The Dexter Breed
The Dexter first became established as a breed in Ireland during the nineteenth century, but these small, dual purpose animals are in fact descended from the ancient Iron Age cattle once found throughout Britain. In the first half of the twentieth century several large herds of Dexters were farmed commercially for their rich, high butterfat milk, but the breed, like the Shorthorn, could not compete with the rise of the Friesian and numbers dropped to critical levels in the 1970's. However, in recent years the Dexter has enjoyed a dramatic resurgence in popularity. With its reputation as a hardy and efficient suckler, the Dexter has became the breed of choice for the smallholder, while the recognition it has received for the outstanding quality of its excellent beef is steadily securing the breed a new commercial niche.
The Honeycombe Herd
Based in Gloucestershire, the Honeycombe herd has produced quality pedigree breeding stock for the last quarter of a century. Our current animals represent the culmination of generations of careful breeding and the high degree of uniformity they exhibit is testimony to their long-standing family connections. Ultimately our cattle are reared for beef not dairy yet we still strive to retain the duality of type characteristic of the traditional breed.
Honeycombe cows and calves relaxing with their owner Liz Stephen
We keep both short and non-short legged varieties of Dexter, but emphasis is always placed upon a straight topline above a square set tail, a good head and well-placed teats on a sound udder. Black animals predominate but reds are a welcome contrast within the herd. Our cattle have great temperaments and are friendly, inquistive characters. All are treated as individuals and are greatly cherished.
Honeycombe Daisy - National Female Champion of 2010 [Photo by Mr Barry Cambridge]
We don't take our cattle to shows, but are always thrilled to hear of our animals' success in the show ring with their new owners. None has distinguished themselves in this sphere more spectacularly than Honeycombe Daisy, a sixth generation home bred heifer out of Honeycombe Tania and by Beeches Sir Percival.
Daisy's many successes include Female Champion at the Three Counties, Reserve Breed Champion at the Bath and West, and Breed Champion at the Royal Cornwall.
In 2010, she rounded off an outstanding season by winning the E.H. Peynton Trophy for the best female of the year.
Animal welfare and nature conservation are very important to us. Stocking density is low and veterinary treatments few. The farm is certified Farm Assured and eligible to use the Red Tractor Logo on beef and lamb. We were officially organic for six years and the management of the herd is still largely governed by organic principles but we prefer to retain the greater flexibility provided by a conventional system to ensure the highest standards of welfare .
Calving mainly occurs outside during the summer when there is maximum daylight and the weather generally kind. The calves are reared naturally, suckling their own mothers' milk until they are weaned the following spring. The youngsters then enjoy a further eighteen months outdoors, maturing at their own pace on species-rich permanent pasture, supplemented only by home grown haylage in the winter.
We also keep a commercial flock of ninety Texel and Charollais cross ewes, as well as a small flock of fifteen Hebridean ewes, all of whom are descended from our original stock purchased in 1988.
Rotating our grazing between the cattle herd and our sheep flock reduces the parasite burden of both species and helps to promote the good health of both the grazing itself and the animals that graze upon it.
The rare bee orchid [pictured left] is just one of the diverse species found in our pasture which benefits from this system.
Honeycombe ewes and lambs at grass in the springtime
An additional bonus of this holistic approach to management is the beef from animals reared on a solely grass-based diet has been proven to contain significantly higher levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids which have multiple health benefits for people.