Milk, cream, butter, cheese, & beef are what topped the list when we first started dreaming about what the ten acres of Sweet Liberty Farm could provide. Not to mention the sale from a calf or two to help offset our feed costs. We quickly realized that there was no way our land could support a couple large beef cattle as well as the full size dairy cow needed to produce all those goodies…there just wasn’t enough room.
So we started researching dual purpose breeds that could efficiently produce enough milk & meat for our family. We found that Irish Dexter Cattle were always described as just that. In our almost obsessive daily search for local Dexters for sale, I found a farm offering an in-depth, on farm how-to on becoming a bona fide milkmaid…and it just so happened that a Dexter is what I’d be learning on! Star Creek Country had a pasture full of Dexters, and one pretty little dun girl waiting in the stanchion begging to be milked. Maddie was a first time freshener who had just recently calved, yet she never even lifted a foot and barely swished her tail at all the inexperienced hands messing with her. Needless to say, I was in love and started to search with even more fervor! We finally found Feirm Na mBo Bideach just a couple towns over. They had several animals for sale from their registered Dexter herd, so we scheduled a time to visit. We instantly fell in love with the friendly little cows that looked like someone had taken a shrink ray to. A week after our visit, we brought our first two girls home.
The Perfect Farmstead Cow
Dexters are docile, friendly, hardy, & calve with ease. Half to one acre of good pasture is usually more than enough for one Dexter. Mature cows should measure between 36 and 42 inches at the shoulder, and not weigh more than 750 pounds. Bulls mature between 38 and 44 inches at the shoulder, and weigh not more than 1,000 pounds. They are available in three colors: Black, Dun and Red. They can be horned, de-horned, or naturally polled.
The Dexters on the shorter end of the spectrum are most likely carriers of Chondrodysplasia, the gene that causes dwarfism. There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding this gene and calving issues. While it is true that severe calving issues have a chance of happening when two Chondro carriers are bred to each other, this is NOT the case when Chondro carriers are bred to non-carriers. Thankfully there is a simple test that can be done to see if an animal is a carrier so breeders can make sound breeding choices. We currently do not have any Chondro carriers, but would love to add a couple girls to our herd someday since our bull is a non-carrier.
Some lines of Dexters can be carriers for another gene that can cause severe calving issues. Unlike Chondrodysplasia, there is no visible sign to determine if an animal carries the PHA gene. However, PHA is just as easily managed as Chondro with a simple test to determine if an animal is a carrier or not, and always ensuring animals who are PHA carriers are only bred to non-carriers.
We are proud to say we are members of the American Dexter Cattle Association and all of our Dexters are registered through them. The ADCA website is full of all sorts of helpful information. And remember, if you have any questions about Dexters in general, or either of the genes mentioned above, please don’t hesitate to contact us! 🙂