A Problematic Month

September 30th, 2016 by Kim

I love my Dexters!  Anybody who talks to me about them will quickly see that.  As a hardy heritage breed, they are known for not having much in the way of problems with health, breeding or calving.  It’s one of many things that we really love about them.  But no breed is 100% free of problems.  Sometimes management or diet related issues can cause health problems.  And then there are always those individual animals, that for whatever reason have a weakened immune system or some other issue that makes them more prone to problems.  And sometimes, crap just happens!

Janie's lovely udder, 2 weeks after calving.

Janie’s lovely udder, 2 weeks after calving.

Apparently, August was my month for major problems with my Dexters.  And on top of the cows, the Anatolian pups have also been experiencing bone-growth related issues common to large breed pups.  So I feel a bit like I was in crisis mode the whole month…not fun.  Now that I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, here are the two big “Dex-asters” I faced.

Janie Gets a  Chance

CPR July Jane was due with her first calf mid-August.  Even though Dexters are known for having few calving difficulties, I usually keep a close eye on my girls when they’re getting close to calving, especially my heifers.  I put them in the barn overnight so I can check on them easily, and if there IS a problem they’re in a convenient spot.  Janie had started bagging up & getting ready early, so was being put to bed in the barn at the beginning of the month already.  I put her in on the evening of the 4th just like normal, but didn’t see any significant changes to put me on high-alert…so I didn’t check on her during the night.  We got up to a dead calf on the ground the next morning…and will never know what went wrong or why, or if I could have changed the outcome by being there.  Janie had been AI’ed to Belle Fourche Clay, and the calf was a red heifer, so I was extremely disappointed.

Janie is turning into a fine, young cow.

Janie is turning into a fine, young cow.

But now I was faced with a dilemma.  I had already decided quite some time ago that I would NOT try to train Janie to milk, even though she has excellent milk production bloodlines behind her.  She has remained rather shy & skittish about being handled.  And she has always been quite the kicker…the only one to ever kick me over having tail hairs pulled for DNA testing!  She also was still very uncomfortable coming into the milking parlor, even though she had been getting treats in there for quite some time.  But now, here she was with a full udder & no calf to nurse.  So do I, or don’t I?

I decided to give it a try.  The first few days of milking looked hopeful, as she did much better than I expected.  But then, instead of calming down & getting better, her behavior just got worse.  Milking an unwilling, kicky cow twice a day just really is not my idea of a good time.  But, oh my goodness, her milk was fabulous!  About a week in, I decided to pull her back to once a day milking to try to drop her production back a bit, which it did.  Then, after two weeks of practically dragging her into the parlor every day, getting kicked & bruised, I stopped milking on the 18th & dried her off.  Janie had a chance at being a milk cow, but it just wasn’t going to work.  I wasn’t really surprised.

Check out that cream line on Janie's milk! So yummy!

Check out that cream line on Janie’s milk! So yummy!

Tundra’s Crash Course

ZH Taco’s Tundra was due with her second calf the end of August, and was also looking ready earlier than expected.  I was looking forward to training her to milk this time around, being anxious to see how much improvement Taco made over Sara in the milk department.  When I tucked her in the barn the evening of the 23rd, I was pretty sure she was in early labor, and a check later on before my bedtime confirmed it.  She calved at 12:30 am, and gave me a gorgeous black heifer, the result of an AI breeding to RdoubleD Rambling Bob.  Hooray!

Unfortunately when I commenced with milking training in the morning, the nastiness I found in the milker made my heart drop to the pit of my stomach.  MASTITIS!  It was all cheese-y chunks & watery fluid.  Mastitis is something I’ve not had to deal with in my 9 1/2 years of cow ownership, even with BoPeep who is a Jersey cross, and it’s something I was hoping to be able to dodge.  It’s another of those things that Dexters don’t normally have problems with.  So much for that!  Now I was getting a crash course in how to treat mastitis.

Tundra's heifer, Brannagh, the day after she was born. What a nice, thick girl!

Tundra’s heifer, Brannagh, the day after she was born. What a nice, thick girl!

I knew enough to know that I needed her calf to be nursing frequently and to keep hand-stripping out as much as I could.  I also got sterile samples from each quarter for the vet to send to the lab for a culture, and also a sensitivity test, so we would know what organisms we were dealing with & what to treat it with.  I learned how to do teat infusions, and we also treated with systemic antibiotics, as well as anti-inflammatories to help keep Tundra’s fever down.  Thankfully, it wasn’t a terribly nasty bug and she recovered just fine.  But it certainly wasn’t fun!

So, needless to say, with back-to-back problems, August was a stressful month for me.  But, we got through it & life goes on, and I’ve learned to not take trouble-free for granted!

A Positively Great AGM

June 30th, 2016 by Kim

Yes, the ADCA 2016 AGM was just that!  There was such a positive atmosphere about the whole thing, that it really & truly was a fun, exciting weekend.  Some very positive things came out of the Board Meeting and we had an Annual General Meeting without any major controversy.  However, the thing that stands out to me as the biggest positive was the judging at the show.

This year we had two excellent, highly qualified judges for the Youth & Adult shows.  They are both coaches for the KSU Livestock Judging Team, who absolutely know their stuff, and did a fabulous job explaining the good & bad they saw in each animal.  It was quite a change from the typical “beef breed” judges that have normally been acquired for our AGM’s.  A great, positive change, if you ask me.  Finally, our Dexters were judged as DUAL-PURPOSE animals, based primarily on their CONFORMATION.

The main complaint about past AGM shows that I’ve heard over the years, is that they’ve usually been judged by beef judges who mainly look for the best-conditioned animals.  And since Dexters are supposed to be dual-purpose, NOT strictly beef, they shouldn’t be pushed up to the extreme “beefy” end of the spectrum (just as they shouldn’t be pushed to the extreme “dairy” end of the spectrum, either).  Yet this was what won in the show ring, and it gave beefier-looking chondro-carriers an unfair advantage.  People have also been concerned about judges putting too much emphasis on height, and the difficulty presented by the height differences between chondro-carriers and non-carriers.  A lot of people felt the judging at the AGM’s just has not been fair to our breed.

With this year’s judges, this was not the case, as many people expressed that they felt these were some of the best judges we’ve ever had.  It was a breath of fresh air…and a level playing field.  These judges obviously understood, and were looking for, dual-purpose traits.  Extreme beefiness didn’t cut it for them, and sloppy udders were not ignored.  Height, or lack thereof, was not a big issue for them.  Though the judge for the Adult Show occasionally mentioned that he personally would prefer to see more stature on a particular animal, it did not affect his placement of those animals.  In fact, the small, young cow SMD Anna Ferl, of which he said exactly that, he then chose as Reserve Grand Champion Female.  Because it was all about conformation for these judges!

Isn’t this how it should be?  What is the point of a cattle show, if not to evaluate the conformation of the animals?  To expect real livestock judges to overlook phenotypically, functionally incorrect structure in animals, and in spite of it place them at the top based on their beefiness or height, would be unreasonable.  Such thinking leads us to seeking judges who will “tickle our ears” instead of staying within the parameters of functionally correct conformation & judging the animals fairly.  This certainly would not seem a good aim for our AGM’s.  Unfortunately, that would appear to be the aim of a few certain individuals, who have expressed an extremely negative response to this year’s judges.

I feel that continuing to have judges like we had this year would be instrumental in moving our breed and our Association forward into being better than we have been.  I think it would be a shame to revert back to the “status quo” of having beef breed judges who do not know what a truly excellent representative of a dual-purpose breed looks like.  Shouldn’t we be striving to move forward & improve things?  If you think this is a good direction for our Association to take for the AGM’s, then I would ask that you please make your voice heard!  Contact your Regional Director and the Show & Sale Committee, and let them know what you think.  Let’s see if we can keep this kind of quality & positive momentum, and have a great AGM every year!

(NOTE:  I apologize for posting this without photos.  I’m waiting for official pictures from the AGM photographer to become available, so I can post photos of some of the winners.)

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”. Read more »

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 »