20 May 2022
Find out all you need to know about the Dexter Breed below:
The Dexter breed of cattle is noted as having originated in the south-west of Ireland. Records show that the first Dexters exported to England was in 1882. As time went on the breed became virtually extinct in Ireland but a number of small herds were still farmed in the US and England. Today their numbers are nicely increasing in Ireland as they are becoming one of the favoured rare breeds, for their versatility.
Dexters are a small breed, about half the size of a traditional Herford and approximately 1/3 the size of a Holstein Friesian. They are classified as a small, friendly, dual-purpose breed, used for milk and beef. In some countries they have a triple-purpose as they are also put to work like oxen. Their versatility is one of their greatest attributes, which might have something to do with the number of countries where Dexter cattle are bred such as parts of Europe, South Africa, North America and even as far away as Australia. They are known as hardy and sure footed cattle which make them good for most types of ground. They are browsers and foragers which is great as they clear brush and weedy areas and they are also very happy grazing away in pastureland. With their small size and unfussy diets they are a big advantage to small/family farms and those on hilly areas. Despite their small size they are a broad and deep build with well-rounded hindquarters.
The colours are black, red and brown (dun). There are no significant white markings but can have some small markings on the belly/udder and a few white hairs in the tail switch. Dexters were naturally horned but in the 1990s a breed of Polled (hornless) Dexters were developed. The horns grow in a forward curve on the male and upwards on the female. There are 2 strains – Shorts and Non-Shorts. Shorts (short legged) average at a height of 33”-36” while the Non-short’s average height is 36”-42”. Mature cows weigh in between 600 and 700 lbs while mature bulls average at 1,000 lbs (450kg). The cows are known for easy calving and are extremely good mothers. They will try to hide their calves from birth if there is cover available to them. Some produce enough milk to feed two or three calves and have been seen to willingly nurse calves from other cows. Cows can produce 1.5 to 2.5 litres of milk despite their small size.
Dexter milk is creamy much like the Jerseys, but its properties are likened to goats milk as it has great health benefits. The milk is high in butterfat (4%+)and protein (3.5%+). As it has small fat globules it not only stays homogenized longer but it may mean that people who have difficulty digesting bovine milk may be able to drink Dexter milk. The beef produced by Dexters has an excellent quality with good marbling which makes their meat tender and packed with flavour. A typical carcass can weigh between 150kg and 220kg. A killingout percentage of 56% is often achieved because of the good ratio of meat to fat, bone and waste products. Showing Dexters is becoming a popular event at Agri shows and people are investing in Dexters not only for agriculture but also as a hobby/pet specifically for showing. As with all animals training and handling and getting to know your Dexter is the foundation of all training. The Irish Dexter Society has a group who are involved in the Halter Training and Showing and welcome enquiries from anyone interested in getting involved with this little in stature but big in personality animals.