Are you looking for a dual-purpose cattle breed with great milk and high-quality beef? Are you limited on space and need an adaptable breed? The Dexter cow could be for you. This breed is a free-range breed that matures early and is easy to care for. Keep reading to learn more about what this cattle breed can do for your small farm.

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Quick Facts about the Dexter Cow

Breed Name:Dexter
Place of Origin:Southern Ireland
Uses:Beef, milk, draft
Bull (Male) Size:1,000 pounds
Cow (Female) Size:700 pounds
Color:Black, red, dun (solid), occasional white on udders
Lifespan:25 years
Climate Tolerance:Adaptable to any climate
Care Level:Easy
Production:1½ –2½ gallons of milk per day
Milk Composition:4% butterfat, 3.5% protein
Beef Composition:Lean

Dexter Origins

The Dexter cow comes from Southern Ireland, although how the Dexter breed came to Ireland isn’t as straightforward. It’s believed that the Dexter cow is a cross between the Kerry breed and the Devon breed.

The Dexter cow received its name from Mr. Dexter, a man who promoted the breed during the late 1750s. At this time, the breed was scarce. Irish landowners with low acreage saw that the Dexter was hardy and efficient at foraging and kept the Dexter cow wild in mountainous regions. In January 1887, the Farmer’s Gazette in Ireland published the first pure Kerry and Dexter cattle registration. Only 10 Dexter cows were registered—no bulls.

The breed eventually caught the attention of many small landowners located in England and America. Between 1905 and 1915, more than 200 Dexter cows were imported into the US. The breed almost went extinct in the 1970s but made a strong recovery.

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Dexter Characteristics

The Dexter cow is a friendly, docile cow. Even the bull has an even temperament and can be easily managed.  It’s also intelligent and able to sustain itself on weeds and unwanted vegetation. Known as the “Poor Man’sCow,” the Dexter can produce beef and milk on limited acreage.

Dexter cows are small compared to other breeds, but this comes in handy. Their small stature means they’ll do less damage to areas prone to flooding.

In addition, they’ve adapted well to harsh, mountainous regions and can withstand just about any climatic condition. You don’t have to keep them indoors all winter. They’ll handle the cold just fine!

Dexter cows have a high fertility rate with minimal birthing difficulties. Calves are usually on their feet quickly and weigh 25–35 pounds at birth. A characteristic that stands out in the Dexter cow is its mothering instinct.

These cows are excellent nurturers that cause them to be sought after by breeders.


The Dexter cow is a dual-purpose breed, meaning it’s used for both milk and beef. You can also use the bulls as working animals, like oxen.

A Dexter cow can produce about 1½–2½ gallons of milk per day. Their milk is high in solids, producing 4%–5% butterfat—perfect for making cheese and butter.

The beef is probably the most sought-after use of a Dexter. Typically, killing ratios fall between 45%–55%. The killing ratio of a Dexter cow is 56%. The animal is smaller, which means a thicker meat slab. It’s also more tender with darker meat than larger cattle breeds.

Appearance & Varieties

The size is the main distinguishing characteristic of this breed. As we said before, a Dexter cow is smaller than other breeds. Dexter’s have two body types: cattle with average bodies and short legs (not as favored) and cattle that are small in every way.

The body of a Dexter cow is broad and deep with rounded hips. Their mid-sized horns are white with black tips and sweep up toward the sky. Dexter cows are usually solid black, but they can be red or dun. In either case, the color is always solid.

The Kerry cow and Dexter cow had genetic similarities in the past, but now their genetics differ, so they shouldn’t be bred together.

Population and Distribution

The breed almost faced extinction in 1970 but, thankfully, made a huge comeback.

The Dexter breed population continues to grow since more people question factory farming. People crave high-quality, organic meat, and the Dexter breed produced plenty. Distribution of the breed is seen worldwide. Therefore, the market is growing, and the Dexter population continues to grow.

new hoof divider Are Dexter Cattle Good for Small-Scale Farming?

If you’re new to owning cattle, consider the Dexter cow for your farm. They’re highly adaptable to any environment and are excellent grazers. They can feed well on weeds and unwanted greenage and don’t mind the cold. They also have a long lifespan!

Not only can you experience delicious milk rich in butterfat, but you can indulge in high-quality, lean meat. Dexter cows are an excellent option for small-scale farming, especially for farms low in acreage.

Featured Image Credit: John Hill Millar, Shutterstock