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An animal for all reasons

By Staff | Jul 3, 2009

Shea Neal, of Castalia, N.C., has her hands full as she holds a Dexter cow, a show schedule, ribbons all while texting on her phone Friday morning during the American Dexter Cattle Association show at the Webster County Fairgrounds.

Webster County area residents enjoyed a rare opportunity last week to see a unique cattle breed while the American Dexter Cattle Association held its national convention and breed show at the Webster County Fairgrounds.

This is the first time the convention has been in Iowa. The 2010 event will be in Tennessee.

The four-day convention featured breeders from around the country, who brought their best animals for show and judging and to talk to the general public about a small cattle breed that had almost become extinct.

Dan Butterfield, the ADCA Region 12 director, which includes Iowa, said that Dexters are a versatile animal and are ideally suited as private dairy animals, meat animals and even as draft animals.

Another Iowa breeder, Larry Graber, of Wayland, said Dexters are animals for all reasons, especially for families interested in becoming self-sufficient. He provided hand-milk demonstrations for the public twice each day of the convention. He even offered samples of the milk, which tasted like vanilla ice cream.

Children and older friends had the chance to have some fun during last week's four-day National Dexter Cattle Show and Sale at the Webster County Fairgrounds in Fort Dodge. Dressing up a yearling bull, named Riley, is Corey Daggett, 11, of Watertown, Minn., and Connie Averson, of Whiteboro, Texas.

“Dexters,” Graber said, “are called the poor man’s cattle.” He said the name came from the breed’s Irish roots. He said each family had one cow in the yard, with several in the community sharing ownership of the herd bull. The cow provided a family’s dairy needs, the steers were butchered for the family’s meat needs, and heifers replaced aging cows, while other male animals were used for draft work around the farm.

Graber said that Dexters were once on the endangered species list, but is now on the “recovering” list. As more people move onto small acreages, he added, they are finding Dexters to be small enough to keep pastures under control without overgrazing. Owners can also provide their own meat and dairy products.

“The numbers have really been coming back in recent years,” said Butterfield. More Dexters are being registered nationwide annually as the breed continues to flourish, he said. “Obviously they are commercial dairy (animals),” Butterfield added, “but they are perfect for homesteaders.”

Butterfield said females average between 36 to 52 inches tall and the males average from 38 to 44 inches.

There are two variations within the breed, the typical short-legged animal, which give it better traction and useful for draft purposes, and a long-legged animal, which makes it more convenient to milk.

Warren Coad, of Luisburg, N.C., blow dries one of his Dexter cattle Friday morning during the American Dexter Cattle Association show being held at the Webster County Fairgrounds.

Butterfield said people have also found that Dexters are a naturally mild-mannered breed, similar to Herefords. “Those who get Dexters, really enjoy them,” he said.

One advantage to Dexters as a meat source, Butterfield said, is that its size makes it easy to get it into the freezer, “and you get all of the choice cuts of meat,” he noted. In contrast to a larger beef animal, most freezers can only hold a quarter of the animal. “At the most you get four steaks,” he said.

He added that even for a grass-fed animal, the meat is both lean and tender, making it a highly sought-after meat once people become aware of it.

Butterfield noted that the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy conducted a taste test of cattle breeds and found Dexters ranked third best, second only to two other lesser-known breeds, Galloway and Randall Lineback.

He noted that Angus were well down the list. “But you have to hand it to the Angus (industry),” Butterfield said. “They know how to market.”

Despite the “triple threat” as dairy, meat and drafting, Graber said, “90 percent of Dexter owners use them for pasture ornaments.” Because of the animals’ unique size and shape, Graber said, many owners have them for show and conversation pieces.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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