Genetic Selection


I’ve gotten several messages lately about alternative genetics when it comes to both cattle and pigs… So I’m thinking I’ll take some time to explain a few things.

When I started on this farming journey, I started with a single Jersey steer. Jersey’s are a dairy breed that are typically very affordable (and some small ones can even be free for the taking). My first several animals raised for beef were actually dairy breeds. There is nothing wrong with that either. It’s what worked best for me at the time and what was readily available as I built the farm.

Below is the running addition order for what came and when:

2009:
Buck – Jersey Steer given by a local farm (raised for freezer beef)
2010:
Norman – Jersey/Holstein cross steer purchased for $10 at the local cattle auction (sold as beef)
Belle – Jersey rescue cow that cost $300 to get to the farm, passed on the farm in 2014
Danny and Davey – Jersey steer and bull that came with Belle (sold Danny as beef, Davey was sold for service for $560)
Bubba J – Holstein steer, given by a farm an hour away because he was very small (sold as a feeder bull due to fence jumping for $715)
Arthur – Jersey bull, free. Sold in 2012 as service bull for $600
Peggy – Holstein heifer given by another farm *died from pneumonia on my  living room floor
2011:
DJ – Born on farm to Belle
Ruby and Scarlett – twin lineback/Jersey cross heifers, given by another farm
*Scarlett passed from bloat after being trapped on her back  in the middle of the night
Meanie, Minnie, Annie – Irish Dexter’s purchased for $450 each (waited for nearly 3 yrs)
Katie – Jersey/Holstein heifer, purchased for $25 (sold in 2015 for $580)
Still here: Ruby, Meanie, Minnie and Annie

2012:
Stewie – Jersey , given by local farm (used as a service bull and sold in 2014 for $1150)
Chuck – Jersey, $10 auction calf, raised for beef
Sassy – Holstein cross, Auction heifer, $27 purchase, sold as beef when she didn’t breed
Tommy – Jersey, purchased for $60 at a local dairy, sold as beef
Beefy – Irish Dexter, Born on farm to Meanie, used as a service bull, sold as beef
Charity – Jersey/Holstein cross heifer, purchased locally for $50, entanglement in a hay feeder that broke her leg
Kira – unknown breed, purchased at auction for $17, spinal injury after falling on ice
Mini-Me – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Minnie
Still here: Mini-Me

2013:
Kobe – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Meanie, sold as beef
Taurus – Lineback bull, used as a service bull, given by local farm, freezer beef
Cinnamon – Jersey/Holstein cross heifer, given by local farm, died from suspected internal injuries
Amy – Irish Dexter/Jersey cross, born on farm to Minnie
Aubrey – Irish Dexter/Jersey cross, born on farm, sold as a family milk cow for $1200
Suri – Lineback/Jersey cross, born on farm to Ruby
Rosebud – Jersey heifer, given by local dairy
Still here: Amy, Suri, and Rosebud

2014:
Mr. T – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Meanie, use as a service bull
Jester – Jersey/Holstein/Dexter cross, born to Katie, sold as beef
Ramrod – Jersey/Lineback/Dexter cross, born to Ruby, sold as beef
Buddy #94 – Holstein, auction calf, purchased for $6.40, sold as beef
Dutch – Dutch belt, given by local farm, sold as beef
Orion – Lineback, purchased for $100, sold as beef
Kailyn – Dexter sired, born on farm to Kira
Minnie Pearl – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Minnie
Ava – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Annie
Minnie Maude – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Mini-Me
Lucky – Jersey/Holstein/Dexter, born on farm to Charity
Silver – Jersey/Holstein, given by a local dairy
Still here: Mr. T, Kailyn, Pearl, Ava, Maude, Lucky and Silver

2015:
Charlie – Holstein/Jersey, born on farm to Charity, sold as beef
Royd – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Annie, sold as beef
Max – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Mini-Me, sold as beef
Tuffy – Irish Dexter/Jersey cross, born on farm to Amy, sold as beef
Alf – Irish Dexter/Jersey cross, born on farm to Aubrey, sold as a feeder for $700
Nutmeg – Jersey/Dexter cross, born on farm to Cinnamon (lost when she got flipped on her back in the pasture)
Speedie – Holstein/Jersey cross, purchased from a local dairy for $125, unknown cause of death
Frenchie – Normandy/Unknown cross, born on farm to Kira
Mae – Jersey/Lineback cross, born on farm to Suri
Pyxis – Lineback/Jersey cross, given by local dairy
Minnie Mabel – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Minnie
Beanie – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Meanie
Ceara – Lineback/Jersey, born on farm to Ruby
Still here: Mae, Pyxis, Mabel, Beanie, and Ceara

2016:
Henry – Irish Dexter/Lineback/Holstein/Jersey cross, born on farm to Lucky
Sofie – Jersey/Lineback, born on farm to Rosebud, lost to milk bloat
Hugo – Lineback/Jersey cross, purchased from a local dairy for $100
Trooper – Jersey/Holstein/Dexter cross, born on farm to Charity
Harry – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Annie
Howie – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Minnie
Harvey – Irish Dexter/Jersey cross, born to Amy
Herbie – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Meanie
Herman – Jersey/Holstein/Dexter, born on farm to Silver
Harvick – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Pearl
Harley – Jersey/Lineback/Dexter, born on farm to Mae
Hoosier – Jersey/Holstein/Dexter, born on farm to Nutmeg
Halo – Irish Dexter/Lineback, born on farm to Maude
Mini-Minnie (aka M&M) – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Mini-Me
Lady Liberty – Jersey/Lineback/Dutchbelt, born on farm to Suri
Ms. Kaye – Dexter cross, born on farm to Kailyn
Abby – Irish Dexter, born on farm to Ava
Still here: Henry, Hugo, Trooper, Harry, Howie, Harvey, Herbie, Herman, Harvick, Harley, Hoosier, Halo, M&M, Liberty, Ms. Kaye and Abby

As you read through the list of names, where they came from and also where they have gone, you will start seeing a pattern. The pattern is that many of the stock is now fathered/sired by the Irish Dexter line and that very few of the staple dairy cows are pure breeds.
Since the initial thought process of building the farm has shifted back and forth, the issues that started developing within the dairy breeds became a concern and created heavy consideration into the reasoning. After reviewing data and details, I discovered that the Holstein genetic, when relevantly shown in appearance has impacts on animal health when it comes to pasture based systems. They are more prone to illnesses (liver fluke and lung worm) and have a difficult time away from grain based diets, even when they are developed on pastures.
The dairy breeds that I’ve achieved some great success with is the lineback and normandy lines and crosses. The Lineback/Jersey cross with a heavy lean on the Lineback genetic has performed very well, with steady gains and minimum inputs. The Jersey/Lineback cross with heavier Jersey genetics (note the wording with Jersey listed first to demonstrate the differences) seems to not hold winter weight as well but performs very well for milk and butterfat content from spring calving on. Ironically, the 100% Jersey does just as well as the Lineback/Jersey cross.
By crossing the lines with the Dexter genetics, the offspring of ALL genetics seems to strengthen and develop better for the all grass based food intake. Some of this I feel is because of hybrid vigor (just like roses), some of it I believe comes from the strength of the Dexter genetics for grazing.
My 2016 calf crop, mostly sired by the Dexter bull Mr. T, is the best calf crop to date. All have developed well, minus one which shows the classic prevalence of the Holstein genetic. It’s difficult to determine if genetics are the factor or if the start of his life impacted him long term. He was discovered very early morning in a snow storm, so cold that he had ice crystals in his wet navel.

So now let’s discuss why I picked the Dexter’s above all other genetics to build a beef herd…
The Irish Dexter’s have a lineage that dates back nearly to the establishment of the US itself, being one of the first genetics to be imported. They are a smaller framed cow, with a better meat to bone ratio that other breeds. They are also well established as a triple purpose breed, used for milk, meat and oxen. Other factors discovered in my journey is the lack of health complications, the ability to thrive on grass based diets alone and feed efficiency. Additional benefits include temperament, calving ease and overall size.
The down side is finishing time according to industry standards (which I’m a rebel and refuse to follow, focusing instead on condition and age) and how low they are to the ground. To milk them, special consideration should be taken for how close their udders are to the ground. They also do not produce the mass quantities of milk like a jersey, lineback or Holstein does.
Overall, the Dexter cross genetics fulfill the needs I have for finished beef size for my customer base and they are also very easy keepers. I’m planning on experimenting a bit more with the Lineback/Dexter cross genetics for 2017 and 2018.
If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to comment and I’ll do my best to answer them or feel free to email me at farmgirldoreen@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Genetic Selection

  1. On our farm, we have also noticed that Holstein cattle do not thrive on pasture.
    Looking forward to following your lineback/ dexter experiment.

    • I’ve got one right now (Halo) that I plan on breeding heifers with this year. He’s developed well and is polled too. Have another due to a Jersey/Lineback heifer due in May that’s bred to Dexter too.

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