Dexter Cattle

Dexter Cattle

Sometimes you don’t have time to rewrite history. Below is information from the Dairy Site on the history of Dexter Cattle. Thanks to the Dairy Site and to other resources used to compile this great story and history of Dexter Cattle.


The Dexter originated in the South Western region of Ireland where they were originally kept by small landholders and known as the “poorman’s cow”. Like the Kerry, they are descended from the predominately black cattle of the early Celts.

The frequently heard theory that the Dexter is a comparatively new breed is a complete fallacy, as the breed is fully described and mentioned by its proper name in a report on Irish cattle written in 1845 by Mr David Low.

From this publication, it is noted that the breed owes its modern appearance, name, and probably its qualities to a Mr Dexter, who was agent to a Lord Howarden, who came to Ireland in 1750 and made his home in County Tipperary. David Low stated that a Mr Dexter had produced his curious breed by selecting from the best of the hardy mountain cattle of the area, and that he had succeeded to a very high degree.

At the turn of the 20th century, Dexters became the show cattle of the English gentry. As the 20th century progressed, Dexter numbers declined. In the 1970s, they were designated as rare and endangered. More recently, their attractiveness to small landholders has produced a significant increase in their numbers globally. As a result, the Dexter is the best example of a domestic cattle breed saved from extinction.


Photo courtesy of Freedom Farm Dexters,

The Dexter is a small breed of cattle. It is a dual-purpose breed, with the average weight of a cow being some 300 – 350 kg and standing 92 – 107 cm at the shoulder. There are two recognized types, short legged and non-short, both of which have their own merits.

The breed comes in three colours; predominately black, but also red and dun. Most are horned, although a very few naturally polled animals are becoming available.

Dexter cows are extremely maternal and, because of their dual purpose qualities, will milk well. Calving problems are rare, and newly born calves are up on their feet very quickly. Calves weigh 25 – 35 pounds at birth.

Heifers mature young and can be put to the bull at 15 – 18 months of age. Dexters are noted for their longevity and can live up to 25 years. Dexters should breed regularly for 14 years or more.

The breed is early-maturing. Beef of excellent quality and flavour, with good marbling, can be produced economically. Dexter steers can finish on grass at 20 – 24 months of age without supplementary feeding, with average carcass weights of between 145 – 220 kg. Because of their good meat-to-bone ratio, a killing-out percentage of over 56% can be achieved.

Milk yields vary depending on whether the cows are kept for dairy cows, sucklers, or house cows. For instance, the average daily milk yield for a house cow will be some 8 – 10 litres (2450 – 3050 litres per 305 day lactation). A cow kept as a suckler will raise its own calf as well as a larger commercial calf and do them both well. Dexters kept as dairy cows will yield, on average, 10 – 12 litres daily (3050 – 3660 litres per 305 day lactation), with some individuals yielding 14 litres or more (4080 litres per 305 day lactation).

The milk is of very good quality with high butterfat and protein levels; average BF % is well over 4%, and protein is 3.51%.

Mature cows can be successfully crossed with most native beef breeds and will produce excellent, fast-growing progeny. Care must be taken if a continental bull is to be used. Ensure the bull has an easy calving record, and that cows are ‘fit’ and not overweight at calving.

The breed’s ability to adapt to varying and extreme climatic conditions and to different systems of management is a typical characteristic.

Not only can a Dexter be the ideal family cow/pet, but pound for pound, they are far more economical than their larger counterparts. More Dexters can be grazed on less acreage, and they produce a high percent of dressed carcass of lean, tender, fine-grained beef with excellent flavor. As dairy cattle, their milk is easily digested and high in butterfat – yielding 1.5 – 2 gallons of 4% butterfat milk per day – with smaller-sized fat globules making the milk more digestible.


Photo courtesy Sweet Dream Farm,

Dexters are:

  • Small.
  • Hardy – Dexters are good browsers and were sometimes used to rid pastures of pest plants. They were specialised to live on low-quality vegetation and to forage for their food.
  • Efficient.
  • Versatile.
  • Intelligent.
  • Full of personality – Dexters are also kept for pets.
  • A multi-purpose breed.
  • A great milk and beef cow.
  • Easy-calving – they can also raise two calves at a time.

In addition, they are smaller, gentler, and easier on your pastures and fences.


Dexters have established themselves well in many parts of the world. They have been exported to Australia, New Zealand, America, Britain, Cuba, Argentina, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, and Germany. Several of these countries have their own breed societies, which only goes to show how well the breed has become established worldwide.

References (the above information was cited from the following sites)

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