Our New Team Members

May 29th, 2016 by Kim

Early this spring, we decided we needed some new help around the farm.  The current members of the team were not doing their job to our satisfaction any longer.  This resulted in the death of about a dozen laying hens over the course of a week.  What happened?  We had a pair of coons getting into the chicken coop overnight, and our two old farm mutts couldn’t have cared less.  Thankfully, Jeff was able to kill the one coon a few nights into the massacre, and a neighbor killed the second one a few days later.  The coop was gone over with a fine-toothed comb & tightened up, and the hens were safe once more…for the time being.

The new Anatolian pups: Batu, standing front left, and Demir sitting.

The new Anatolian pups: Batu, standing front left, and Demir sitting.

But, it convinced us that we needed some livestock guardian dogs who would do the job right.  LGD’s were something we’ve talked about over the years, but since we never had any real predator issues, we never pursued the idea.  A couple weeks after the chicken massacre, a friend a few hours north of us announced the birth of 11 Anatolian pups out of her breeding pair.  BINGO!  We reserved two males as soon as possible, and they came home with us on May 18, at 8 1/2 weeks of age.  Since the Anatolian is a Turkish breed, we decided on Turkish names for them…Batu, meaning “strong”, and Demir, meaning “iron”.  We hope they live up to their names.

When not in "school", the boys are either sleeping or playing.

When not in “school”, the boys are either sleeping or playing.

So now we’re training LGD pups, which means taking them on rounds to do chores every day to get them used to being around the chickens & cows, and to learn not to play with the birds.  They’re a smart pair of boys, and have been a pleasure to work with so far.  It will be quite a while until they are mature enough to be trusted alone with the chickens, but we are so glad to have them on our team.

We welcome Batu & Demir to Hope Refuge Farm!

CULL….A Four-Letter Word?

April 29th, 2016 by Kim
Taquito is a nice looking steer calf...but not breeding material.

Taquito is a nice looking steer calf…but not breeding material.

Being a responsible Dexter breeder & breeding for improvement in your herd often requires culling animals that don’t measure up to the standard.  Unfortunately, it seems that some Dexter folks think cull is a four-letter cuss word.  They’d rather sell every single calf that hits the ground on their farm as registered breeding stock than even think about culling.  And that tendency is not doing the breed any favors.  The reality of breeding is that, no matter how excellent your breeding stock, some matings just don’t work out so well in the genetics gamble, and you end up with a poor quality calf.  Sometimes the best answer is simply “beef…it’s what’s for dinner”.

Thomas, at 6mo, showed great conformation, muscling & his sire's wonderful temperament. Just what we're looking for in a breeding bull.

Thomas, at 6mo, showed great conformation, muscling & his sire’s wonderful temperament. Just what we’re looking for in a breeding bull.

Bull calves are the most obvious, and most important, place to start with culling.  Cattle industry standard is that only the top 5-10% of your yearly bull calf crop should be retained, intact, as breeding stock.  The remaining 90-95% of your bull calves should be castrated & raised as beef each year.  It should only be the “best of the best” boys that are making the cut as breeding stock.  This is because a herd bull is 50% of your breeding program, and has a huge influence on the genetics of the herd.  Poor specimens simply don’t need to be in that position.  I think it’s safe to say that nobody’s herd consistently produces bull calves that are ALL high enough quality to be breeding stock, and yet you will notice some Dexter owners who register nearly every bull calf produced in their herd (certainly more than 10%), which raises questions in my mind.  The Dexter market is always flooded with young bulls people are trying to sell…instead of culling as they probably should.

Lucky has everything we want in a "bull mother": excellent structure, a lovely udder & a great temperament.

Lucky has everything we want in a “bull mother”: excellent structure, a lovely udder & a great temperament.

So, how does a breeder determine which bull calves remain as breeding stock?  I start by evaluating my cows….their conformation, disposition, and especially their udder.  For a cow to be considered as a “bull mother” she must meet a higher standard than I normally expect for my breeding cows.  If she doesn’t meet my minimum requirements for a “bull mother”, I simply will not keep a bull calf out of her, no matter how nice looking he is.  When a cow that meets the standard gives me a bull calf, then the next step is to evaluate the calf based on his own conformation, disposition and breeding equipment.  And I expect to see excellence if one of my boys will be kept for breeding.  That’s why I’ve only registered two in nine years of breeding!

The same traits that landed this scrawny heifer's dam in the freezer are getting her culled as well: bad conformation, too narrow, cow hocked & a poor disposition.

The same traits that landed this scrawny heifer’s dam in the freezer are getting her culled as well: bad conformation, too narrow, cow hocked & a poor disposition.

However, we don’t restrict our culling to only bull calves.  Sometimes we have more customer demand for beef than we have steers available, so that gives us the opportunity to clean out the bottom of the barrel in the heifer crop.  Yes, we’ve had some pretty poor quality heifers that I don’t want kept as breeding stock….I’d be embarrassed to have my name on them as breeder, so into the freezer they go.  It tastes the same as a steer, and is an equally good thing for the gene pool.  Once again, I use my evaluation system to score my heifers.  If one doesn’t meet my minimum standard for breeding stock, she gets raised as beef from the start.  Sometimes I don’t make the call on a lower-quality-but-possibly-OK heifer until after she’s calved the first time & I see her udder.

By culling in this way, only keeping the best bull calves & eliminating the worst heifers, you can improve your herd faster.  And selling Dexter beef is good for business, too!  So don’t be afraid to use this four-letter word.  It’s in the best interest of our breed.

Breeding a Better Dexter

March 30th, 2016 by Kim
Rousseau is a wonderful combo of beef & milk genetics, and consistently passes his docile, friendly disposition.

Rousseau is a wonderful combo of beef & milk genetics, and consistently passes his docile, friendly disposition.

A few months ago, I updated our “Breeding Program” page, adding a list of our breeding priorities here at Hope Refuge Farm.  Some people may think that having such high standards doesn’t matter unless you want show-quality animals, and that your average, “mediocre” Dexter is fine for merely utilitarian purposes.  Besides, a mediocre Dexter & a show-quality Dexter produce milk & beef that taste the same, right?  And, since some people may want just a pet or lawn ornament & that is a legitimate use for a mediocre Dexter as well, why should we bother trying to breed something “better”? Read more »

Leaping Into Spring…

February 28th, 2016 by Kim

…with two big announcements!

Mrald Perfect Lil Milkman straws are now available for AI!

Mrald Perfect Lil Milkman

Mrald Perfect Lil Milkman

We are delighted to make this fine young bull available to breeders across the country, just in time for the 2016 breeding season.  When seeing photos of him, a very knowledgeable long-time Dexter breeder commented,
“WOW – great length, good hook to pin distance, clean sheath attachment, indicates excellent meat yield, lots of milk in the background, testicles indicate good udder attachment, epididymous large so very fertile, wide muzzle, good feet.  Nothing missing in this boy!”
Makes us proud!  You can find details on our “Semen Sales” page.

I am back on the ADCA Board of Directors as the Region 9 Director.

Chad Williams resigned, and apparently I was the only one that stepped forward & said I would be willing to take his place.  So if you are in PA, MD, DE, KY, WV, or VA, I’m the one for you to contact if you have questions, concerns, or things you’d like to see happen in the Association.  I am happy to be able to serve the Region 9 members in this capacity again & look forward to meeting & talking to many of you.  I’m leaping back in!

 

How I Share-Milk

January 20th, 2016 by Kim
Bo & Thumbelina can see each other through the gate, so they don't get too upset about the separation.

Bo & Thumbelina can see each other through the gate, so they don’t get too upset about the separation.

We had a fine start to our 2016 calving season when BoPeep kicked off the New Year with a lovely little heifer, Thumbelina, on Jan. 5.  The dreaded milk rationing that happens during Bo’s dry period is over, and the natives are rejoicing in the abundance of milk again.  I’ve been at this share-milking thing for a good while now, and looking back over my previous milking posts, I realized I do things a bit differently now.  Through trial & error over the years, I’ve found a share-milking routine that I & my cows are quite happy with, so this seemed like a good time to share it here.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, “share-milking” refers to the practice of leaving the calf with the cow part-time, so that you’re sharing the milk with the calf, usually milking only once a day.  There are many different ways to share-milk, as different things work for different people in different situations, and so you just have to figure out what works best for you & your cow.  This is the method that works best for me. Read more »