Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Homesteading Question #2

A reader asked the following questions:

1. How would you describe Dexter milk, as compared to Jersey? Flavor? Butterfat composition? Quantity?

2. How would you describe Dexter beef? I see you still keep Dexters. I am wondering what purpose they serve for you?

3. Would you mind sharing any of your cheese making recipes? Particularly your cheddar and cream cheese methods? In fact, I would LOVE to hear what your home dairying routine looks like on your homestead. How do you manage the milk production on a weekly basis. I've been at this for a year and still haven't really gotten this down.

Size difference between a Jersey and a Dexter:

My answers:

1. I've found a more consistent flavor with Dexter milk, but possibly it's because I wasn't prepared for the unbelievably high butterfat content with the Jersey. I never got a lot of cream from my Dexters but I now realize it's probably because I always had calves on them. My first year with our Jersey, she had no calf on her and up to 50% of her milk was cream. We had to skim it before drinking because it was so rich it almost tasted bad (like drinking, well, pure cream - okay for a mouthful, too rich after that). Skimmed, it was delicious. Now that our Jersey has a calf, I only get about 25% of her milk as cream. I still skim, of course, but the calf is taking a lot of the richness from the milk. Don't get me wrong, I consider this an advantage. Bottom line, I like both Dexter and Jersey milk just fine. I like having more milk (ie. the volume I get from our Jersey) because I like making cheese.

As far as quantity - it's a little hard to gauge because I treated our Dexters differently than our Jersey. I milked the Dexters once a day, kept their calves on them, and got anywhere from a quart to a half-gallon per day per animal. (Keep in mind that all cows milk on a bell curve - they calve, start lactating, and peak when the calf is about a month old. After that they'll gradually decrease over the next few months. There are also day-to-day variations in milk production.) When we got our Jersey from the commercial dairy herd, she had no calf and I got anywhere from two to five gallons a day, depending on the time of year. Now that she has a calf, I'm getting anywhere from half a gallon (rare) to two gallons a day from her.

2. Dexter beef is indescribably delicious. I mean seriously, compared to the junk you buy in grocery stores, our beef is mouth-watering. Even our five-year old bull we butchered last year wasn't bad (animals that old are pretty tough). Most of the bull got turned into ground beef and roasts (rather than the more tender steaks) but he was still delicious. We butcher our steers anywhere from 18 to 24 months of age.

3. I'm working on an article on cheesemaking for Backwoods Home Magazine, so I'll be posting extensively on that subject within the next week or so.


  1. Thank you Patrice! We keep a Dexter bull who has bred our Jersey cows. We've not yet raised a calf up to butcher yet.

    I know I have probably officially exceeded my maximum number of allowed questions...but here's one more. :) How do you finish your Dexter beef? On grass alone? Hay, or a combination of hay/grain?

    I really look forward to reading your cheese article!

  2. I like Dexter bulls because they have a good disposition (for a bull, that is).

    We never grain our animals. They're raised and finished exclusively on grass or grass hay. We provide a mineral block, of course, and I give Matilda (our Jersey) a little grain as a reward after milking, but that's it.

    - Patrice

  3. That is so great! I am finding that I trust less and less the "conventional" farming ways, and benefit so much from learning about the real experiences of real people.

    How wonderful to be able to finish beef without grain. I have always heard that the flavor can be really off if they don't have grain. But then I thought, what did people do before we have the giganitic corn industry? Large amounts of grain are certainly not what cows were created to eat! They were made to eat grass.

    I'm kind of sweet on our Dexter bull too..."Tonka" is his name. So far, he's been really gentle, but we are cautious just the same. I love your bull's name. Its perfect!

  4. Look forward to the articles in Backwoods Home on cheese making as my husband is just about finished making my cheese press.

    I have made mozzarella before but want to try hard cheese. Any one have first hand experience on creating a "Simple" cheese cave?


  5. That's the way my W.V. grandmother did it as well Patrice. A can of oats or whatever to keep her happy and calm during the milking process. The rest of the time they spent out in the hills eating grass.