Perspectives on Buying These Special Breeds
I offer here some cautions born out of experiences as buyer, seller, observer, and confidante, and “wisdom” coming from those experiences, in the hope that others can avoid some of the mistakes and bumps in the road and be party to good connections for buyer, seller, and animals.
Buying your first Babydolls, Dexters, or Dexfords is exciting, but for the sake of yourself, the animal(s), and the breeder who has devoted time to them, there are cautions and limits that you will want to consider.
Regarding Dexters and Dexfords, they are “the same” as other cattle, in that they have cattle ways and habits (and need certain facilities like fences) and will have the variations that cattle do. They are sensitive creatures and respond to new and disturbing circumstances in different ways (partly depending on their individual temperaments and partly depending on their training by the breeder/owner and their past experiences), just as humans do. They deserve the respect you should give any animal which is/will be larger than yourself, and your general awareness of how things look to the animal will help the safety of humans and animals. Be aware that YOUR expectations color your interaction with the animals. They are “the same” as any cattle in some ways, but if you have a commercial beef cattle background, for example, and bring your “hot shot” to load your new Dexter/Dexford, many a seller will be appalled, while the Dexters treated with it will jump just like other cattle (and not forget the treatment). On the other hand, if you have read the glowing ads about Dexter temperament and expect them to behave like the pets (say, dogs or cats or horses) that you are familiar with and you watch a breeder load them onto a trailer by using “pressure” (body position) rather than leading them, then you may be surprised at the seeming lack of orderliness and not understand the possibilities you have to work with them after they are in your home environment. Moving animals by pressure takes into account the inherited prey nature of cattle. That nature can be seriously modified by training, especially early training. Keep in mind that no matter what attitude you see in the cattle or the prospective seller, you are not seeing a “blank slate” or animal with no previous life experience; its behavior will reflect both its nature and its “nurture.”
Dexters/Dexfords are also “different from” other cattle. They seem to me to be intelligent and personable. In general I think that reflects their “nature.” They have often been more attended to by their owners/breeders, “nurturing” their natural gentleness as well. Therefore, the breeders’ expectations for their cattle and their manner of handling them will make a big difference in the animals that you see when you look to buy. If you are from a commercial beef background, you may not expect the animals you buy to be halter-trained nor want to pay for that service. You may want bovine lawnmowers and pretty cattle on the hillside and easy-care beefmakers—all reasonable goals. In those cases, “pasture animals” should be fine for you. If you find them to be easily tamed and they become responsive to you it is icing on the cake. On the other hand, if you are from a pet background (or even a show background if you didn’t start your previous calves yourself), or if you are just starting and think you WANT to show, you may be better off buying a calf or yearling or so that is already halter-trained and you even may need to observe the level of its training (in order to know how much you must continue the work to have the kind of animal you want). Not everyone who thinks that by buying a young calf they can train it to suit themselves turns out to have the time and ability to do that. Keep in mind your limits in the present, even if your eventual ideal reaches farther. If you want to milk but have not before, it may be easier for you if you get a cow already trained to milk. All of these things involve realistically assessing your own goals and abilities and usually require that you ASK lots of QUESTIONS of the seller. You would reasonably assume that an animal with added training, over a pasture animal, would command a higher price.
In addition to knowing what YOU want and what the SELLER expects and has done with the animals up to the point of sale, knowing general bovine behavior can be a help. If your new animal jumps a poor fence when it gets to a new location, ask yourself what is on the other side. Are there other cattle, greener grass, some other enticement? What is the situation on this side—are there new people to get away from, has the animal been confined in an unfamiliar environment and is now free? What emotions might the animal be experiencing—fear, curiosity? Some owners will take the behaviors in stride and learn FROM the cattle. Others will RE-act and give up on the cattle. For the sake of all of us who care about these creatures, PLEASE take a hard look at your goals and abilities and ask questions of the breeder/owner before you buy an animal you are not prepared for and end up killing it because of YOUR lack of knowledge. Just be aware and honest about your skill level and your commitment level; give yourself room to try and to fail and to try again and give the animals some room too; and don’t be afraid to ask questions of many people so that you can find the right animal for you.