cattle are the smallest of the European cattle breeds, being
about half the size of a traditional Hereford and about
one third the size of a Friesian (Holstein) milking cow.
They were considered a rare breed of cattle, until recently,
but are now considered a recovering breed by the American
Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The Dexter breed originated
Dexter breed originated in southwestern Ireland from which
it was brought to England in 1882. The breed virtually disappeared
in Ireland, but was still maintained as a pure breed in
a number of small herds in England. The Dexter is a small
breed with mature cows weighing between 600–700 pounds
(270–320 kg) and mature bulls weighing about 1,000
pounds (450 kg). Considering their small size, the body
is wide and deep with well-rounded hindquarters. Although
usually black, a dark-red or dun Dexter is sometimes found.
They are always single-coloured except for some very minor
white marking on the udder or behind the navel. Horns are
rather small and thick and grow outward with a forward curve
on the male and upward on the female. The breed is suitable
for beef or milk production, although individual herd owners
often concentrated on growing either one or the other.
are classified as a small, friendly, dual-purpose breed;
used for milk and beef. However they are often listed as
a triple-purpose breed, since they are also used as oxen.
Management practices vary by breeder and by country. Their
versatility is one of their greatest assets, and probably
has something to do with the number of countries Dexter
cattle are found, including North America, South Africa,
Australia, and much of Europe.
animals in the US are expected to mature in 18 months and
result in small cuts of high quality lean meat, graded US
Choice, with little waste. The expectable average dress
out is 50 to 70 percent. The beef produced by Dexters is
well marbled and tends to be darker.
produce a rich milk, relatively high in butterfat (4%) and
the quality of the milk overall is similar to that of the
Jersey. Some claim the milk is more naturally homogenised
than other milk due to the smaller fat globules. Dexters
can reasonably be expected to produce 2 to 2.5 gallons (7.6
to 9.5 litres) per day.
cows are exceptionally good mothers, hiding their calves
almost from birth if there is any cover for them to hide.
They will produce enough milk to feed 2–3 calves,
and often will willingly nurse calves from other cows. They
are known for easy calving. This trait, along with the small
size of the calf, has produced a small but growing market
in the United States for Dexter bulls to breed to first
calf heifers among the larger beef breeds to eliminate problems
at parturition.
Dexter cattle carry Chondrodysplasia, which is a form of
dwarfism that results in shorter legs than non-affected
Dexters. The Chondrodysplasia affected Dexters are typically
6–8 inches shorter in height than non-affected Dexters.
Care should be taken to avoid breeding two Chondrodysplasia
affected Dexters together as there is a 25% chance that
the fetus can abort prematurely. A DNA test is available
to test for the Chondrodysplasia gene by pulling tail hairs
from the animal.
can also be affected with PHA (Pulmonary Hypoplasia with
Anasarca) which is an incomplete formation of the lungs
with accumulation of a serum fluid in various parts of the
tissue of the fetus. Unlike Chondrodysplasia, which has
many physical signs, PHA shows no outward signs and is only
possible to detect through DNA testing. As with Chondrodysplasia,
PHA affected Dexters should not be bred together.
are typically horned, however a polled strain was developed
in the 1990s.
very rare in both the UK and the US, Dexters have been enjoying
a resurgence in both countries, with over 4,100 Dexter cows
registered in 2007 by the Dexter Cattle Society in the UK
– double the figure for 2000."With high food
prices, they are actually quite an attractive option if
you like producing your own food,” said Sue Farrant,
owner of four Dexters."Both my husband and I have full-time
jobs so we're keeping them on the side as an interest. They
do largely look after themselves and they've been hugely
popular with the children."
popularity of Dexters has been fuelled by a desire for organic
food, health concerns over factory farming, and soaring
food prices. "The government has no interest in where
our food comes from or how it tastes, so it's nice to set
your own welfare and quality standards,” said poet
and songwriter Pam Ayres, who has a small herd of Dexters
on her 20-acre (81,000 m2) Cotswolds property. "If
you've got a bit of land, a breed like the Dexter can work
out a lot cheaper than the supermarket, plus they do a pretty
good job of mowing the lawn."