Information about Dexter Cattle

The Alvecote Herd

Two Black Dexter Cows

Breed History

The Dexter has its origins in South West Ireland and the first official herd book in conjunction with another Irish breed ­ the Kerry was published by the Royal Dublin Society in 1890. They were introduced into England in 1882‚ the Kerry and Dexter Cattle Society was set up ten years later with the first herd book published in 1900. Meanwhile back in Ireland numbers of Dexter cattle had declined to such an extent by 1919 that efforts were concentrated on the Kerry and eventually the Dexter became extinct. But over here interest in the breed increased and it was extremely popular with the aristocracy including HM King Edward V11‚ the Duchess of Devonshire who founded the Compton herd and Lady Loder with the Grinstead herd. In 1923 the Kerry and the Dexter parted company and we have the Dexter Cattle Society as it is today. As the 20th century progressed the numbers of registered stock remained fairly static but dipped dangerously low in the early 70’s and were designated as a rare and endangered breed by the newly formed Rare Breed Survival Trust.

The Modern Day Dexter

Since then, numbers of the breed continue to grow and it is no longer considered an endangered breed. Royalty has given way to celebrity with famous names such as Pam Ayres and Martin Clunes now keeping the Dexter. The breed has also gained popularity for beef production the name "Dexter Beef" has been registered as a trade mark and the Dexter Cattle Society is running a certification scheme for producers of beef from registered Dexter Cattle. In addition the Society is also supporting a linear scoring scheme whereby animals can be independently assessed by Holstein UK.

Facts and Figures

The Dexter is a dual-purpose breed and that means it produces both milk and beef but in limited quantities as opposed to breeds that have been bred exclusively for meat or milk.

They are the smallest of our native breeds, adult females should be between 38 to 44 inches at the rump. The bulls are, as you would expect, a little larger than the females, the height should range from 42 inches to 48 inches at the rump.

The breed is naturally horned (although a few are polled - born without horns) but are frequently disbudded (horn buds removed) for ease of management.

Dexters come in three colours black (the most common), red and dun.

There are two distinct varieties of Dexter, the 'short leg' and the 'non-short leg'. The short leg is more commonly seen on the show circuit and therefore you may be more familiar with this type. Both the short and the non-short Dexter have their own merits, the non-short being ideally suited to a slightly more commercial setting.

The Dexter breeds true in one variety only - a non-short to a non-short mating will give a non-short offspring only. The short leg is in fact a dwarf and therefore should only ever be mated to a non-short but the resulting offspring will either be short like one of its parents or non-short like the other.

Heifers can be 'bulled' at 14 to 18 months of age and can breed until they are fourteen years of age or more; in fact, twenty years of age is not unheard of.