The Irish Dexter
Irish Dexters are not miniature cattle.* Dexters are the smallest British breed of cattle. Dexters are a dual purpose breed; that is they are used as both a beef and a dairy breed. Dexters were traditionally a cottage cow in Ireland, used by the small holder to provide the household with an ample supply of rich milk and to produce a calf for beef.
The Irish Dexter breed is thought to have originated in the mountainous southwestern area of Ireland, likely descended from the ancient "Celtic black" cattle described by the Romans in the 2nd Century A.D. The descent from that ancient beginning is less certain. Theories abound as to the exact origin of these special bovines including, a hybrid cross between Kerry and Red Devons; selective breeding of the original "mountain" cattle; selective breeding from Kerry cattle; and not to be left out the tale that the aboriginal Celtic black cattle while grazing seaweed on the western shore of the Emerald Isle mated with sea lions to produce what we know today as the Dexter breed. So the exact origin of Dexters is shrouded in the dense mist of the past but their prospects for the future are clear.
Dexters, having been bred as homestead cows over the generations, have developed without question the most people oriented disposition of any breed of bovine. Not only are Dexters very much oriented towards their people, they also display a very high degree of curiosity and intelligence in their actions and face.
Dexters have traditionally been horned cattle with very distinctive and refined white horns that spread wide from the poll, curving gracefully upward and finishing with dark tips. Recently polled dexters have been introduced.
Dexters come in three colors, Black, Dun (various shades from light tan to liver) and Red.
Dexters come in two frame sizes, generally termed "long" and "short" legged, but more accurately as carriers and non-carriers. The difference between the two frame sizes is due to the chondrodysplasia gene present in the "short leg" or carrier Dexters and when a single allele is present produces a Dexter that has approximately a 2 inch shorter cannon bone. The carrier Dexters have a "dwarf" look, because they are in fact dwarfs, while the "long leg" or non-carrier Dexters are perfectly proportioned small cows. There is a breeding restriction for the carriers or "short legged" variety to prevent the production of "bulldog" calves (nonviable) resulting from two alleles of the chondrodysplasia gene. Tests for the chondrodysplasia gene are now available to assist breeders and buyers of Dexters to know what type they are breeding and purchasing, although generally one can tell chondrodysplasia from the phenotype. All Silver Maple Dexter stock are non-carriers or "long legged".
* Dexter frame scores will typically range from 0000 through 1. The 0000 through 0 scores being defined as "miniature". However dexters are miniatures of nothing else. There is no full-sized breed of cattle that the dexter is a copy of on a reduced scale. Purely semantics but a miniature requires a full-size equivalent - none such exists for dexters.