The little Irish breed is well-loved across Ireland, and is often called 'The Poorman's Cow'! What do you know about Dexter cattle?
- Dexter cattle were developed in the south-western counties of Ireland, and are similar in genetics to the Kerry cow. Both breeds are descendants of the ancient Celtic tribes' black cattle of the past. The earliest records of the cattle date back to about 1845, making them quite an old breed.
- They’re sometimes nicknamed ‘The Poorman’s Cow’! However, this shouldn’t deter people from breeding them, as they can be quite efficient despite their miniature stature, with excellent milking qualities and beef production abilities.
- They weigh only 350kg at most, and stand at about 1 metre in height. This makes them quite attractive as a pet as well as a pleasant addition to your farm! There are also short-legged and non-short types of Dexter cattle.
- The dual-purpose breed usually has a black coat, but can often come in red and dun colours.
- The breed is horned, but as of recent years, naturally polled strains of Dexter are emerging. This is something worth thinking about, as many farmers dislike having horned cattle in close proximity to other livestock.
- Their name comes from a ‘Mister Dexter’ who came to Ireland in the mid-1700s and settled in County Tipperary. He then developed the breed through careful selection.
- As an old mountain breed, they’re well-adapted to the harsh landscape of Ireland’s rocky fields. They can thrive on low-quality pastures and are often known to eat weeds and unwanted vegetation.
- There are only about 2,000 Dexter cattle in Ireland. The breed was almost pushed to extinction in the last century, and during the 1970s Dexter cattle were classified as an endangered and ‘rare’ breed. However, they’ve luckily regained their popularity in the last few decades.
- They have great mothering instincts, which helps protect against predators. Dexter cows are able to raise two calves at a time in many cases! Although they’re docile with pleasant temperaments, they can still be aggressive when guarding their young. It’s always important to take extra care around bulls and cows, regardless of breed! Take a look at our article on Farm Safety to remind yourself of the dangers.
- Cows also calve quite easily, without any major issues arising. This reduces vet assistance costs during the stressful birthing season. Dexter calves usually weigh about 25-30kg at birth, and are mobile almost immediately!
- Cows can begin mating at around 15-18 months of age, and can calve into their mid-teens. Their lifespan is usually about 25 years in total. However, it’s important to be cautious when breeding continental cattle with Dexter cows!
- Unfortunately, some Dexter cattle can suffer from Chondrodysplasia, a health issue that causes dwarfism. This is usually quite harmless, resulting only in a a decreased height of about 8 inches. However, if two Dexters with the Chondrodysplasia gene are bred together, it can result in a prematurely aborted fetus in 1 in 4 pregnancies.
- Dexter cattle can also suffer from PHA (Pulmonary Hypoplasia with Anasarca). This results in malformed lungs that can fill with fluid, and affects unborn calves. DNA testing is the only way to detect the issue, and Dexters that carry the gene should not be bred with each other.
- Their milk is highly regarded, with dairy-bred Dexters producing almost 3660 litres per lactation. In fact, some Dexters have been known to produce a staggering 4080 litres! Their milk has a butterfat content of 4%, with protein levels of about 3.5%.
- Dexter beef is excellent quality, with good marbling. This allows for tender and flavoursome meat. Their carcasses weigh about 145-220kg, and despite their small size, they can often achieve a killing-out percentage of well above 56%. This is due to a good ratio of meat against waste products like fat and bone.
For a more general overview of how to choose a breed that suits your farm, you can also read our article on Beef Cattle: Choosing the Right Breed for You.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons