Ideal Small Farm Cows: Dexter Cattle

MOTHER's staff discovers a little-known but productive small-farm cow: Dexter cattle. These cows are a perfect project for children, produce quality milk and are a hardy breed that will thrive on a smaller homestead.

| December 2001/January 2002

Learn about the ideal small farm cows: Dexter cattle.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS discovered the best small farm cows: Dexter cattle. Pound for pound, no bovine can match the diversity of Dexter cattle, one of the smallest cattle breeds. Standing just 36 to 44 inches at the shoulder, Dexters are the perfect old-fashioned, family cow. Gentle, versatile and economical, Dexters efficiently turn pasture into rich milk and lean meat, if you're so inclined. In recent years, interest in Dexter cattle has surged worldwide. Here's why:

They're the perfect size for the family homestead. One Dexter cow will give about 1 to 2 gallons of milk a day, a much more manageable amount for a single family than the 8 to 10 gallons a typical Holstein yields. If you raise a Dexter for beef, you'll need room in the freezer for about 400 pounds of meat, rather than 600 to 800 pounds you'd get from a typical full-size steer.

Owning a Dexter is like owning a piece of history and doing your part to help preserve genetic diversity. They are one of the world's smallest true breeds of cattle, not a miniature developed from a larger breed.

They are believed to have originated in Ireland, and were imported into the United States in the early 20th century. "When I think of Dexters, I think of little, small farms on postage stamps 100 years ago," says Drew Conroy, associate professor of applied animal science at the University of New Hampshire. Conroy says Dexters' small size has contributed to their numbers growing by leaps and bounds today. It also has been their biggest genetic disadvantage: Dexters, especially the smaller ones, are prone to a genetic disorder which occasionally causes cows to give birth to stillborn "bulldog calves," with deformed faces.

Looking after a Dexter can be fun for children and can give them a sense of accomplishment. With proper attention and training, a Dexter can be easily handled by even the greenest homesteader. Don't expect that dazed-cow stare, though. "For their small size, they're pretty lively," Conroy says. Dexters can be trained like oxen to plow or pull wagons, and their strength belies their size. At the same time, that size makes them less intimidating to children and adults.

3/13/2015 9:49:19 AM

what other breed of cattle can you breed to with a dexter bull

9/12/2010 12:25:11 PM

My family only has about 2 acres of level land. Would this be enough to raise a Dexter cow and calf? Also, where what price range should I be looking at for purchasing a Dexter?

8/22/2010 9:38:59 PM

I have a 2 year old dexter what other breeds can I breed with her

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