A Herd of Your Own

The Alvecote Herd

Dexter Cow and Calf at the Royal Welsh Show

Establishing a Breeding Herd

When starting a pedigree herd of Dexter cattle for showing and/or breeding stock sales the aim is to produce animals that meet the criteria set out by the Dexter Cattle Society for appearance and purpose i.e. the breed standard.

Consider sourcing from a reputable breeder that has undertaken a planned programme of breeding rather than responding to generic classified ads. Try to buy the very best stock within budgetary constraints, 'breeding up' from inferior animals is an uphill struggle. Visit a number of herds and choose from a line that is reasonably uniform and correct. This method is perhaps better than 'cherry picking' from a variety of different sources that may not necessarily be genetically compatible.

If you have not done so already you will need to join the Dexter Cattle Society to transfer any cattle you purchase into your name. You will also need to apply for a 'prefix'(herd name) from them to register any offspring that are born into your new herd.

Getting Started

Having sourced your foundation stock please consider the long-term future of the Dexter by breeding onwards sustainably. Dexters are such endearing creatures that what starts out as an absorbing hobby can easily spiral out of control. A strict selection procedure and retaining an accurate record of outgoings will help keep you focused. Contra to popular belief in some quarters; liability insurance, grass, fencing and buildings are not free. Whilst nobody goes into pedigree breeding to make their fortune, selling stock at less than the cost of production is not the way forward - for you or for the breed as a whole.

Factor in that not everything produced will be suitable for further breeding. I know that some find it extremely hard to cull stock especially females and try to find them a 'good home' if this is the case, please consider retaining the green pedigree certificate selling them as unregistered or they may eventually find their way back on the market for pedigree breeding carrying your prefix. If you are having difficulty assessing which stock to keep/discard and have no one more experienced to help you, the Society have a voluntary scheme (linear scoring) where you pay (£72 min charge) to have your stock independently assessed.

It is believed that the average lifespan of a Dexter breeder is between five and seven years and this perhaps highlights the challenges associated with breeding pedigree livestock, especially in the early years. Maintaining a balance is essential, developing a market for beef sales as a by-product of your pedigree breeding programme can be an effective way to improve your herd whilst preventing overstocking and may help to achieve realistic prices for the stock produced as you start on your journey.

Hints and Tips

Two heads are better than one. If you are a complete novice, taking an experienced friend along can be helpful.

Visit some herds to gain an appreciation of the variety of Dexter out there and see how others manage them.

Choose the right animal for the right job, the type of animal required to fulfil the role of a house cow is quite different to that of a conservation suckler.

Don't buy something on price alone. A registration certificate is proof of parentage it does not mean that the animal is a good example of the breed.

Avoid 'field' cows unless you are experienced or have specialist handling facilities.

Check out the herd's health status before buying. There are a number of endemic diseases prevalent in commercial cattle herds, be prepared to pay for testing if status is 'unknown'.

Look for stock that is well-handled and preferably halter-trained if you are a complete novice.

Ensure the vendor has given you the correct paperwork when purchasing a registered animal - the green registration certificate and if in-calf to a registered bull, the yellow service certificate. Check that the ear tag number in the animal, on the passport and the green card match.

Beware birth notified only animals (yellow paper) if looking for registered stock. This means that the animal is eligible for registration but depending on age, application for full registration can be quite expensive (overage fees). Note, you can only register offspring from fully registered parents.

A thoroughly researched and costed business plan is essential when considering a professional or semi professional venture with a 'niche' breed such as the Dexter.