Below is an extract from a feature on Dexter Cattle in a great US Magazine called Acreage. Very comprehensive history of the Dexter Breed–makes for a good read. Enjoy- 4GS.
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 2 Dexters can produce a Kerry and vice versa.
American Dexter Cattle
The American Dexter Cattle Breed is a descendant from the original herd of Irish Mountain Cattle assembled in Southwest Ireland in the early 1800s 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 possesses many desirable characteristics. It’s 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.
They also produce an excellent lean beef when raised for meat. To be sure, there is less of it with smaller cuts of meat, but the quality and coloring are usually exceptional.
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.
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 two calves at a time and have the potential to be used for commercial dairy purposes.
During the 1930s, 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 today.
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.
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 are Easy Calving Cattle.
The 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 birth.
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.
Written By: American Dexter Cattle Association