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The native home of the Dexter is in the Kerry region of southwestern Ireland where they were owned by small land holders. These early Dexters roamed the shelter-less, mountainous, Irish landscape in sparse living conditions, developing the hardy, thrifty characteristics that we value in the breed today.
The first recorded importation of Dexters to America lists more than two hundred cattle arriving between 1905 and 1915. These original Dexter herds have grown to include Dexters in nearly every state in America. As one of the last tri-purpose cattle breeds in the world, Dexters continue to produce excellent beef, milk, and draft animals for American farms and ranches today.
Dexters are hardy, sturdy cattle that are sure-footed on almost any terrain. They thrive on quality pasture or hay, but are also efficient foragers and aggressive browsers, helping to clear brushy, weedy areas when given access to them. Because of their small size and thriftiness, they require less pasture space than large breed cattle and are easier on the land and fences. With so many benefits, Dexters make good sense for the small family farm as well as large ranching operations.
About Dexter Cattle
As breeding animals, Dexters have a high fertility rate with a low rate of calving difficulties. Dexter bulls are known for their even temperament and ease of handling. Dexter cows are typically excellent mothers, displaying the type of nurturing instincts that make them highly prized in seed stock operations.
Dexters come in 3 colors: black, red, and dun. Solid colors, with occasional white on udders and/or behind the umbilicus, are the norm. Excessive white on the body, pervasive spotting, or brindling are not considered optimal.
Dexters are originally a horned breed, with beautiful, sweeping, mid-sized horns that are white with black tips. Some owners of horned Dexters choose to leave the horns intact while others choose to dehorn them. Dexters can also be polled, passing-on this hornless characteristic to their offspring.
Dexters are a naturally small cattle breed, but they are not “miniature cattle.” Since Dexter cows often continue to grow until 3 years of age and bulls can continue to grow up to 5 years of age, an animal’s mature size can take several years to ascertain. Typical size ranges in Dexters can vary between and within the populations of chondrodysplasia carriers and non-carriers.
Typical range in mature height is 34-46 inches, with a majority in the range of 36-42 inches, measured at the hip.
Typical range in mature height is 36-50 inches, with a majority in the range of 38-44 inches, measured at the hip.
Because the ADCA does not focus on creating especially small or especially large Dexters, breeding programs that consistently push animals to extremes in either size direction are not encouraged.
Dexters can be excellent show animals, appearing often in 4-H, FFA, local, regional, and national cattle shows. As the breed grows in popularity, it is becoming easier to find Dexters in the show ring. The National Show fielded approximately 150 animals in 2016. State and Regional shows with specific Dexter classes are often numbering in the 70-80 animal size. Oxen are being featured at various gatherings as well. Each of these types of events highlights the quality and beauty of these special bovines, offering interested people the opportunity to learn more about the breed from experienced breeders.
The American Dexter Cattle Association is a non-profit corporation, established in 1977, with a mission to protect, improve, develop, and promote the interests, standing, and quality of the Dexter breed; and to assist members in adding value to their animals. We have a nation-wide community of dedicated Dexter owners that join us in this important work. With such passionate breeders and such exceptional cattle, the future of Dexter cattle is bright. If you are interested in learning more about the ADCA and Dexter cattle, feel free to contact us. Our Regional Directors and Officers will be glad to answer your questions.