I’m a contadina ( peasant woman) at heart, having moved to the country years ago, when self-sufficiency and the ‘back to the earth’ movement was in its heyday, long before real estate agents and marketers grabbed hold of the catchy phrase ‘tree change’ to hoodwink city folk onto small farms in the bush. Looking back on that life of vegetable growing, chook breeding, orchard planting and raising a few miniature Dexter cows, I can see that it has been a rewarding yet extremely demanding lifestyle. And now some tough decisions need to be made.
This year’s drought has been challenging. Our five Dexter cows, all named and loved, have been relying on bought hay for months. The front cleared paddocks, around 13 acres, have been bare and bleached since Christmas. The five Dexters unwittingly share their grass with mobs of hungry kangaroos and rabbits, the latter becoming more invasive during drought years.
The Dexters listen for the sound of the back door opening in the morning and begin their hungry mooing. They wait for a car to travel up the driveway and chase it like crazy circus animals, all legs flying in the dust. Stepping outside into the morning’s Autumn mist, they are waiting for me, their gentle gaze longing for another hay bale. I look back at them, our pets, Delilah, Derry, Duffy, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy and all I can think of is Little Father Time’s maudlin phrase, “because we are too many” from Jude the Obscure. Two or three of our Dexters have to go.
The Dexter breed originated in south-western Ireland. The breed almost disappeared in Ireland, but was still maintained as a pure breed in a number of small herds in England. The Dexter is a small breed and is naturally a miniature cow. They are usually black, a dark-red or dun, they are always single-coloured except for some very minor white marking on the udder or behind the navel. Horns are rather small and thick and grow outward with a forward curve on the male and upward on the female. The breed is suitable for beef or milk production.
We keep Dexters to mow our grass and use their manure on our gardens. They are inquisitive and very friendly.