perfectly normal feet for their age. Compare his hooves to the hooves of the calf on the left.
Notice how her hooves are shorter, wider, thicker and more balanced?
A neighbor, who runs hundreds of cattle on nearly a thousand acres, stopped by the farm the other day and remarked that our little steer has the worst feet he ever saw in an animal so young.
I laughed and replied, “You just ain’t seen enough Dexters.”
And that’s true enough, because it’s hard to believe that one breed of cattle – heritage or otherwise – can have so many faults until you actually see lots of them together in one place from many different breeders.
Last June (2012) my husband got a chance to do just that when he attended the National Dexter Cattle Show and Sale in Fort Wayne Indiana to meet with other Dexter breeders. He was appalled by what he saw there, and until this day he still calls that 3 day affair the “Bad Feet and Bad Udder” show.
The faults of both bad feet and poor udders are a plague on most strains of Dexter cattle.
Both faults can be corrected through intensive culling and an intelligent breeding program. But sadly very few Dexter owners are willing to ruthlessly cull inferior animals due to ignorance and financial considerations.
Many Dexter cattle are sold to new and not so new homesteaders and small holders who want a smaller “dual purpose” animal, but have very little experience with dairy or beef cattle breeding and husbandry.
Folks, there are no satisfactory “dual purpose” cattle.
The old saying, “dual purpose doesn’t do much of either purpose very well” is for the most part true. Inexperienced people simply don’t know that and “backyard breeders” are doing precious little to improve the Dexter breed as a whole.
Truth is for most people who are simply looking for a family milk cow; Dexters are way overpriced, eat too much for their size and are frankly over hyped. As beef cattle they still eat too much, and take a long time to bring to slaughter weight especially if you are buying feed.
Don’t let the small size fool you, Dexter cattle are not feed efficient animals, nor are they cattle for people of modest means or families on a budget.
Now I know my opinion isn’t going to make me real popular with other Dexter breeders or homesteaders who’ve always dreamed of owning a “dual purpose” Dexter for milk and for beef.
But don’t get me wrong about Dexter cattle – I’m simply the messenger.
Dexters do have a real place on certain homesteads and garden farms. But do not believe everything you read about them on the internet.