About Dexter Cattle
Dexter cattle originated in the early 1800’s from small herds of native cattle found in the Kerry region of southwest Ireland. Perhaps descending from the predominantly black cattle of the early Celts or from the black and white spotted cattle described in early Irish writings, the true origin of these beautiful cattle is unclear. Some writings, however, credit a Mr. Dexter, who served as an agent for Lord Howarden of County Kerry, as their original breeder. He is said to have selected the hardiest mountain cattle of the region in his breeding program, working toward developing small cattle that were suitable for both beef and milk production.
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-colored 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, as well as for oxen.
The beef produced by Dexters is well marbled and tends to be darker, and the rich milk is 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 homogenized 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.
The 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.
Dexters are typically horned, however a polled strain was developed in the 1990s.