Thorny Croft Dexters began as the Koanga stud when we still lived in Kaiwaka. We imported semen in the early days ( 1980’s) when it was still allowed and we worked with Alex Meades and his Meadow Park stud as well, and at some point we were no longer able to import live semen from England although we did also import semen from milking herds in Canada, producing much longer legged lighter bodied animals than those from England, and our herd foundation today reflects both the English heritage and the Canadian heritage .
We wanted Dexters then because we had steep, heavy, clay hills and no rye grass or clover.. very little anyway….. we mostly had kikuyu, it was everywhere.
We had decided that the Dexters being smaller animals would do less damage to the land when it was wet, which it frequently was, and that with their reputation of being the best converters of rough pasture into milk and meat we’d likely do far better than other breeds around. We also wanted a breed that would do well organically and this one had pretty much always been.. because they were not industrialised for large farms at any point in their story!!!
Dexters have come out of Ireland and more than likely out of the old Irish Kerry cows that are known as an ancient Celtic breed. They were always dual purpose if not triple purpose.. milk, meat and beats of burden.
We have now been taking care of this small herd for over 30 years.
The oldest cow in our herd at the moment is Kuta, who was born in Kaiwaka… she is 13 years old, and still has a beautiful calf every year. Her grown up heifer calves in the herd are called Cumbudji ( Aboriginal word for Kuta) , and Raupo, named after wetland plants! We name our cows in matriarchal lines, all after wetland plants, or flowers, or colours, or stars etc so we know at once who they are.. which line they belong to. It is a wonderful way to get to know ones animals.
The Dexters did very well on the clay soil of Northland even on kikuyu, I guess at least partly because the clay has lots of minerals in it!!!, however bringing them down to our farm near Wairoa was really hard on them because the soil here is sandy pumice based with far fewer mineral in it.
All of our animals went backwards in size and health when they came here and I lost my very favourite cow Patupaiarehi. It was a very hard time for us and them…. And we learned a lot about how all animals just like humans co evolve in relation to the environment we are in and if we are on soils that are low in minerals they/we will be smaller etc. It took 3 generations for the animals to hold their own here…. and look and feel very happy again. They once again have incredible shiny black red and dun coats and have normal healthy horns . Luckily Patupaiarehi left a heifer calf we were able to rear, and although smallish, she has produced beautiful calves too and her adult heifer calves in the herd are called Pounamu and Jade.
So we have become more focused over the years. We are now on a mission to breed the best cows we can that are adapted and do very well on our land.. East Coast hill country, poor soils and very free draining. We want our cows to be efficient milk and meat producers, lovely and quiet and a pleasure to work with, and we are specifically working with the techniques of management intensive grazing to use the cows to also be sequestering carbon and improving the soil and ecology here where we live at Kotare Village.
We have seen huge improvements in pasture where we have been shifting cows daily on a 60-90 day rotation over the past two years, and will continue to fine tune that.
We are working with Geunon’s understandings in “The Milch Cow” which show us we can select our cows better if we learn to read their escutcheons, and we are working with the ever best genetics we can find in NZ for breeding cows to produce milk.
That is the weak link in the land. Very few of our NZ Dexters have been properly selected to be good milk producers.
And so 35 odd years on we have a beautiful herd coming together with approx. 20 breeding cows, and we will eventually be selling house cows as heifers, and small number of breeding stock, both heifers and bulls. . In the mean time we occasionally have breeding cows and bulls for sale.
While we are working intensively with our Dexter breeding program we are using our handsome red Dexter bull over our small Jersey herd as well and the stunning red heifer calves coming from that program is very exciting. In the cowshed we are going from Jerseys, with the odd amazing Dexter who has a great udder and produces 10-12 lt of milk daily, to jersey Dexter crosses which will produce more milk than a Dexter but be hardier than a Jersey. Over the long haul we will see. Our long term goal is not to be 100% purebred but 100% what is best for us here.
It looks as though Dexters will remain the foundation of the herd.. they are doing very nicely now, but we may over time see what the Jersey genes add.
Taiamai who manages the farm these days is a butcher and he was doing an internship in a traditional Garman small goods butchery in Germany last year, and he was interested to find that Dexter cattle are the most expensive and sought after in Germany because of the quality of their meat.
He has also discovered himself the value of having Dexters as a butcher because they are smaller and weigh less they are far easier on the back and body of the butcher. Those killing their own beef will find Dexter easier to manage than larger animals.
The Kotare Village Farm where our animals graze under lease, comprises 3 blocks. One is a hill block with around 50 hectares of north facing hill some flats and every slope possible as well. The guts are regenerating kanuka and will be fenced off as we can. The pasture is fairly poor, and has pumice based soils. The hill block is divided into three paddocks with permanent fences and as yet we are not subdividing them with electric fences. The animals usually go up on the hill for the Winter and come down at calving or with lambs for the Summer on the bottom river terrace we call the River Block .Here we shift all cows daily, following M.I.G. principles, and we immediately see the improvement in weight gain, the sheen in their coats and the quality of the grass. All ages of cattle in together. Managing stock like this keeps them very quiet as well.
The third part of the farm is on the upper river terrace where the housings clusters are as well, this is called Thorny Croft and where the dairy cows are grazed and milked. The cows on this premium land are moved according to management intensive grazing principles, and what a difference we are seeing in the grass.