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What are Dexter Cattle?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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Dexter cattle are a small cattle breed which originated in the South of Ireland. These cattle rarely grow above 44 inches (112 centimeters) at the shoulder, leading some people to mistake them for miniature cows. They are in fact a true small cattle breed, not a miniaturized breed. In addition to being raised in many parts of Great Britain and Ireland, Dexter cattle are also found in many other regions of the world, especially North America.

These cattle may be small, but they are also sturdy and very hardy. Dexter cattle are famous for being easy keepers, requiring little maintenance and thriving on forage and minimal dietary supplementation. The cows produce a high volume of milk, and the milk is rich in butterfat, making it suitable for a wide range of uses. They also calve very dependably, usually producing a calf each year which can be raised for meat or for milk; both sexes tend to be very stocky, with rich, well-marbled meat.

The breed emerged in the 1800s, and it is believed to be the result of crossing Kerry cattle with the Devon. The “Dexter” comes from a mysterious “Mr. Dexter” who is sometimes credited with developing the breed, although it is somewhat difficult to find any historical evidence that Mr. Dexter really existed. Originally, Dexter cattle were bred as house cows, designed to provide a single household with milk and meat for a minimum amount of effort, and Dexter cattle continue to be raised for this very purpose around the world.

For people with a small amount of land, Dexter cattle can be preferable to raising full-sized cattle. They are also much easier to handle than larger cattle breeds, and they are known for being curious, gentle, and friendly, with even young children handling Dexter cattle with ease. These traits allow people with less farming experience to raise Dexter cattle, and make the cattle popular projects for children in organizations like 4-H.

Most Dexter cattle are black, although some may be dun or red. The breed is broken in two main groups, distinguished by leg length: short-legged Dexter cattle have unusually short, somewhat stumpy legs, while the long-legged variety have legs of a more familiar length. Both males and females grow horns, with some people preferring to de-horn at a young age for safety reasons. Breeders of Dexter cattle can be found in some farming communities, and many are willing to arrange long-distance shipping for people who wish to start raising this breed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Dexter Cattle?

Dexter cattle are a small, dual-purpose breed of cow, originating from Ireland. They are known for their hardiness, docility, and versatility, being used for both milk and meat production. Dexters are the smallest European cattle breed, making them ideal for smaller farms and sustainable agriculture practices.

What is the size and weight of Dexter Cattle?

Adult Dexter cattle are significantly smaller than many other breeds. Bulls typically weigh between 1,000 to 1,200 pounds, while cows weigh between 600 to 700 pounds. They stand about 36 to 44 inches at the shoulder, which classifies them as a miniature breed.

What are the milk production capabilities of Dexter Cattle?

Dexter cows are known for their high-quality milk, which has a higher butterfat content than most dairy breeds, averaging around 4%. They are not high-volume producers like Holstein cows but can yield 1.5 to 2.5 gallons of milk per day, which is ample for most family farms.

How efficient are Dexter Cattle for meat production?

Dexter cattle are praised for their lean and well-marbled meat, which has a distinctive taste and tenderness. Despite their small size, they have an excellent feed conversion ratio and can reach market weight more quickly than larger breeds. This efficiency makes them a sustainable choice for meat production on smaller farms.

What is the temperament of Dexter Cattle?

Dexter cattle are generally known for their calm and friendly disposition. They are easy to handle and manage, which makes them a favorite among smallholders and hobby farmers. Their docile nature also contributes to their popularity in agritourism and educational farm settings.

Are Dexter Cattle suitable for all climates?

Dexter cattle are remarkably adaptable and can thrive in various climates, from the cold regions of their native Ireland to warmer areas. Their thick coats provide insulation against colder weather, and they are known to be foragers that can make the most out of marginal pastures where other breeds might struggle.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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