How Now House Cow
If you're low on space but high on raising cattle, Dexters are the way to go.
Newborn Dexters weigh about 45 pounds (about half that of larger breeds). These little calves make the daisies look tall.
Photograph by Patrice Lewis
It’s 5 o’clock on a June morning. The eastern horizon is bright, meadowlarks are in full voice, and the robins are happily hopping. I walk into the barn, call “Good morning!” to the herd, and start my morning chores.
Our herd consists of seven purebred Irish Dexter cattle that provide our homestead with milk, meat and a lot of fun.
Ruby and Jet, our milking cows, line up to go into the milking stall. Ruby, as boss cow, is first; she eats her morning grain as I sit down on the milking crate and squeeze out the foamy fluid.
The sun starts to rise, slanting beams of crimson light into the open barn door, and the calves bawl with hunger. When both cows are milked dry, I release the calves and watch them dive for their mothers’ udders, instinctively butting to release more milk and sucking with great satisfaction.
This is the start of my day. In the winter I don’t milk until around 7:30 in the morning – again, when it’s dawn – but whatever the season, Dexters add to our self-sufficiency and satisfaction as small landowners.
Dexter cattle are an Irish breed, developed to thrive on scrubby pasture. Sometimes referred to as the Irish “house cow,” they have provided both milk and meat to single-family households since at least the mid-1700s. The first Dexters were brought to America between 1905 and 1915. Today, there are more than 500 breeders in the United States and Canada who enjoy these chest-high animals as a dual-purpose breed.
Dexters are hardy and well-adapted to many different climates. They thrive from northern Canada to the Mohave Desert, from Florida to Hawaii. These diminutive delights have few calving difficulties and generally have a docile disposition. Even the bulls are easily handled. Some folks find them less intimidating than larger breeds.
Dexters have horns, though polled animals are available. Most Dexter cattle are black; however, dun and red hide colors are increasing in popularity.
Dexters are not miniature cattle. Personally, I think it would be a stretch to call anything that weighs 700 pounds “miniature.” However, they are the smallest naturally occurring (non-dwarf) cattle currently available. Cows range from 36 to 42 inches in height and can weigh up to 750 pounds. Bulls range from 38 to 44 inches tall and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds.
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