Keeping Dexter Cattle

The Alvecote Herd

Dexter Cattle in the Snow

Do Dexter cattle need housing?

1) Dexter cattle are a hardy breed and can cope if left outside in favourable areas (see 3) provided that the land is well drained and there is sufficient shelter with somewhere dry for them to lie.

Cattle expend a great deal of energy keeping warm in adverse weather and consequently lose condition if not adequately fed you would therefore need to factor in additional feeding costs to compensate.  

Cow Sheds

2) Keeping cattle out of doors all year round is a management strategy, that does not mean to say that you will never require access to housing. Where cattle are to be kept together indoors then they should be grouped according to size/age to help minimize bullying. Housing will save you much anxiety when an emergency arises and is essential for isolation purposes.

It is as well to bear in mind that when managed extensively, Dexters may 'revert to the wild' and are perhaps more suited to those having some experience with livestock.

Cattle Indoors

3) There are very few areas of the British Isles where cattle can be kept outside all year round even when the soil conditions are suitable. If the weather is particularly bad for a prolonged period then the cows should be provided with adequate shelter to avoid harm to their welfare. In the summer months biting flies can be problematical if cattle are not able to seek refuge indoors.

Since cows spend fifty percent of their day lying down, it is important that they are encouraged to express this natural behaviour by keeping resting areas dry. 

Herd of Dexter Cattle

How many Dexter cows per acre?

4) Being quite small, two Dexters can be kept in place of one of the larger breeds which is just as well, as Dexters are herd animals and do not like to live alone.

Whilst Dexters are great on a limited acreage you cannot keep them in a large garden. Calculating the exact amount of land required is not straight forward as soil types, quality of sward, weather conditions and other livestock kept are subject to variation.  

Dexter Cow and Calf

5) As a general rule, it would be possible to keep a cow with calf and last year's calf on two acres of reasonable grazing although you will need to buy in hay/haylage if you don't have additional land to make your own. You will also require some form of housing for the winter and occasional prolonged wet periods for although they are not very heavy, when confined to small areas they will cut the grass up and make gateways/feeding areas very muddy.

Dexter Cattle at Grass

What do Dexter cattle eat?

6) Dexters are renowned for their thriftiness but that does not mean they live on fresh air! Their staple diet in the summer is grass and unlike many other breeds, particularly the continentals, the Dexter will produce fine quality milk and beef on good grass alone. They are very useful for clearing up areas of scrub land if higher production values are of secondary importance.  

Feeding Dexter Cattle

7) When the grass loses its feed value from autumn onwards or when cattle are housed, they will need supplementary feeding with hay, haylage or silage to maintain their body condition until the grass starts to grow again in the spring.  

Winter Feeding Dexters

8) Whilst a purely forage based diet is preferable this should not take priority over animal welfare. During times of bad harvest when good quality forage is not readily available to lactating cows or young stock, then alternative forms of protein should be fed in addition. There are many proprietary concentrate mixtures on the market and these should be fed according to the manufacturer's instructions.  

Dexter Heifer Indoors

9) Whether indoors or out, you will need to monitor forage intake carefully to make sure that shy or slow feeders are getting their fair share. Some cows can be especially greedy and will put on too much weight at the expense of others. All stock should also have access to a mineral lick and of course, fresh clean water should always be available.