It has been a little while since I have written anything substantial and really have had a hard time coming up with something interesting/helpful to write about. Things have kind of been crazy in life and the Dexter writing had hit a standstill. However, I threw out the idea on our Facebook page looking for topics to discuss and soon after I received a private message from a fellow Dexter breeder, who will remain anonymous in this posting, about a variety of topics that they wished to discuss in depth. I felt that the message had such good points that I just had to ask to publish it.
Anon and my Responses in Yellow
I've only been into Dexters for over a year now, but I had studied some general animal breeding and husbandry back in the 80s. It's been fairly simple so far, but I've run into some issues that I hadn't expected.
You'd think that anyone who is selling Dexters for an x amount of years knows what they're doing. Just as you evaluate a horse not only by conformation, but also movement and athletic ability, you'd think that (especially female) Dexters would be evaluated on their production. Not so. Too many times I've encountered certain traits or test results being valued higher that correct teat placement, high, wide and tight udder attachments, width and depth of body, etc. The sad thing is, that most don't want to screw you over, they honestly have no idea. They love their animals and that's that.
"We don't/ can't eat them"
That in itself, while endearing in a way, is counterproductive to breeding quality. No further explanation needed. I talked about how hard it is to cull your favorite cows...its the hardest thing ever. But if its in the best interest of the animal, one must not be selfish.
"Linebred, no culls!"
I've been affected by this one. I've linebred before in goats, counting five generations in the pedigree before pairing to a common ancestor. The market for polled is creating a bottleneck that most don't want to see (cull!) or breeders want to maintain an xyz-lineage. Either can have detrimental effects and the buyer can only hope that the breeder knows what they're doing (herdblind much?). I will admit that we have kept a certain line's heifers for as long as I can remember and that there's at least 1 cow in our herd that I would have axed long time ago because of weird structural things (1 in particular is very sloped from hooks to pins BUT she always throws calves that are an improvement on herself and that are straight as an arrow).
Why should those elfish toes be something to aspire to? Almost anyone can see flat feet and long toes, but just because your animal has neither, doesn't make them excellent. I have written on feet before... curling elf toes are definitely not something I would breed for. We have been very fortunate in our breeding to have those strong feet and legs to improve that function.
Give me a break. Of the five original cows/ heifers we acquired, two are now in the freezer because I didn't agree with their udder. Five teats, fused teats, first time heifers with a developing udder dangling around their hocks? I don't think so. I flinch at some of the cows offered for sale as "great mom's" . Most udders are a dangling tube of skin with either funnel or tiny teats stuck at the bottom. Which would be fine in a commercial beef herd, if functional, but not in a dual purpose breed. We started out with old line cows whose udders looked like old socks hanging there. No support, funnel tears, the works... we have a couple of old (16, 15, and 14 years old) girls that don't have the best udders in the world because they are still those old lines. However we have gone far and away from those old socks now! Finding a good bull that will improve the udder can be a challenge but it can change the landscape of your herd in 2 years. However, we do still get a couple of extra tears now and again but that's not nearly concerning.
Which leads me to "I want A2 but I don't milk".
If you have no idea what vessel (udder) you want to be striving for, what does it matter what beta casein is in it? Biggest. Pet. Peeve. Ever. Why care? If you are breeding for beef why do you care what milk protein they have? I don't necessarily buy into the A2 corps. science anyway...
I bought two senior cows last year because I was sick and tired of the gamble with heifers. I don't understand why so few people do that. They've proven themselves as dams, I know exactly what udders I can expect and they lead the herd quite nicely. As to why people don't buy older cows that are proven? Most people don't sell them, I know that it's very rare that we part with a cow...
I love our Dexters. I can spend hours with them, messing with calves, enjoying them and, I think, they enjoy me too. I'd like to see more people taking advantage of linear assessment programs. Everything there that is considered good, will make the individual's life better. As you said in your blog, form follows function. The better the form, the longer and more easily the function can be maintained. Linear appraisal! Yes! Jeff Chambers and I had a lengthy conversation lasts summer about how this needs to be reinstated in the association because at one point in time we had the people who were trained to do it. I think it'd be super fun! It can be a very important tool in improving the breed.
If I had a position within the ADCA, I'd like to see a mentoring program. I've had some great help this last year, especially those who have encouraged me to find my own way. I think I've found the direction I want our herd to evolve, but it's still a ton that I need to learn. Mentorship is kind of what the regional director are supposed to do. They are supposed to be available to help, answer questions and get breeders the things they need or point them in the right direction.
So, excuse my rather wordy response, I've had my frustrations. Maybe your blog can help others to not make my mistakes.
As you can see, we had quite the exchange! It was good to see someone have the guts to ask the tough questions/say what needs to be said.
My advice to new Dexter owners... Do NOT be afraid to ask questions ad don't feel like you are in this alone! There are so many people that are willing to help but we can't read your minds. Just ask.
Until next time...
P.S. If you have topics you would like me to tackle, let me know! Send me an email or something. Always need new ideas!