Specieswatch: dexters – the small cattle breed that is booming
Dexters are the smallest breed of cattle in Europe and among the hardiest, which makes them popular in conservation and rewilding projects. They are a third the size of a Friesian milking cow and other European commercial breeds of cattle. All these varieties go by the same Latin name, Bos taurus taurus, to distinguish them from Asiatic and African species.
Although they are now bred all over the world, dexters originated in the west of Ireland and are believed to be the domesticated cattle of the Celts. Curiously, about half have a genetic trait that gives them short legs, making them seem even smaller.
The Dexter Cattle Society says both long and short-legged individuals are acceptable but discourages “extremes of either type”. Most are black but can be red or dun.
As a breed they are docile and many are naturally without horns so are perfect for conservation areas where there is public access. They also require little looking after and are able to survive on sparse and rough vegetation. This makes them ideal to graze areas that need to be kept open in rewilding projects. Hoof marks help wild flower seeds to grow. Small farmers say they also provide high quality beef and milk so, from once being endangered, the breed is booming.