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American Dexter Cattle Association

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 Description of Breed

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Dexters are small cattle (as distinct from miniature cattle) that are thought to have originated in Ireland.
established breed
dual purpose (milk and beef)
easy care
easy calving
suitable for small or large properties
long lived

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The Origin of Dexters -An established breed.

The existence of Dexters was first reported in Ireland in 1776. Their written history prior to then is non-existent. However it is clear from documents since that time that Dexters are an integral part of the Kerry cattle breed which is native to Ireland, so much so, that a mating of 2Dexters can produce a Kerry and vice versa.

Dexters are an ancient established breed i.e., they have not been developed in recent times from a existing larger breed.

American Dexter Cattle

The American Dexter Cattle breed is a descendant, (tradition and informed opinion have it) from the original herd of Irish Mountain Cattle assembled in Southwest Ireland in the early 1800's by a Mr. Dexter. He is reputed to have selected a choice herd from the smallest and most intelligent of the hardy breed of mountain cattle in that region. All modern Dexters are said to be the descendants of that first herd. Whether true or not, it is a nice story; there is no question, however, that the first Dexter registry was created in Ireland in 1887,England following in 1892, and America in 1911, after first imports arrived in 1905.

The American Dexter of 1996 possesses many desirable characteristics. Itis still a very hardy animal, thriving in both hot and cold climates with little difficulty. It is tractable and easily trained, either as a pasture animal (kind on fencing) or a show animal (great with children and young adults). It is a thrifty animal and capable of thriving on a half acre per head of good pasture, given the typical Dexter's small size. Registered cows measure between 36 and 42 inches in shoulder height at three years of age, and weigh approximately 750 pounds. Bulls are slightly larger at 38 to 44 inches shoulder height, and weigh in around 1000 pounds. Whether short or long legged (Kerry) types, both varieties are strong and - for their size - high volume, milk producers.

They also produce an excellent lean beef, when raised for meat. To be sure, there is less of it, and smaller cuts of meat, but the quality and coloring are usually exceptional.

Finally, because they are still a minor breed, but one in increasing demand for "suburban" and small farmers, they have held their resale value exceptionally well, and most supply and demand projections indicate that this is likely to be the case for some time to come.

Dual Purpose

Dexters produce both meat and milk. The meat has a delightful unique

taste and the cuts are small in size in comparison to the larger breeds.

It is ideally suited to a boutique meat market or the home freezer. The

choice is yours.

For their size Dexters are prolific milkers. They can easily rear 2

calves at a time and have the potential to be used for commercial dairy


In 1927 a Dexter/Kerry herd in Ireland consisting of 18 animals ranging

in ages from 2 years to 12 years produced an average of 2884 litres of

milk over an average period of 41 weeks. Average butterfat was 4.11%.

In comparison the Irish national average in 1982 for all breeds was

about 3150 litres. A large proportion of the national herd were


During the 1930's the number of Dexters/Kerries started to decline,

whereas the other breeds such as Friesians, Jerseys and Aryshires etc

began to increase in numbers. At the same time the milking ability of

these other breeds was being developed progressively to the level we know


The decline of the Dexters/Kerries reached a level to where they were

placed on the world endangered species list. However their numbers are

now increasing and it should be possible to begin developing their

milking potential to a point where they could perform at least on par

with Jerseys.

In this regard it is noted that milk recorded Dexters in South Africa in

1974 produced an average of 3600 liters whereas in 1977, 2 herds of

Jerseys in that country yielded averages of 3880 liters and 3451 liters.

Dexters are Easy Care Cattle

Dexters generally have a very good temperament and are highly

intelligent. This, combined with their small size makes them easy to

handle in facilities that need not be as sturdy as those required for

the larger breeds.

Dexters seem not to be susceptible to many of the cattle diseases. At

Hobbit Hill Stud they are drenched 2 times each year and the only time

the vet is required , is to take blood samples for stud registration


Dexters are Easy Calving Cattle.

Of all the calves born at Hobbit Hill Stud we have only ever been

present for one birth. The others have arrived during our absence and we

have never lost a calf or had any birthing difficulties.

This easy calving feature of the Dexters can be used to advantage by

breeders of other types of cattle. A Dexter bull over a valuable heifer

of a larger breed will almost certainly result in a safe, unassisted


Recently a Hobbit Hill bull was put over 40 Friesan/Jersey cross dairy

heifers. The result, 40 calves born without assistance.

Dexters are suitable for small or large properties.

The Dexters size and temperament make them ideal for small properties,

but they are equally suitable for large properties. During the 1980's

and 1990's the trend with the major breeds was to breed them bigger and

bigger. Now many of those breeds are beginning to realize bigger is not

necessarily better and they are starting to reduce frame sizes.

As the number of Dexters increase, so does the potential for the

appearance of large commercial herds of Dexters, whether they be for

beef or milk purposes.

Dexters are long lived.

Dexters live long and productive lives and commonly continue to breed at

14 or 15 years of age. Considering that they can begin breeding from an

early age, as early as 7 months (not advised), and they can do this in

harsh environmental conditions, they have a distinct advantage over

other breeds. More calves means more profit.

The Dexter originated in the South Western region of Ireland. Like the Kerry they are descended from the predominately black cattle of the early Celts.

Dexter cattle were first introduced into England in 1882, when ten Dexters were purchased by Mr. Martin. J. Sutton of Kidmore Grande, Oxfordshire from Mr. James. Robertson of La Mancha, Nr Malahide, Dublin.

They were first shown at the Royal Show at Norwich in 1886. By 1892, this native Irish breed was so well established in great Britain that at a meeting of breeders at the Smithfield club on December 6th resulted in the formation of the Kerry and Dexter/Kerry cattle society.


Dexters are the smallest British breed of cattle and are established as a dual purpose breed with the average weight of cow being some 350kgs and standing approx 36" to 42" at the shoulder.

The breed comes in three colors, predominately black, but also in red and dun. Being a mountain breed they are extremely hardy and can live outside all year round. Their size and versatility makes them an ideal smallholders cow.

They are efficient food converters, the ratio of their milk and beef production to food consumed is very impressive. Their milk yield is bound to be appreciable lower than that of cows of larger breeds, but when compared it is only fair to remember that food intake is less, and because of their small size two can be kept in place of one larger animal.

Milk yields will vary according to management and conditions, that is to say whether the cows are kept as dairy cows, sucklers, or house cows, For instance the average milk yield for a house cow will be 2273 liters per lactation. Cows kept as sucklers will raise its own calf as well as a larger commercial foster calf and do them well. Dexters kept as dairy cows will yield on average 2454 liters to 2867 liters with some individuals yielding 4080 liters. the milk is of very good quality with high butterfat and protein levels. Average butterfat percentage is well over 4% and protein 3.51%.

The breed is early maturing and beef of excellent quality, and flavor with good marbling can be produced economically. Dexter steers can be finished off grass at 18 to 24 months old, without supplementary feeding with an average live weight of approx 350kgs. Dexters because of their good meat to bone ratio a killing out percentage of 56% can be achieved.

The meat is very popular with housewives and farmshops because of its flavor, small joints and minimal waste.

Heifers mature young and can be put to the bull at 15 to 18 months old.

Dexters are noted for their longevity and should breed regularly for 14 years or more. Calving problems are rare, with calves being quick on their feet, full of character and with a lively inquisitive temperament.

Mature Dexter cows can be successfully crossed with most native beef breeds and will produce an excellent commercial offspring.

Obviously choose a bull with an easy calving record and the cow at calving should be fit, but not overweight.

The success of the Dexter over the last 20 to 25 years is quite outstanding. The Dexters ability to adapt to varying and extreme climatic conditions and different systems of management is typical of the breed. They have established themselves well in many parts of the world. Animals have been exported not only to the USA and South Africa, but also to Canada, Jamaica, Argentina, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Australia. Several of these countries now have their own breed societies, which only goes to show how well this breed has become established, truly the small cow with a big future.

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