Irish Dexter Rose Veal
Irish Dexter Rose Veal

Big Horse Ranch & Little Cattle Company

Irish Dexter Rose Veal

in “Farm to Fork” food programs

by Ray Stacey and Sue Camron of Ione, CA

“Farm to Fork” food programs are a revival of the past. Big Horse Ranch & Little Cattle Company is now involved in developing “Old School” free raised Irish Dexter rose veal. We are trying to replicate ranching as it was 100 years ago. This is not a fast paced business venture; it does allow us to best use our ranch to provide old style food for those who are seeking food that has a history of quality.

Veal has had a bad name for many years, ever since the inhumane practices used in raising calves for veal became a national and international issue. As the owner of the Big Horse Ranch & Little Cattle Company I am working to change the public’s perception of veal and promote pasture-based farming.

My calves stay with the cow after birth and self wean, are raised on a 40 acre ranch with lots of grass and sunshine and never injected with hormones, antibiotics or given any formulated supplements. We quarter fence our pastures so we can easily rotate our cattle.

I became interested in Dexters after reading an article about them in the Small Farmer’s Journal a few years ago. Irish Dexters originated in the British Isles. They are one of the smallest breed of cattle in America and they are a dual-purpose animal producing both delicious meat and quality milk.

The Dexters have proven to be a good breed for use on a small farm operation. I harvest my calves at about 11 months old and they produce a high quality rose veal. Grass fed veal is one of the healthiest meat sources. In addition to the health benefits of producing rose veal there are also cost benefits. Your animals do not need to be castrated, dehorned or branded and your veterinary bills are reduced.

Dexters can produce more milk for its weight than any other breed, the daily yield averages 1 to 3 gallons per day with butterfat content of 4 to 5 percent. It has been my experience that Dexters are not easy hand milkers. The results might be better if the animal was started very early with a lot of handling.

Dexters come as either horned or polled. They are a hardy breed and Dexters require less feed than other breeds because of their ability to utilize more nutrients from the feed they consume.

Irish Dexters are known for their ease of calving and are very good mothers. Breeding longevity is good with many cows calving as late as age 14 to 16.

A Dexter cow may be bred to another breed producing a quality cross and a good choice would be the Highlanders which share the same ancestry.

The Dexters are also resourceful, it was kind of amusing when I saw a cow that was able to lift up a barbwire fence to let her calf into the next field. Then there was the time one of the bulls decided my ATV needed a good ramming. I still have one puncture spot in the front of my ATV. There are lots of experiences to enjoy on the ranch and one of the sounds I enjoy most is hearing the cows call their calves.

When we market our rose veal it is sometimes an educational process when talking to our customers. We make sure our customers know that our rose veal is ethically produced and we have an open door policy on the ranch. Anyone can visit and see exactly how our Dexters are raised.

We sell our rose veal commercially to restaurants in Sacramento and the surrounding areas that are at the center of the Farm-to-Fork movement. There is a great interest in farm-fresh superiority and the rose veal from The Big Horse Ranch & Little Cattle Co. has been very well received.

There are other ways to sell veal such as to individuals, buyers clubs and farmers markets. Which ever way the veal is sold there are County, State and Federal regulations that must be met. You may also wish to apply for a U.S.D.A. registration number. If a rancher wants to harvest an animal for their own use these regulations do not apply.

In the future it is my goal to unite many small farmers in a Co-op that shares my interest in pastured-based farms and the humane treatment of animals. As a Co-op we would be able to supply yearly shipments of products, thus sharing some of the costs. In my area the local County Fairground is available with holding pens for animals that are being shipped.

With a Co-op it would be possible for ranchers to create a breeding program for their brood herd and share the bulls.

A Co-op would increase the number of people involved in the educational process, teaching people the health benefits of animals raised their entire life in a pasture.

“Research shows that meat from animals raised on pasture have more desirable proportions of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They also contain higher levels of conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), another fatty acid that has shown great promise in fighting tumors and breast cancer in laboratory test. Grass-fed meats contain higher levels of nutrients, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are critical to good health. With grass fed veal there is no marbleized fat.”

“There are good reasons why those who care about the environment support pasture-based farming: it eliminates the waste-management problems associated with confinement-feeding, reduces greenhouse gases in the air due to carbon sequestration, the grasses and legumes found in well-managed pastures are able to draw excess carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil as carbon.”

“Buying pasture-raised products from a farmer in your area helps keep an environmentally conscious farm in business, it creates a suitable environment for wildlife, which, in turn, provides the farmer with pollination and pest control.”

“Not only are pasture-raised meats better for your health, better for the animals, better for the environment they are also better tasting.The grass gives meats their unique flavor and texture.”

Resource: The Great News about Grass,, 2007 Eating Fresh Publications

I think people are starting to pay attention to where their food comes from and are learning the benefits of healthy food. As this interest grows small farmers will no longer be just a niche market.