About Dexter Cattle
The following is based on well-known facts about Irish Dexter cattle as well as our own personal experience with these wonderful creatures.
In these in dreadful times of COVID-19, there is no perfect cow than the Irish Dexter. Here’s why:
MILK. At the onset of COVID-19, I recall going into the grocery store and finding the shelves void of milk. For this reason alone, everyone who CAN own a Dexter, SHOULD own a Dexter. This one event made me very thankful for my little Dexter herd. First and foremost, these amazing creatures will provide a family with a manageable 1-3 gallons of delicious milk each day without being tied down to “having” to milk, which is so common with other dairy breeds. Dexters are considered the “Modern Milk Cow.” Calf sharing with Dexters is easy. Leave the calf off the mama overnight, milk her and put them back together for the remainder of the day. If you are unable to milk them for some reason, just leave the calf with the mama. No harm, no foul. Having an endless supply of milk is great, but even more exciting is that Dexter milk contains approximately 4-5% milk fat, comparable to other dairy breeds, making it ideal for creating other common food items such as cheese, butter, buttermilk, sour cream, ice cream and yogurt. The milk can also be fed to other animals. If bred for the A2/A2 Beta Casein gene, such as ours, the milk is said to be tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. Like goats, the fat globules are smaller making them easier to digest. However, these claims have not been substantiated and more research is needed. Due to their docile nature, it is not uncommon for Dexters to share their milk with other calves and even sheep. These qualities make them the perfect family milk cow! No other breed of bovine can fill these shoes!
BEEF. Let’s talk beef! Dexters are highly efficient foragers and produce the most delicious beef even on grass. No grain required. Their meat is highly sought after by world renowned chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and there is a reason for that. In national blind taste tests, Dexters consistently rank in the top three. Due to their smaller stature, a Dexter beef is perfectly sized to produce a family with enough gourmet-quality meat to last a year. A whole beef will yield a family twice as many cuts as half an Angus. So instead of getting (6) Ribeye Steaks, you’ll get (12) Ribeye Steaks because you are able to keep the whole beef. For the health-conscious family, Dexter beef provide petite cuts of meat that are robust and beefy in flavor, extremely tender and juicy.
OXEN. Less common amongst Dexter owners is the use of Dexters as oxen or draft animals, but it is one of the qualities that make them a true tri-purpose breed of bovine. Consider this. We have already been faced with the unthinkable – COVID-19. Who would have ever thought we would be in a world forced to wear masks daily in order to keep our families safe? It is a new era of unthinkable proportions. We were shown in just a short time how volatile our food chain really is with the introduction of COVID-19. Talk about a real eyeopener…Is it so farfetched to think we could find ourselves without necessities such as electricity and fuel to which we have grown so accustomed? In this scenario, it would be a blessing to have a Dexter that could be trained to do some of the heavy lifting around the farm – big or small. Compact and powerful creatures, their temperament and docility make them easily trainable for this task and perfect for the job.
DOCILITY AND FRIENDLINESS. I have never met such a docile and friendly breed of cattle! If you’re accustomed to big, flighty and dangerous cattle, you’ll be amazed at the docile and curious nature of the Dexter. My herd happily greets me when I enter the pasture or a corral. I walk through my herd daily and pet each and every one of them as they clamber to get attention. This includes my bull. If they are lying down, not a problem. They lay calmly as I approach them to give them attention. I brush my cattle often simply because it makes them melt and solidifies the relationship between us. When they hear me coming on the 4-wheeler, they run to greet me. At the amazement of my Angus owning neighbors, I check my cows daily for signs of calving by raising their tails and feeling their udders to see if they are getting close. Is there another way? Believe it or not, my entire herd knows their name. In short, Dexters are unlike any other breed of cattle I have ever been around when it comes to temperament. They are a happy, stress-free herd of animals with not a care in the world and they see no reason to run when you approach them. It’s just the way of the Dexter.
PERSONALITY. Dexters are full of personality. It's one of the reasons I like to visit my herd on a daily basis. Each has their own personality. They are sweet, friendly, calm, and clever. If you're feeling down or just need to be recharged after a long day, go visit the herd. It's the best therapy ever!
SIZE. Dexters may be half the size of their cousins, but this is one of the qualities that make them so desirable. It also provides lots of advantages to those who own them. Dexters require half the acreage and half the feed of their larger counterparts. They have less impact on the ground on which they roam. They are easier to handle and less intimidating, especially for children and those new to cattle. This unique quality makes them the perfect starter cattle – Ideal for small farms and homesteads. It’s important to understand Dexters are not “designer” miniatures. They are simply the smallest natural breed of cattle in the world, having been imported from Ireland. There are, however, dwarf Dexters, often referred to as “short-legged.” These Dexters are even smaller, but they have a genetic defect called Chondrodysplasia. One must be careful not to breed two Dexters with this same genetic defect as it will most certainly end in a bulldog calf which cannot survive. Responsible breeding practices are required when dealing with animals that have Chondrodysplasia.
HARDINESS. Dexters are extremely hardy and can live in virtually any environment, from hot climates to cold, provided they have sufficient cover and protection from harsh winds. Dexters are very low maintenance requiring only fresh water, ample forage and access to minerals to keep them healthy.
WOMAN FRIENDLY CATTLE. Let’s face it. Raising cattle is typically viewed as a “man sport.” Not so with Dexters. They are extremely friendly and easily managed. Dexters are one of the safest breeds of cattle and pleasant to be around. In my opinion, Dexters are perfect for women desiring to raise cattle. On our farm, I do most of the work required with the cattle from vaccinations, to herding, to calving, to milking, to loading them on a trailer. Mostly because I insist! No “cowboying” or “man-handling” required! Honestly, I haven’t found one thing I am not able to do on my own with our Dexter herd. If you watch our videos, you’ll notice I am the one doing most of the handling. My husband enjoys watching me work the herd and doesn’t have to worry about me when I am with them. This is NOT the case with other breeds of cattle. Of course, you still need to use common sense around anything larger than you and you should be able to “read” your animals. Accidents can and do occur, but it is less likely around a well-adjusted herd of Dexters. Nine times out of ten, the accident occurred because of something YOU did and allowing yourself to get lazy around them!
CALVING EASE, GOOD MOTHERS, FERTILITY. We started out with a herd of ten heifers. In the Angus world heifers have to be watched closely, with someone on standby, as it is not uncommon to have to pull calves from Angus heifers. We were so worried about calving our first year. Imagine our surprise when every one of our Dexter heifers calved without assistance! They are all exceptional mothers and most will even share their milk with other calves. It’s the craziest thing I have ever seen. Dexters are known for being extremely fertile. For us, Dexters have taken all of the work and worry out of calving. Now I can look forward to and enjoy calving season without all the worry. I still watch them closely, but largely because I want to be at every birth to see what the Creator has blessed us with! Calving season is like Christmas and we are always sad when calving season comes to an end.
VARIETY. Dexters come in an assortment of solid colors. They can be black, dun or variations of red. Black Dexters can carry red and sometimes have a hue of red in their coat color, especially when shedding. Red Dexters can range from light red to deep-dark red often times referred to as “Wild-Red.” Dun can range from a deep dark brown to light brown. Influences of genetic color can come through as well. For example, a red animal that carries dun can have a dun influence in their coat color. Dexters can also have pink noses, brown noses and black noses. Some have a different muzzle color, some do not. As for horns, Dexters can be “polled” which is without horns or “horned.” With respect to polled, they can be heterozygous polled which means they CAN have calves with horns if bred to another heterozygous polled or horned animal. If they are homozygous polled, they cannot produce offspring with horns. Some consider those with horns to be more “traditional” Dexters. This is strictly personal preference and both are recognized in the Dexter world. Genetic testing can be performed to determine true coat color and horned status. Check out the “Videos and Links” for more information on this subject. Some prefer to breed Dexters on the larger side for beef type operations and others for milk. We prefer both qualities in the Dexters here on our farm! Variety is the spice of life and Dexters have that covered!
LONG LIVED. Dexters are very long lived. I suspect some of this can be attributed to their calm and laid back nature. Like people, stressed animals have far more health issues and illness, resulting in a shorter life span. But that’s just speculation on my part. Dexters can produce into their late teens and even twenties, giving you a good return on your investment. In the end, when they have surpassed their production years, a well-cared for Dexter will still provide you with delicious beef!