The miniature Dexter cow may be the most versatile cattle breed.
The Dexter cow is a miniature cattle breed that originated in southwest Ireland. When invaders drove farmers from their land and into the most mountainous areas of the island, their cattle learned to thrive on sparse fare. They became known as the "Poor Man's Cow," because a small landowner was still able to get an adequate supply of milk and meat for his family, despite the poor pasture.
Dexters were first brought to the United States in the early 1900s. The smallest of the European cattle breeds, Dexters are extremely versatile, raised for milk, beef, or even for use as oxen. Because of this, Dexters make the perfect old-fashioned family cow, and make great projects or pets for children.
A milking Dexter cow can produce more milk for its weight than any other cattle breed. They make good mothers, and have an easy time calving.
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Mature Dexter cows should stand between 36 and 42 inches tall and weigh between 600 and 700 pounds. Mature bulls stand 38 to 44 inches and weigh about 1,000 pounds.
The body of a Dexter is wide and deep with well-rounded hindquarters. There are two varieties of Dexters, short legged and long legged.
Dexters are usually black, but dark red and dun Dexters may also be found. They are always a solid color except for minor white markings on the udder or behind the navel.
Dexters may be polled or unpolled. If they have horns, the horns are small, thick and grow outward, curving forward on the bulls and upward on the cows.
The temperament of Dexter cattle depends a lot on their handling early in life. They can vary from being extremely docile to being quick tempered, so it's important to research the breeder before making a purchase.
Dexters have a few unique health problems, including Chondrodysplasia, a form of dwarfism that results in short legs and breeding problems; there is a 25% chance that the fetus will abort prematurely when two Chondrodysplasia affected Dexters are bred together.
Dexters can also be affected with Pulmonary Hypoplasia with Anasarca or PHA, which is an incomplete formation of the lungs with accumulation of a serum fluid in the tissue of the fetus.
Body image: Boyce Bloodstock