How Now Brown Cow

Well, we are seriously shopping for a new member to our family here on our little country acre.  We are going to get a milk cow.  Seems like a crazy idea for a family that doesn't even go through a gallon of milk a week.  But part of that is because I don't like giving pasteurized milk from factory farms to my children to drink, and here in Iowa it is illegal to sell raw milk.  I personally feel they are healthier without it.  But if I could give them fresh milk from our own pastured cow - now that's another story entirely.  I still think they are better off drinking water, and they now ask for it instead of juice all the time - hooray! (in fact they usually say it like this: "Mom, can I have some healthy water?")  But having some fresh milk, home-made butter and cheese, I'm totally up for that. :)

So I started researching milk cows.  The more I read up on them, the more I fell in love with the idea of a mini breed.  Mini breeds are ideal for someone in our situation where we just have one acre.  They eat and drink a lot less than their larger counterparts and are easier on the pasture.  Maintenance of fences and structure is easier too as they are not as destructive as full size cattle.  Some people don't even use a lot of fencing.  With a mini-cow you can put them on a lead tied to a tire and let them graze in your yard.  When you are ready to move them to another section you just roll the tire to another area.  Our lawn tractor may get a lot less use once we get a cow!

Dexters are the breed we are leaning towards.  I have absolutely fallen in love with a little Jersey, but her price tag is prohibitive - $1000!  I think I could probably talk them down some on the price, but we also are set to go look at a Dexter that is only $400.  Hard to justify the adorable, picture perfect Jersey when you can pick up a Dexter for that price.  Plus, the Dexter has been running with a mini bull and most likely already with calf.  That means that by July we could have a calf and all the fresh milk we can handle.  That pretty much seals the deal with the Dexter.

A Momma Dexter and calf

But aside from the great price, Dexters have quite a few qualities that make them a great choice for us:

Temperament - they are known for being docile and friendly, making them easy to handle and train.  They are really great for kids to work with.

Hardy - Dexters thrive in all climates, which is good since we can have hot, humid summers followed by sub-zero winters.  They also are easy calvers with little need for human intervention.

Thrifty - they are a good dual purpose cow, being good milkers and good beef.  They also are considered very efficient at turning feed into milk and beef.  They put out 1-2 gallons of milk a day that is 4% butterfat. (comparable to Jersey's)  They dress out at 55-60% and have a high quality, nicely marbled meat.

If you want more information on Dexters, there is a great article on Mother Earth News.
And here is a great little informational video about mini cows.

(scroll down and pause player at bottom of page to view video)


  1. Awesome info, Amy! Thanks!

  2. Michelle - there was an article in Grit about a Dexter owner. He only milks his cow once a day and let the calf drink the rest of the milk. He just separates the calf from the mom at night so there will be milk for him in the morning. So you don't even necessarily have to be tied down to twice a day milking.

  3. Amy, perhaps it is a variation in the breed but I was reading about a local Iowa farmer who raises Dexters and they did not thrive in our harsh winter and he even had them as a herd, which helps against the cold. Have you talked with Shanen yet?

  4. Well, every breed of cow has it's own peculiarities and Shanen isn't familiar with Dexters. She of course thinks I should get a big cow! ;) My research shows that for harsh winters they need to have a barn or shelter to access to get out of the weather if they choose to. So I am guessing if he had a herd, they weren't in a barn. (??)