The native home of the Dexter cattle was located in the southern part of Ireland where they were bred by small landholders and roamed about their shelterless mountainous districts in an almost wild state of nature. The first recorded information about Dexter cattle being imported into the United States dates back to between 1905-1915. Some of the original importers and owners of Dexter cattle living in the United States are from some of the wealthiest and well-known families.
Dexter cattle are considered a tri-purpose animal. They are suitable for meat, milk, and also can be trained as oxen. These animals are very hardy and they can thrive in both hot and cold climates year round needing only a windbreak, shelter, fresh water and forage.
Pound for pound, Dexter cattle cost less from birth to the finished product. Economically, these animals have the ability of turning forage into rich milk and quality lean meat. Dexters may be finished on either grass or grain. They mature in 18-24 months and result in smaller cuts of high quality lean meat of graded choice with little waste. The expected average yield is 50-60 %. The meat is slightly darker red in color than many other breeds. Proportions are also of a smaller size which benefits for a healthier eating style.
With the size of Dexter cattle, fertility is high and the majority of calves are born without assistance. Easiness of calving is a much-desired trait within this breed.
Dexter cattle come in 3 colors, black, dun, or red. They also can be horned or polled, with some people preferring to dehorn them. A milking cow can produce more milk for its weight that any other breed. The daily milk yield averages from 1 to 3 gallons per day with a butterfat content of 4 to 5%. Yields of cream can be up to one quart per gallon and can be skimmed for use of making butter or ice cream.
As a bovine breed, Dexters can be considered one of the world's smallest natural breeds without being breed down to their current size. According to the American Dexter Cattle Association's breeding guidelines, the preferred size for a mature Dexter bull may range between 38-44 inches at the hip and weigh around 1000 pounds. The ideal three-year old Dexter cow measures between 36-42 inches at the hip and weigh around 750 pounds. depending on environmental conditions and breeding genetics, the height and weight of Dexter cattle could vary from the current ADCA size guidelines. The Dexter cattle also can be of a long-legged or short-legged body structure.
As a bovine breed, Dexters are considered very docile and gentle. They can be easily taught to handle and train. This makes it much easier for young children to train Dexters for showing in cattle events.