Dexters are a small breed of gentle cows that taste exceptionally good. I know this and more because one spring April
day I drove down Cotes Road to Rye Croft Farm to talk to Mark Bowles about his Dexters. This visit had been prompted
by a photograph of Mark, his wife Caroline, a Dexter cow mum and her calf on the front cover of Barrow Voice Spring. This
picture prompted disappointed readers to ask why there hadn’t been an article on the inside to go with the picture on the
outside. Dear readers, here cometh the article.
Mark began rearing Dexters in Newton Linford twenty years ago on a five acre site whilst still working full-time as a locksmith. He outgrew this small farm and moved to Rye Croft in 1999. Now he has 20 totally grass-fed cows and two bulls on 58 acres and rears 20 calves a year. Each cow is a pedigree animal with a pedigree name and its own cattle passport. A Dexter cow, a good quality breeding female, costs between £800 and £1,000 and a top pedigree bull between £1,500 and £2,000. As there are no middlemen in the selling of Dexters the meat is completely traceable, which appeals to many buyers. The meat is sold through farmers’ markets, niche butchers and in boxes from the farm itself. Dexter meat is always dark red with a yellowy fat, so is completely unlike some supermarket beef, which is a very bright red with a super white fat not even attached to the very red meat! Don’t get Mark started on the quality of some supermarket meat…
Mark chose Dexters in the first place because he only had a few acres and wanted a breed appropriate for the acreage. But this initial, essentially practical, choice has deepened into a passionate advocacy of the breed and its meat. Mark has been a trustee of the Dexter Cattle Society for 16 years and enjoys taking his finest beasts to shows. He’s off to the Royal Norfolk this year and hopes to return with more prizewinners’ rosettes to add to the many he already has.
The name Rye Croft isn’t really appropriate for a farm rearing cattle but when he took over, Mark kept the old name. Some of our older Barrow Voice readers may know that Rye Croft used to belong to Leicestershire County Council. It was tenanted out, but in the late 1990s was auctioned off through sealed bids. Mark put in the highest bid, so it became his, but at the time the house was completely uninhabitable. It had been empty for years and there were tales of turkeys being kept upstairs. There was no running water in the house; three wells provided all the water but were outside. Yet even today there are signs that the farm was originally arable and stored grain. If you look at the photographs you can see how the brickwork above the barn door in the old picture has gaps in it to ventilate the space. This brickwork pattern remains in the modern picture but as the room is now part of a comfortable modern home it is no longer needed to keep the place well aired!
The future? I couldn’t leave Mark without asking him two questions. What did he think the effect of Brexit would be on farming and did he ever listen to The Archers? The reply to the second question was quick and easy. “No, never” although he felt the programme did a good job in explaining the world of the countryside to townies, many of whom, in his opinion, didn’t have a clue. The reply to the first was far more thoughtful. Mark felt the farming industry hadn’t been told very much at all – except that nothing would change until after 2020. He worries that small farms may go to the wall, but stays hopeful as he knows farming has a way of surviving.
To learn more about the breed or to reserve your premier Dexter beef, call Mark or Caroline on 01509 211864. Please do leave a message if they are not available; they are happy to call you back.