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Dexter Cattle

The hardy and manageable Dexters are one of the ancient British breeds. Once listed as rare, their resurgence in many areas of the globe is more than coincidence.

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The popularity of Dexters has been fuelled by a desire for organic food, health concerns over factory farming, and soaring food prices. easy care and very manageable, Dexters have a genetic inheritance of centuries of neglect, running semi-wild in the hills of Ireland, and offer a low maintenance disease resistant option for the small landholder. There are less than one thousand purebred Dexters in Australia.

The Dexter breed is probably descended from the Celtic Shorthorn, brought to Ireland as early as 2000 BC. They were developed as a dual purpose breed suited to small subsistence farms of the impoverished south-western regions of Ireland, where the breed’s ability to thrive and grow on meagre forage under harsh conditions made it an important asset to poor farmers. The Dexters smaller size caused less damage to soils in high rainfall areas than larger breeds.

Dexters are classified as a dual-purpose breed; used for milk and beef. However, they are often listed as a triple-purpose breed, since they are also used for oxen. Individual herd owners often concentrate on growing either a beef or a milk animal.

An adult Dexter Cow will weigh about 300 kgs and delight you with at least seven litres of milk most days. Considering their small size, the body is wide and deep with a well-rounded hindquarter. Although usually black, a dark-red or dun Dexter is sometimes found, all animals are always solid, with only very minor white marking on the udder or behind the navel. The cattle are fine boned with delicate heads and upswept, lyre-shaped white horns with black tips. They are active grazers and browsers, hardy and long-lived, often continuing to be productive milking cattle into their teens. . Dexter meat provides smaller cuts of delicious beef and these hardy little animals will breed more easily under difficult environmental conditions. The average carcass dress out is 50 to 60 percent with small cuts of high quality lean meat, graded choice, with little waste. The beef produced by Dexters is well marbled and tends to be darker.

Dexters produce a rich milk, relatively high in butterfat (4%) and the quality of the milk overall is similar to that of the Jersey. The globules of butterfat in the milk are smaller than those from most dairy breeds, making the milk more easily digestible by people and also particularly well suited for cheese production.

The cows are exceptionally good mothers, hiding their calves almost from birth if there is any shrub or tree cover. They are known for easy calving and will produce enough milk to feed 2-3 calves, and often will willingly nurse calves from other cows.

This trait, along with the small size of the calf, has produced a small but growing market for Dexter bulls to breed to first calf heifers among the larger beef breeds to eliminate problems at parturition.