I have spent years milking both Dexter cows and Jersey cows. In fact, we still have both breeds on our farm. I love them both for a number of reasons.When we were deciding on what breed of cow we wanted to raise on our farm, these were the two we narrowed down our choices to. As you can see, I struggle with being indecisive, so we have both.
There are so many cattle breeds to choose from, but when it comes to these two breeds, I can confidently give you my thoughts and first-hand, experience-based opinions. So, if you have found yourself searching out the pros and cons of different cow breeds, you’ve likely considered one or both of these, and hopefully reading this will give you a little more confidence and clarity. Then again, you may end up being like me, loving them both, and having them both. I’m right there with ya.
We live in northeast Alabama, where the summers get really hot, and the winters get really cold, and both breeds do very well in either of the extremes. As far as disease resistance goes, I can confidently say the Dexters are very hardy. I’ve not had the first health issue out of my Jerseys, either, but the only reason I am not as quick to brag on their hardiness is because by the time we started raising Jerseys, we had 3x more land than we had when Dexters were our only breed of cattle. Had we kept Jerseys on limited acreage and they had done just as well, then I would feel more confident to brag. But they came in when land was plenteous, space was abundant, and the pond was full year-round, so they’ve had it much easier than my first group of Dexters.
Dexters are a small breed of cattle, and therefore require less acreage. Plan on 1 acre per adult cow. Because Jerseys are larger, and require more land, plan on 1 ½ acres per adult cow.
Dexters give the highest ratio of meat to live weight than any other breed. This means that while you get less meat per butchering (because of their smaller size), a higher percentage of the cow actually becomes meat than is the case with other breeds. I’ve not had 100% Jersey meat, but I have had 100% Dexter meat. The burger meat and roasts are second to none. We’ve not just loved the steaks, but they’re still good. The issue is most likely not the fact that it’s a ‘Dexter steak’, as much as it is that we don’t finish our cows out on grain (which gives the meat much more marbling, and makes them more like what you find at a steakhouse). Our cows are 100% grass fed, up to the day of butchering, but honestly, with a family of 9, we rarely have steak for dinner anyway. Burger and roasts are what ya get around here most of the time, and we love our homegrown Dexter beef!
Both breeds give delicious milk. Dexters, being smaller, will definitely give less milk than a Jersey. You can expect a Dexter to max out around 1 ½ gallons per day, while a Jersey is more likely to max out at around double that (click HERE to read about Maximizing Milk and Cream Production). Jerseys also give cream that has a higher butterfat content, which means your butter will be better (in my experience), and there will be more of it. Also because of the size difference, Dexters generally have smaller teats than Jerseys, but not so small that hand milking is difficult or even inconvenient.
All cows breeds have at least a little fight in them; they can all be a little stubborn at times. But Dexters generally tend to have more docile demeanors than Jerseys, and they tend to give into training more quickly. My Dexters aren’t bothered by being petted on and sat next to; my Jerseys on the other hand, seem like they’d rather not be handled any more than their daily milking requires. They’re not aggressive or anything; it’s just that when I walk up to them, the wheels start turning and they’re wondering what I’m wanting. They assume it’s milking, so they start to head to the milk station and are ready for business. My Dexters cows, on the other hand, will walk up to me before I ever make it to them. Or, if they’re laying in the sun, I can pull up a seat right next to them, and they don’t move a muscle. If I’m wanting any more milk out of them, I’m gonna have to let them know some other way.
Dexters and Jerseys are both very good calvers; I have never had to assist or pull a calf, and all my calves have been born alive and healthy, thank the Lord. In the instance of having an orphan calf, Jersey cows are generally very reliable to take them, and nurse them as they would their own. I’ve never used a Dexter as a nurse cow, mostly because I’ve not needed to. I have used a Jersey to raise an orphan calf. It’s possible that Dexters may do the same, but Jersey are known to.
I hope these descriptions are helpful to you. Just remember, in regards to a milk cow, there are exceptions to every rule. Always meet the cow before you buy her if at all possible. She may surprise you-in a good way or a bad one! You may find a Dexter with teats the size of a Jersey’s, like I did. Or, you may find a Jersey with teats the size of a Dexter’s, like I also did. You may be hesitant about a Jersey due to her breed’s moody reputation, and then when you meet her, find that she is like an overgrown pet! The biggest piece of advice that I can give is most definitely to meet the cow first. Click HERE to find out my tips on what to look for in that first meeting!