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To cook with nature at home, you need to be aware of the rhythm of the seasons. Everything grows in its own time. Summer is a time of abundance, but even in winter, there are fresh vegetables available. To cook against nature means using foods out of season that have been kept in cold storage. Cooking with nature is more sustainable, supports your local producers and ensures that you get your food at its best.

Spring is a wonderful time as fresh young foods come on the market. If you have never been to a farmers’ market or a well-stocked greengrocer, now is the time to start. The produce on offer is of a wider variety and much fresher than the supermarket, where produce is more likely to come out of cold storage than the fields.

Fresh young greens such as lettuce, watercress, sorrel and spinach will be in abundance in spring, but the weather is still cool enough to enjoy soups like minestrone and spring vegetable soup. Young green peas, beans and asparagus make delicious light soups with served with sourdough from the farmer’s market and jewel-like preserves from the store cupboard. Stock up on soft and hard cheeses and enjoy a ploughman’s lunch in the early spring sunshine. It’s the perfect time to start cooking with nature when the seasonal produce is so light and lively.

Spring is also the best time to take a hands-on approach to producing your own food. Start a simple herb garden by planting basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme and chives. These will soon be providing you with extra zing and flavor for your meals. Move on to tomatoes (they grow well in the same spot as basil), peas, green beans, carrots and Asian greens such as pak choi which are easy to grow and will soon start producing for you. Check the climate zones on the internet and find out what grows best in your area. A plant which grows well in a warm, subtropical zone will struggle with frosts in a colder zone.

In summer, you will naturally be thinking of salads, and this is actually the time of year when many people do decide to buy fresh produce, as it all looks so appetizing and no one wants to cook complicated dishes on hot days.. Barbecues and al fresco eating are popular, but remember to always pick what is in season and what is grown in your area. Food flown in from far afield that is easily grown in your area isn’t sustainable or in keeping with a natural approach.

The shelves of your local greengrocers and the stalls at the farmer’s markets are groaning with fabulous produce in summer. You can find bell peppers in many colors from a deep, almost black purple to a bright sunny yellow; melons of all sizes and shapes; cane fruits such as blackberries and raspberries; tomatoes are ripe and inviting, but for best flavor look for the heirloom varieties, and of course, there are strawberries in abundance.

In your garden, you should be harvesting your spring planting and have started growing capsicum, corn and other barbecue favorites. Later, you can also plant zucchinis, pumpkins and cabbage to get started for the cooler months. As you grow your own vegetables and care for your garden you will understand why fruits and vegetables are seasonal and what this means to their freshness and nutritive value.

In the fall, you can enjoy the bountiful harvest of tree fruits such as plums, pears and apples that haven’t been in cold storage for a year. This is fruit at its best so make sure you buy from greengrocers and farmers markets that bring you fresh young produce. It is time for more hearty fare in your cooking, which can include delicious soups and stews made with pumpkins, carrots, parsnips, turnips and all the flavorful foods of fall.

Slow cooked casseroles and apple pies satisfy cravings for home-cooked comfort foods that are the hallmarks of the cooler months. This is the way nature intended the rhythm of the seasons, to keep you cool and light on your feet when it is hot, and warm and well-nourished when it is cold. From your garden, harvest cabbage and cauliflower, and lots of peas and beans.

It is time to start preserving as well, to make the excess fruit and vegetables last through the winter. If canning is not for you, stock up your freezer instead. This way you can keep up your commitment to cooking with nature as the winter sets in. Frozen vegetables are only kept for a short time and do not lose their flavor or nutritional value if you use them up over winter. Soon it will be spring again and time to start shopping for fresh young greens and preparing the ground for new plants.

Get to know what is grown in your area and what you can expect to see on sale in each season. Cooking with nature is healthy and fun, whether you do it outdoors or in your own kitchen. Nature itself also produces year-round foods you can forage from field and shore. Get someone knowledgeable to show which wild mushrooms and herbs are safe to pick, and forage along the sea shore for edible seaweed and sea kale. Knowing what nature provides where you live ensures you enjoy the freshest diet possible.

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Dexter Cattle: Are They the Perfect Cow for the Small Farm or Homestead?

The farm I grew up on was in Upstate New York. We primarily raised Morgan horses, but Dad always had plenty of other critters around, too. I still remember the first cow he brought home. Her name was Daisy, and she was a Charolais. That cow would just walk through fences like they weren’t even there. Dad spent more time chasing her around the neighborhood than anything else. Needless to say, she didn’t last long on our farm.

The day he brought home Cupcake and Sprinkles was a magical day indeed for a little girl (I was about 12 years old at the time). Those two little Dexter cows were the sweetest things ever. It was love at first sight! I had never heard of miniature cows at that time; they were not common at all in our area back then. I’ve had a lot more experience with Dexters, and other cattle breeds, since then.

Now that I’m older, I try to look at things from a more practical standpoint, and not just rely on cuteness alone! There are definite pros and cons to raising Dexters, so it’s a good idea to do some research before you decide which breed of cattle to add to your homestead.

The Pros of Raising Dexter Cattle

1. Size

The smaller size of Dexter cattle is definitely a pro in my opinion. I have seen Dexters that are as big as a small Jersey cow, but they can also be as small as a large dog. They are definitely much smaller than a Guernsey or Holstein. If you have small children that will be around your livestock, that is definitely an advantage. Full-size cows can be very intimidating, and even the sweetest, gentle cow can accidentally step on a foot or become panicked and possibly do some serious damage. The potential for injury is much smaller with a smaller animal.

2. Cost of Feeding

Their smaller size also means that they eat less, which means that they can be more affordable to feed than a full-sized cow. This will, of course, vary from cow to cow, though. If your Dexter is nearly as big as a Jersey, then you’re probably not going to notice much difference in your feed bill. The amount of quality pasture that your cow has access to is also going to be a factor, so there are a lot of variables to consider. Our Dexters were just a little bigger than a large German Shepherd, and they didn’t eat as much as a Jersey between the two of them.

3. They’re Tough

Dexter cattle are very cold hardy. They don’t seem to mind the cold at all, so you don’t have to worry about an elaborate shelter for them. In fact, a three-sided shelter might be enough in all but the coldest climates. Ours always had access to their shelter, but most of the time, they preferred to be out in the open. Thee breed originated in Ireland, so they’re well adapted to rocky terrain, harsh weather, and even lower quality pasture.

4. Smaller Yields

Dexters will have lower yields of both milk and meat than a full-sized cow. On the small farm or homestead, this can be a plus, especially if you have a small family. Jersey’s produce a lot of milk, and at certain times of the year, it can be too much. Also, when you butcher a full-sized cow for the freezer, there’s little room left for anything else in there. However, if you have a large family, a full-sized cow probably makes a lot more sense for you. So, technically, this could be a pro or a con, depending on what your needs are.

5. They are Dual Purpose

Dexters are great milk producers, especially for their size. But, they are also fleshy cows that produce delicious, well-marbled meat, if that’s what you want to raise them for.

6. Dexters Make Great Mothers

They make great mommas and usually have no trouble raising two calves at one time. They also make easy work of calving, which is important if you live in a remote area where a good vet is hard to come by. (It can sometimes be hard to find a bull, though, so keep that in mind, too.)

So, what are the Cons?

1. They can be Hard to Find and Expensive to Buy

Because they are still quite rare, they can be very hard to find in some areas of the country. Not only that but when you do find them, they are usually quite expensive, often selling for $1500 or more, each. On the other hand, once you’ve made the initial investment, selling the offspring might be a possible source of additional income on your homestead.

2. Breeding Standards are Changing

Although Dexter cattle are still a dual-purpose breed, the majority of Dexter cattle breeders are more focused on raising high-quality, grass-fed beef. That means that the genes that make them a good dairy cow are slowly being bred out of them. They don’t breed them for good udders or high milk production, so if you are primarily looking for a milk cow, you may end up disappointed.

3. Genetic Problems

Dexter cattle are prone to a few different genetic disorders. There’s testing that can be done to avoid the problem, but it’s definitely something to be aware of when you’re making your decision.

The Take-Away

So, with all of that taken into consideration, are Dexter cattle the perfect family cow for the small farm or homestead? Honestly, the answer is going to be different for every situation. If you really want a dual-purpose breed, but you don’t have a lot of space, Dexters might make the best sense for you, especially if your family is small.

On the other hand, if you primarily want a milk cow, starting out with a Jersey is more affordable to purchase, and you’ll have enough milk for drinking and making your own dairy products, too. In the end, it all depends on your needs, the amount of space you have, and the availability of quality animals in your area.


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