Farming with Dexter Cattle in the African Desert
When the Uys family of Shanahoe, Co. Laois recently visited their friend Danie Kotze’s farm in Namibia’s Kalahari Desert, they were fascinated to see his Dexter herd.
Koos and Marie Uys, along with their daughter Sinead, were visiting family and friends in South Africa and Namibia and stopped at the 7,665ha farm of their friend, Danie.
“It’s mainly a sheep area, but I have a lot of cattle because I have a really big problem with guys stealing my sheep and taking them away at night,” Danie said. Agriland.
“From 1996, I got into the Dexter breed because a neighbor bought two for his daughter when she was born, but she died of meningitis and he lost interest in the breed and asked me if I was interested, then I bought two cows and a bull from him. I now have a herd of 130 animals,” Danie said.
“I use them for the milk we drink and we also produce our own butter and cream. I have three people from Oxford University who are doing doctoral research on the farm and we put the milk in their rooms and then they asked where we get such good milk from.
“We also slaughter them – they have very good meat. They are a smaller unit so their steaks are more affordable. Every week I sell one or two at this time of year,” he added.
The Irish Dexter Cattle Society, on its website, points out that the breed was once known as the cottier cow or poor man’s cow.
Its ability to adapt to variable and extreme climatic conditions and different types of management is a typical feature, the company said.
Not being as demanding on the land as the larger breeds, Danie can keep more of them on her land which has savannah. After the rain everything becomes dry and unpleasant but the Dexters are able to harvest their own food.
“They have adapted to the environment and are quite versatile,” Danie continued.
“We came out of a four year drought and I sold my other cattle, but I didn’t sell the Dexters. Sometimes there are very small amounts of grass left on the land and the low maintenance Dexters survive and thrive while many others die due to drought.
“We had good rains the previous season so we have plenty of grass now. The Dexters are helping me put it to use by producing very good quality beef.
There is tremendous interest in Danie’s Dexter cattle. “I get a lot of phone calls about them and people ask me a lot to sell them, but at this point I need more to use up the good weed and food I have.
“I want to turn my weed into protein. In our country, we still eat a lot of meat.
Sean Flannery, a hobby farmer from County Kildare, owns 11 Dexters. He said: “In 2013, the year of the Gathering, there was a gathering in Dundrum, County Tipperary, and Namibians were there. They were talking about how the Dexters survive at 40°C and there were also people from Canada who were talking about how they also survived at -40°C. I thought that was amazing.
“I have always had an interest in rare breeds and was involved with the Irish Native Rare Breeds Society, the umbrella group for all native rare breeds. Shortly thereafter I joined Dexters. had been involved with Connemara ponies.
“In Ireland in 2014/2015, there were around 100 Dexter Society UK members in the Republic of Ireland. When the society nearly dissolved, I was involved in its relaunch and reorganization.
“I sat on the Dexter Cattle UK Society for three years, representing Ireland. By 2019 we had increased our membership to 200 members and we were asked to hold a general meeting [annual general meeting] of the Dexter Society UK in Ireland.
“In 2020 we were told by the Department of Agriculture that we needed to form our own Irish Herd Book for Dexters due to Brexit, so we did that and we now have over 300 members,” he said. added.
Their popularity, he said, is also due to new programs that offer grants for breeding rare breeds.
“In Ireland they are almost exclusively used for beef production, but they also have the capacity to produce dairy products. Their milk is rich and comparable to Jersey herds,” Sean said.
“He is a very strong and healthy breed that calves easily. They thrive on marginal land and are very suitable for organic production and end up on grass.