Impact of small cattle breed is growing in county, state

Bigger isn’t always better.

At least that’s the conviction of owners of a “new” breed of cattle growing in popularity across the small-acreage grasslands of the nation.

This so-called new breed is the Irish Dexter, but records show they’ve been registered in the United States since the early 1900s.

Dexters are indeed a small breed. Mature cows weigh 750 and 800 pounds and bulls around 1,000 pounds.

Standard height for the breed is 36 to 42 inches at the shoulders.

“The typical owner of Dexters are small-land owners, with 15 to 20 acres, and many live on the outskirts of large cities,” said Joanie Storck, regional director of the Dexter Breeders Association of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

“Most people who raise Dexters also raise meat goats, miniature goats, llamas-or something like that,” she added. “They’re more of the hobby-type farmers.”

One Marion County resident who knows that big value can come in a small package is Jim Truax of Peabody.

Truax and wife Carrie purchased some Dexters from Lynn Penner of rural Hillsboro just over a year ago.

Truax and his wife recently returned from a 28-year missionary stint in Indonesia.

Upon returning to the family farm, Truax found a tract of grassland of about 15 acres that wasn’t being used to its full potential.

“I’m for using everything we have and learning at the same time,” Truax said. “Because Dexters don’t require a lot of maintenance time and I travel a lot in my work here, we thought we could raise them and this would let us better utilize the resources we have.

Storck said on average, owners of Irish Dexters run one cow per acre, or, in the more arid western parts of state, maybe two acres per cow.

“Most commercial cattlemen have to allow from eight to 15 acres for their cows,” she said.

What’s fueling a recent surge in Dexters interest? In Kansas, the number of registered owners has increased from five to 40 over the past eight years.

“The main reason we got Dexters is the ease of taking care of them,” Truax said. “They’re easy calving, take little grain and not much care. Cattle aren’t my primary thing, but at the same time I want it to be profitable, and the Dexters are.

“I like to get into things that are on the upward curve,” he added. “I don’t want to get in when it’s going downward.”

Storck agreed with Truax.

“Dexters are great for the small-land owner,” she said. “It saves them from mowing, it’s excellent beef for the table, they give good milk, and their meat has been proven to have less fat and lower cholesterol than other breeds.”

Research has indicated that a Dexter rib-eye is 15 percent larger, compared to their carcass weight, than the standard U.S.D.A. rib-eye.

“They produce tender meat with excellent flavor,” Storck said. “A lot of times, when you get really lean beef, you lose its tenderness. But that’s not the case with Dexters.”

Storck said even though larger breeds produce a beef carcass that weighs around twice that of the Dexter, the math proves more pounds of beef can be raised with Dexters.

“If you can run six Dexters where you can run one commercial breed, you actually raise more beef with Dexters,” she said.

The history of the Dexter began in Ireland and England in the 1800s.

The first Dexters were imported to the United States prior to 1900, and the first animals to be recorded by the American Kerry and Dexter Club were imported between 1905 and 1910.

Dexters also have no trouble adapting to their environment, with the breed doing well from Alaska to Florida.

Dexters come in three solid colors: black, dun and red.

Most Dexters are horned, although polled animals have recently become available.

Dexters are listed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, which classifies them as a rare breed.

“We register less than 1,000 animals yearly,” Storck said. “But we’re getting really close to being a rare breed no longer.”

Truax has discovered that the Dexters are a hearty breed.

“I had one calf in the middle of January when it was about 10 degrees,” he said. “It was laying there doing fine. The mothers have great mothering instincts, too.”

A normal Dexter calf weighs about 35 to 45 pounds at birth, which has caught the attention of other breed owners.

“Commercial breeders have gotten their cattle too large,” Storck said. “Dexters are a great way to down-size them.

“We know several individuals that have both Dexter cattle and a more traditional breed on their farms,” she added. “Many of them use the Dexter bulls on their first-calf heifers for the ease of calving.”

In addition, the Dexter-cross calf also yields another benefit.

“The Dexters produce the choice black calves, so when the owners sell them, they sell quality black calves that bring top prices,” Storck said.

The size of Dexters also make the cattle ideal for youth who need a 4-H project.

“They’re excellent for 4-H projects,” Truax said. “Because of their size, they’re easy to handle.

“The breed is quite docile as a rule,” he added. “They’ll eat out of your hand without working with them very much.”

Dexters are also a moderately priced breed, but prices can vary according to the quality of the individual animal.

“You can buy a good-quality female for anywhere from $600 to $2,000,” Storck said. “That’s in an age range of a weanling up to a good bred cow.

“Bulls will sell for about $1,000.”

Another advantage of the Dexter centers, once again, around their smaller size.

“Normally, people buy half a beef, but with Dexters they can buy the whole thing,” Storck said. “You get all the steaks and roasts instead of just half of them.

“The cuts also run a little smaller, which is what doctors recommend anyway.”

Storck said most breeders she knows across the nation have fewer than 50 cows, and the average breeder has fewer than 10 head.

“We know we can’t compete with the commercial breeds at packing plants,” she said. “But we also know we’re a great alternative for someone with small acreage.

“Dexters are a viable family-freezer animal.”

More from article archives
Laurent to speak at Staley Lecture Series
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN Bob Laurent will speak at Tabor College as part of...
Read More