Dexters are the among smallest breed of domesticated cattle. They are not ‘mini cows’, ‘designer cows’, or a ‘novelty’, but a breed that traces its heritage back to the 18th century mountainous regions of Southern Ireland.
They gained the reputation as the ‘poor man’s cow, and because of their small size they were efficient providers of beef and milk for the impoverished farm families in the region.
Today’s registered Dexters share the same features and characteristics of their Irish ancestors.
The breed standards for height for mature cows is 34″ to 46″ with a majority in the 36″ to 42″ range. For bulls it is 36″ to 50″ with a majority in 38″ to 44″ range. There are three recognized colors: red, black, or dun. Although the first Dexters were horned, polled is now recognized and preference for many owners.
Dexters truly are the amazing Small Cow that can provide Big Benefits to your farm, small acreage, or even a backyard!
Dexters are renowned for their gentleness, intelligence, motherly instincts, and love attention from their owners. You’ll quickly learn where they like to be scratched and they’ll quickly learn to spot a bucket full of treats a mile away!
Heifers mature quickly and can be exposed to a bull as early as 12-14 months. The breed is known for its mothering instincts and fertility with pregnancy rates as high as 97%. It is not uncommon for cows to calve without complications past the age of 20.
Dexters may never be an option for large beef or dairy producers, but for the small acreage farm or ranch, and homesteaders they are the perfect choice.
A recent post in Farmers Weekly sums up some of the cost benefits of Dexters:
Don’t be fooled by the Dexter’s size – this dual-purpose breed carries a higher proportion of its body weight as saleable meat than most beef breeds, and offers sterling weight gain and feed conversion
Weight gain and feed conversion also compares very favourably with those of other dual-purpose breeds. Higher carcass yields, smaller cuts and extraordinary beef quality make the Dexter a viable option for beef producers.
Dexters produce more saleable meat The Dexter has a higher proportion of saleable meat for its body weight than most beef breeds, including Hereford, Angus and Brahman
Despite her small frame, the Dexter cow is an excellent milker. Long-term official breed statistics show an average yield of 3574kg (7879 lbs) of milk over a 299-day period, This means that a Dexter cow can yield six times her body weight in milk in a single lactation.
Dexters are able to survive the harshest conditions without shelter, will maintain body weight and conditioning on a grass hay diet in the winter, and in the summer fatten out on pasture grass without any grain or supplements other than perhaps trace minerals.
The are known for their longevity and ease in birthing calves, and very rarely will you need the services of a veterinarian.
Additionally due to their small size, it is easy to maintain 2 to 3 Dexter cows per acre on well maintained pastures using rotational grazing.
Dexters are truly a dual purpose (beef and dairy) cow.
Again quoting from Farmers Weekly:
The beef is known for its exceptional marbling, tenderness and texture.
The butterfat content of Dexter milk varies from 3.7% to 4.7%
It is not uncommon for Dexter Cattle to produce up to 3 gallons of milk a day.
As for beef it is very common to achieve a 60-65% hanging weight to live weight ratio at processing, which translates into more beef less money.
There are some owners who believe that Dexters are a triple purpose breed and use their Dexters as oxen in their day-to-day homesteading. Because of their natural docile nature, they are easy to train, and there are certainly jobs around the farm where a team of oxen would prove most useful.
-The Journey Continues