Dexter Cattle Characteristics / Potential Genetic Problems
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Dexter Cattle
It is generally agreed upon that Dexters originate from the southern part of Ireland where they roamed the shelterless mountains dating back into the 1400's.  The first recorded Dexters in America occurred between 1905 and 1915. 
In recent years there has been a renewed interest in Dexter cattle.  They thrive in hot as well as cold climates and do well outdoors year round, needing only a windbreak, shelter, and fresh water.  They are known to be very fertile and calving ease is a hallmark of the breed.
They are dual (triple) purpose, being raised for both milk and meat (and occassionally draft). Dexters are a docile breed, but are great mothers and retain just enough of the "Irish wild" to look after themselves. 

 Dexters are the perfect homestead family cow.  Pound for pound, Dexters cost less to get to the table, economically turning forage into rich milk and lean meat.  Also, becasuse of their efficiency, Dexters are an excellent choice for grass finishing.
Beef animals mature in 18-24 months and produce 'right sized' portions of high quality lean meat that is tender and flavorful. The rib eye area of the Dexter is larger per hundred weight than any other breed.

A milking Dexter can produce more milk for its weight than any other breed.  A mature milking cow can produce an average daily yield of 1-3 gallons per day with a butterfat content of 4-5 percent.  Cream yields of up to one quart per gallon is possible.

Dexters come in Black, Red, or Dun. 
Dexters can be polled or horned with some people choosing to dehorn them.
According to the Guidelines, the ideal three year old Dexter bull measures 38-44 inches at the shoulder and weighs less than 1000 pounds. 
The ideal three year old Dexter cow measures between 36 to 42 inches at the shoulder and weighs less than 750 pounds. 

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 the presence of the chondrodysplasia gene in the "short leg" or carrier Dexter.  When a single allele is present, it 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.  The "long legged" or non-carrier Dexters are perfectly proportioned small cows.

Pulmonary Hypoplsia with Anasarca (PHA) is a genetic anomily that has recently been confirmed by DNA testing in several breeds of cattle, including Dexters.  PHA is the result of a chromosomal mutation that results in incomplete formation of the lungs and fluid accumulation in the tissues and body cavityes of the calf.  In order to be PHA affected, a calf must inherit a PHA gene from both its sire and dam.  PHA calves are either stillborn or aborted.

Tests for the chondrodysplasia gene and PHA are available to assist breeders and buyers of Dexters to know what type they are purchasing or breeding.  One can generally tell chondrodyspalsia from the phenotype, but PHA cannot be detected by the phenotype.

In these difficult economic times, Dexter cattle make sense.  Dexters can provide their owners with meat, milk, butter, and cheese that is higher quality, healthier, and less expensive than can be purchased. 

Revised: Aug 2017‚Äč