Dexter cattle, whose ancestors were the black cattle of the early Celts, were traditionally considered to be the ‘poorman's' cow. Mr Dexter, an agent to Lord Howarden, is credited with developing the breed from the robust mountain cattle in South Western Ireland. Later, Dexters served as show cattle for the British gentry, and by the 1970's, they had been classified as a ‘rare and endangered' breed. However, recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of this breed.
Dexter cattle are a dual-purpose, small-framed breed. Coat colour varies between black, red and dun; black being the most common. It is commonly horned breed, although some polled strains do exist. Two types exist: short legged and non-short. Dexter cows are known for their early maturity, maternal instincts, milking abilities and longevity. In fact, Dexter cows will often foster extra calves due to their ample milk supply.
Dexter cattle are also recognised for efficient feed conversion and they produce quality beef that is well-marbled yet lean, fine-grained and flavoursome. Their milk yields are not only adequate, but have high butterfat and protein levels. Dexter cattle are also extremely adaptable and can perform well in diverse climatic situations and varying management systems. Some Dexters are also kept as pets.
Dexter cattle were first introduced into Australia in the 1880's. The breed enjoyed a revival in popularity in the 1980's and today, Dexter Australia Cattle Inc continues to promote and preserve the breed.
Today, Dexters are distributed throughout Australia, Britain, New Zealand, the United States, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa Cuba, Argentina, Denmark, Italy, Belgium and Germany.