American Dexter Cattle Association

Serving  Members since 1957
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Springfield, MO 65807
 
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Although the origin of Dexter cattle is somewhat obscure, it is agreed that the original home of this breed was in the southern part of Ireland. There they were bred by small stockholders and were kept on the rugged mountainous regions of that country.

One common thought is that the breed was derived from the Kerry breed with additions of genetics from some other breed(s). Some say that a "Mr. Dexter" is responsible for the development of the breed. This theory of the origin holds merit in that, even today, some of the cattle tend to resemble the long legged Kerry type, while others take on the appearance of the shorter, thicker, Dexter. For more ideas about the origin of the breed and historical information, the reader should consult one of the books available from the ADCA on the subject.

Some books of interest include:
The Life and Times of Dexters
by Ted Neal
The Dexter Cow and Cattle Keeping on a Small Scale
by Dr. William Thrower
My Love Affair with the Dexter by Beryl Rutherford
Dexter Cattle By John Hays
 

Dexters Have Wide Appeal

In recent years there has been a worldwide surge of interest in Dexter cattle.  Dexters meet many requirements.  Because of their size and number, they appeal to the miniature/novelty  and rare gene protection enthusiasts.  Dexter are also the perfect old-fashioned family cow.  Pound for pound, Dexters cost less to get to the table, economically turning forage into rich milk and quality, lean meat.  No other bovine can satisfy such a diverse market.

Dexters Do Well In All Climates

Dexters are a hardy breed.  They perform well in a variety of climates. You will find these easy-care little cows being raised successfully from Alaska to Florida, and all the States and (Canadian) Provinces in between.  They are used commercially in England and South Africa, and are also popular in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

In general, these small cattle have a friendly character and low maintenance costs, as well as cost-effective, high-quality production of both meat and milk in manageable quantities.  These qualities have caught the attention of many part-time and serious farmers.

Easy Care Dexters Make Farming Fun

Dexters make wonderful farm companions.  Not only is the breed efficient, but size and temperament make Dexters nice to have around.  The whole family will have lots of fun with these little cattle.

Dexters are listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which classifies them as a minor breed.  Because only purebreds are accepted for registration in the American Dexter Cattle Association, the purity of the breed is maintained and the gene pool is kept intact.  Owning a Dexter is like owning a little piece of history.

Dexters can be trained as oxen.  This is a popular hobby along the eastern seaboard in both the United States and Canada, and Dexter oxen are proven crowd-pleasers everywhere.

Dexters are a small and safe animal for younger members in 4-H.  They are smaller and less intimidating for children, so looking after a Dexter can be fun for them, and also give them the pride that comes with accomplishment.

Dexters still perform well in their original role: the family cow.  Once the Dexter cow has been trained to milk, she can be easily handled by even the most timid.

Dexters Cost Half as Much to Keep

You can expect a Dexter to consume about half of what you would feed an Angus or Hereford under the same conditions.  This equates to roughly half an acre of good green grass per animal, or 12 to 15 pounds of hay and a little grain per day, in temperate climates.

The temperament of Dexter bulls is generally very good.  However, for those who prefer to use artificial insemination, there is a large selection of readily-available imported and domestic semen.  Dexter bulls are excellent for crossing with first-calf heifers of the larger, big-boned breeds. You will lower calving weights, reduce calving problems, yet still have good-size carcasses.

Dexters Are Easy Calvers

Dexters are known for their ease of  calving.  The use of calf pullers is virtually   unknown.  Calves weigh about 45 pounds at birth, and by seven months when they are weaned, weigh between 350 and 500 pounds.  Both sexes will continue to grow until five or six years of age.

The “long-leg” type live to over 20 years and continue to calve up to 16 to 18 years, on average.

The Ideal Dexter

Dexters come in two body types, defined as long- and short-legged, because the cannon bones differ in length by about 1 ˝ inches.  The “long-leg” is a small regular-cow proportional animal; the “short-leg” is a slightly smaller, heavier-set version.  There is a minor breeding restriction with the “short-leg” type.  Both types produce similar amounts of meat and milk.

Dexter Cattle in America

The importation of Dexter cattle to America is thought to have occurred long ago, but the first recorded importations arrived between 1905 and 1915 and numbered over two hundred head. A complete history of early herds, their owners and the transfer of cattle between owners is well documented in the ADCA Herd Book. Although the Dexter was an ideal homestead cow, providing meat, milk and power and found a good deal of popularity in that arena, as milk and meat production became specialized, the Dexter numbers decreased. At one time there were thought to be less than 5,000 in the world, but today, with renewed interest in small holdings, the numbers have risen to approximately 15,000 head worldwide. There are some 6,000 in North America at this time. The ADCA has nearly 1200 current members and over 21,000 registered cattle as of December 2008.

The guidelines adopted by the American Dexter Cattle Association show the suggested ideal animal of either type at three years old.
Bulls:  Between 38 and 44 inches at the shoulder, and not more than 1,000 pounds.
Cows: Between 36 and 42 inches at the shoulder, and not more than 750 pounds.
Dexters come in three solid colors:  black, dun, and red.  Any white should be limited to behind the navel an on the udder or scrotum.
Dexters are horned and polled, although many owners dehorn without show penalty.
The ADCA does not have an upgrading (cross-bred) program.

 

Rib Eye Exceeds Standard USDA Correlation

Research done at California State University, Chico, showed that the Dexter rib eye was 15% larger than the standard USDA rib eye vs. carcass weight correlation would expect it to be.

Dexters are a small-boned breed which marble well without excess cover fat.  They produce tender meat with excellent flavor.

Grain-fed Dexters will yield carcasses  of 250 pounds at 12 months, and 475 to 500 pounds at 24 months, or at least 60% of live weight.  These results can be obtained by supplemental feeding of only five to seven pounds of grain per day for two to three months.  Grass-fed animals yield a carcass of about 55% of live weight.


Dexters Yield Easily-Digested Milk

Dexter cows produce about 1 ˝ to 2 gallons of 4% butterfat milk per day, over a full 305 days lactation, when fed for production.  Some exceptional cows will put out up to five gallons per day at the height of lactation.  When producing just for the calf, the cow’s milk production will adjust down to the calf’s needs.The fat globules in Dexter milk are very small, which makes the milk more easily digested. 

 

TRIPLE-PURPOSE CATTLE for Milk, Draft & Beef

Dexter cattle for Milk

There are many accounts of Dexter milk production reported over the years and those can be found in the books available from the ADCA. It is evident from the literature that Dexter cattle produce plenty of milk for most families. In herds which have been selected for milk production, yields of 3,600 liters per lactation have been reported. To convert that to gallons, divide by 3.79 which results in 950 gallons. If the lactation lasted for 305 days as it does on most dairies in the U.S., the cows would be producing about 3 gallons per day. The milk in that report had 4.1% butterfat content.

Reports from individuals who milk a cow for family use suggest that the production level varies with breeding and feed, but is 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per day. In a survey done by the ADCA Science Committee, some owners shared milk with a calf, while others took all of the milk for family use, so it was difficult to get an exact amount of milk produced. However, in each case the owners were pleased with the quantity and quality of the milk from Dexters.

Dexter cattle for Draft

An ox is merely a steer with a good education, and Dexters do educate well. They are smart, which means that they can pick up a bad habit as quickly as a good one, but this is not generally a problem as long as the ox teamster is always smarter than the oxen. Consistency, fairness, and patience are important with training cattle. It is advisable to begin handling and training the calves within days of their birth. Halter breaking, voice commands, and learning to wear a yoke usually begin early. Then it's time and practice, and there is no substitute for spending hours with your cattle, and no greater pleasure than spending time with your Dexters.

Dexters are agile, trainable, sturdy, little oxen. The larger ones are able to pull a walking plow, logs, and wagons. For the smaller steers, loads certainly have to scaled down. Dexters are intelligent and willing to learn. Their spunk makes them want to pull and do the work asked of them. Putting lots of time into training a yoke of oxen makes any teamster want the pair to last for years. Dexters do generally tend to be blessed with longevity, so this is another plus for them as oxen.

For the serious ox puller, Dexters can stay competitive in the lower weight classes for their entire lives and thus have an advantage over younger, less experienced yokes of cattle.

Breed Guidelines

The following guidelines for the Dexter bull and cow are meant as a guide to Dexter enthusiasts and breeders and represent ADCA consensus as to desired characteristics.  These guidelines are not to be used to determine the registration of animals, which is solely a matter of pedigree.  The Dexter is both a milk-producing and a beef-making breed.

Description of the Dexter Bull

Color

Whole black, red or dun, the three colors being of equal merit. A little white on the organs of generation is permissible.

Head

Broad forehead, tapering gracefully toward the muzzle which should be broad with wide, distended nostrils. Strong lower jaw with the jaws meeting properly. Eyes should be bright and prominent.

Neck

Well set into the shoulders which, when viewed in front, should be wide.

Horns

These should be moderately thick, springing well from the head, with an inward and slightly upward curve. Removal of horns is allowed without penalization.

Body

Well-proportioned regarding height to length. Shoulders of medium thickness, full and well filled in behind which, when viewed from the front, show thickness through the heart, the breast coming well forward, the chest with a wide floor resulting in ample width between the legs. Hips wide; quarters thick and deep and well sprung, wide across the loins. Legs short to moderate but not excessively long, and well placed under the body; forelegs straight, wide apart and squarely placed; hind legs nearly perpendicular from hock to pastern when viewed from the side, and straight and wide apart when viewed from the rear. Feet short, well rounded with deep heel, level sole and toes properly spaced. Tail well set and level with the back.

Skin

Skin should be soft and mellow, and handle well; hair fine, plentiful and silky.

Weight

Bulls at three years old and over should not exceed 1,000 lbs. live weight.

Height

Bulls should not exceed more than 44 inches in height nor stand less than 38 inches at the shoulder at three years of age.

 

 

Description for the Dexter Cow

Color

Whole black, red or dun, the three colors being of equal merit. A small amount of white on the udder and underline is permissible but not forward of the umbilicus. A few white hairs in the tassel of the tail is permissible.

Head

Broad forehead, tapering gracefully toward the muzzle which should be broad with wide, distended nostrils. Strong lower jaw with the jaws meeting properly. Eyes should be bright and prominent.

Neck

Well set into the shoulders, not too thick or too short.

Horns

These should be moderately thick, springing well from the head, with an inward and slightly upward curve. Removal of horns is allowed without penalization.

Body

Well-proportioned regarding height to length. Shoulders of medium thickness, full and well filled in behind which, when viewed from the front, show thickness through the heart, the breast coming well forward, the chest with a wide floor resulting in ample width between the legs. Hips wide; quarters thick and deep and well sprung, wide across the loins. A straight underline with udder firmly attached front and rear with strong center support. Udder and teats should be of moderate size with the teats of equal size squarely placed on an udder with clearly defined halving. Legs short to moderate but not excessively long, and well placed under the body; forelegs straight, wide apart and squarely placed; hind legs nearly perpendicular from hocks to pastern when viewed from the side, and straight and wide apart when viewed from the rear. Feet short, well rounded with deep heel, level sole and toes properly spaced. Tail well set and level with the back.

Skin

Skin should be soft and mellow, and handle well; hair fine, plentiful and silky.

Weight

Cows at three years old and over should not exceed 750 lbs. live weight.

Height

Mature cows should not exceed 42 inches in height nor stand less than 36 inches in height at the shoulder.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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