Dexter Cattle

Dexter CattleDexter Cattle originated in the South West of Ireland and are descendants of the Kerry cow. Despite their smallness, they are efficient producers with excellent beef yields and their beef is well-marbled and full flavoured.

Earliest records of the breed date back to about 1845. Their name comes from a ‘Mr Dexter’ who came to Ireland in the mid-1700s, settled in County Tipperary and developed the breed through careful selection of native hardy mountain cattle. There are only about 2,000 Dexter cattle left in Ireland. The breed was almost pushed to extinction in the last century, and during the 1970s Dexter cattle were classified as an endangered and ‘rare’ breed. However, they have regained their popularity in the last few decades.

They are pretty, horned animals and come in black, red and dun colours. They weigh around 350kg, and the short-legged variety stand at just over 1 metre high at the shoulder. They are generally docile with pleasant temperaments but have great mothering instincts, so they can be aggressive when guarding their young.

We are farming in an area designated to have “natural constraints” meaning land which can be rocky but also wet and boggy for much of the year. As an old mountain breed, Dexters are well-adapted to the harsh landscape. They can thrive on low-quality pastures and are happy outdoors all year round, even at sub-zero temperatures, and being small in stature, they are very gentle on wet ground.

Our Dexters are almost entirely grass-fed. Research has shown that grass-fed as opposed to grain-fed beef, has a healthy balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids pushed off-kilter in modern beef production systems where cattle are often finished on a diet high in soy and maize based feeds. Mainstream feeds also use GM ingredients, banned in organic production. As Drumanilra cattle feed on organic grass, their systems are free from the residues of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides sprayed on many mainstream farms.

On our farm, low stocking densities and a healthy outdoor life, eliminate the need to administer routine antibiotics. These are often used in more intensive systems to prevent the spread of disease. Antibiotics may be administered in dairy systems as a preventative measure during a cow’s “dry” period. We would only use antibiotics to treat a sick animal when prescribed by a vet. The withdrawal period (time before meat from that animal can enter the food chain) for an organic animal is three times that of a mainstream animal, often up to three months since the last dose was administered. The use of growth hormones is banned in Irish and European beef production but is allowed in the US and some South American beef exporting countries, and minute traces have been found in random sampling of Irish animal products.

Value beef sold in supermarkets is often from retired dairy or dairy cross cattle, we think the difference in flavour and texture between our organic Dexter “beef” beef (cattle reared exclusively for beef), and cheaper value beef cuts, speaks for itself. And increasing amounts of research supports our belief that grass-fed, organic beef is better for us too.