Dexter Productivity

Dexter Milk & Meat Productivity

Bonfire's heifer calfIn order to become a Dexter breeder on any scale, especially for those new to the field and/or those looking for the ‘tree-change’, it is necessary to firstly realise and accept that there needs to be a market for the by-products (meat, milk, skins etc); even if that market is merely your own household and the households of extended families. Without such markets, the Dexter breed will once again become depleted rather than grow and thrive. Many smallholders and/or cottagers merely desire a house-cow for milking, but to produce milk the cow must first calve; and the smallholder and/or cottager needs to have a plan in mind for that calf. All too prevalent in the dairy industry is the unfavourable and often cruel treatment of the bobby calves; the unwanted. One of the main advantages of Dexters is that they are dual-purpose. The flavour and quality of meat from Dexters is equal-to-better-than the generally accepted ‘top meats’. There is certainly no need to dispose of those calves in a haphazardly cruel manner when a few happy months (9 – 15 or more depending on personal preference), and a trauma-free butchering process, would see that calf feed a family for some time. There is always enough milk to share between the calf and the household; and there is always a reputable butcher, mobile or based, within reach. Note: the general practice for most breeders is to retain heifers (along with the occasional bull-calf) as breeding stock, while steers have the noble purpose of feeding the family. Nevertheless, heifers make equally good meat calves, and fatten slightly earlier than steers.

Excellent Mothers

Dexters are well-known for their mothering abilities, with protective yet calm temperaments and generally generous udders, and the tendency to maintain their own condition while nourishing the calf. Nevertheless, a heifer’s first calf is still ‘unknown territory’ and should therefore be monitored carefully. There are a number of dos-and-dont’s and probably-shoulds in breeding, not the least of which being the choice of breeding-stock, but the rewards are worth the effort and the best way for the new breeder to learn is via advice from the experienced. If you have any questions, or merely a thirst for knowledge, feel free to contact us and ask those who have been in the field for some time. And remember: No question is stupid; every experienced breeder was once a novice.

Milking Dexters

An average Dexter cow will produce 4 to 8 litres of milk per day, whereas when dairy character has been encouraged (via genetic selection) Dexter cows have been known to produce 16 to 20 litres per day with a butterfat percentage (4 – 5%) comparable to the Jersey, and a lactation period of approximately 280 – 290 days. The high butterfat content makes Dexter milk ideal for cheese-making and butter-churning. 10 litres of Dexter milk makes approximately 1kg of cheese.

Bonfire is made secure before milkingWhen milking by hand, it is always advisable to secure the cow, just as Edith has done here. Bonfire’s head is comfortably, but securely, being held in the head-bale, allowing her to eat happily while preventing her from wandering. Her back legs are tethered loosely to the frame of the cattle crush, preventing her from kicking over the bucket and spilling the milk.
Bonfire is made secure before milkingBonfire’s milk flows steadily under Edith’s practised hands. When encouraging milk production, it is important to strip-out the udder (drain completely). If there is any milk left in the udder, the cow will not produce as much milk next time as her body is telling her that it is not needed. Stripping-out requires the finger-and-thumb method as opposed to the closed-hand/finger-rotation used for milking a full udder.

Dexters for Meat

The uninformed commercial beef trade (supermarkets, restaurants etc) might scoff at the size of most Dexter beef cuts, yet if their customers ever experienced the taste and quality, the attitudes would quickly change. The smaller size of the cattle produces a finer muscle fibre and therefore a finer grain of meat; and the ‘happy environment’ in which most Dexters are reared and processed prevents stress on the animal, which in turn prevents a drop in quality of beef. Furthermore, Dexter cattle have a higher than average ‘Eye Muscle Area’ and the meat yield is surprisingly high in relation to the live weight; so don’t be fooled by the small exterior.

Beef Cuts

The names used for individual beef cuts can change, not just from country to country, but from suburb to suburb. Try going into your local butchers and asking for a wing-roast. Unless you are talking to the actual butcher (most good butchers will be aware of every possible name), the salesperson will look at you strangely and ask “A what?” It is not a common cut; possibly the commercial meat trade finds it more viable to slice it into the more common scotch fillet steaks or scotch cutlets. Yet a Dexter wing-roast marinated and spit-roasted is definitely manna from heaven, providing melt-in-the-mouth meat as well as delicious sticky ribs to gnaw on.

The chart below is merely a summary of the individual cuts from a side of beef. There are a number of charts available, with included cooking-method guides; contact us if you would like some assistance in finding an appropriate chart. When having your own beef processed, there are other things to take into account, such as what and how much you will have minced or formed into sausages or sausage mince for meatloaves; whether to keep the tail either as dog bones or for ox-tail soup; whether the tongue is large enough to warrant pickling; whether to salt the silverside or keep it fresh for slow pot-roasting; whether to have t-bone steaks or more porterhouse/eye-fillet.

For recipes and cooking guides for individual cuts visit our Recipes section.

Beef Cuts Percentages

It is impossible to say what returns (in meat) you can expect from your Dexter beef cattle. Every individual is going to be different. Many things contribute to those differences, such as genetics, available food and the nutritional quality of that food, and the age at which you decide to process the cattle. Statistics indicate that Dexters, on average, dress out to 50-54% of their liveweight; this is termed hookweight (or hot standard carcass weight). After cooling and de-boning, the consumable yield can be anywhere between 60 – 75% of the hookweight, which equates to between 30 – 37% of the liveweight. As an example, a steer with a liveweight of 220kg will yield between 66kg and 81kg of consumable meat.

The breakdown of the final yield will vary considerably depending on your own choices of how you have the steer processed (how much you have minced, sausaged etc), but the figures below are a reasonable example.

These figures are an average taken from 8 grass-fed Wagra steers aged 12 – 18 months, and are based on a percentage of the final processed weight (consumable yield):

  • Mince 23%
  • Sausage 12%
  • Silverside 9%
  • Brisket 6%
  • Wing 6%
  • Rump 5.5%
  • Topside Roast 5%
  • Porterhouse/T-bone 5%
  • Bolar Blade 5%
  • Stewing 5%
  • Osso Bucco/Gravy Beef 4.5%
  • Round Steak 4%
  • Scotch Fillet 3.5%
  • Eye Fillet 2.3%
  • Oyster Blade 2.2%
  • Topside Steak 2%