cattle offers benefits
for breeders, Madison farmer says
Irish breed proves that bigger is not always better
(April 2008) Small cattle may be the next
big thing. Dexter cattle, an Irish breed that is smaller than typical
breeds such as Angus or Holstein, are better fits for small farms, says
Madison resident Tom Spry. He has been raising Dexters since 2004 and
praises the breeds convenient size.
by Erin Lehman
Spry became involved with Dexter
cattle when his mother, Mary Pruitt,
learned about them in a magazine.
The Dexter is an ideal little cow, said Spry,
56. Everyone wants them for their tiny farms.
The Dexter is not a miniature, but a naturally small breed. It originated
from the mountains of Ireland, where it thrived in a small habitat.
Many believe that the Dexter is a mixed breed, a cross between the Devon
and Kerry breeds. Its closest comparison may be the Scottish Highland
breed, according to Lonnie Mason, Jefferson County Cooperative Extension
While a familiar breed, such as the Holstein, stands around 59 inches
tall, the Dexter is 44 inches. Then there is an even shorter Dexter
variety that stands around 38 inches tall. The result is that the Dexter
produces less milk, less beef and requires less room than other cattle
Despite the benefits of the Dexters size, the breeds popularity
is just beginning to grow in the United States. Dexters are rare
in this country, Mason said. He has been working with cattle for 25
years, and Spry is the only person he knows to raise Dexters.
Spry, a retired police officer, became involved with Dexters when his
mother, Mary Pruitt, read about the cattle in a magazine. Pruitt was
recently widowed and wanted to return to her farming roots, said Spry.
It was more of what mom wanted, an old farm girl wanted,
Two herds of Dexter cattle were imported to the United States and established
in Kentucky and Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. Pruitt
bought four Dexters from a breeder on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border,
and Spry helped her care for them. Since then, the mother-son pair has
continued to breed Dexters.
Their 11-acre farm currently has 13 Dexters, two donkeys and a 1,000-pound
bull. Although the Dexters wont approach the larger bull, the
animals live together peacefully.
Theyre charming, gentle, and easy to care for, said
Pruitt, 81. Her great-granddaughters, ages 7 and 10, enjoy combing the
Spry agrees that the Dexters are very low key animals. Theyre
not born tame, but theyre born quiet, he said.
In addition, the Dexter is a hearty breed, adaptable to
climates from Canada to Florida, Mason said. They require less acreage
and less feed than average cattle breeds.
Theyre probably one of the easiest animals to raise. They
calve very well, Spry said.
The family is practical about their hobby, as Spry calls
it. Annually, they process one Dexter for beef, and they sell the majority
of the cattle that is born on the farm for eating.
Dexter beef can cost twice as much as the beef in the supermarket. One
explanation may be the Dexters lean and tender meat with
excellent flavor, described a website called Mother Earth News.
Spry cited food scares such as the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture
beef recall to explain the price difference.
Unless you go to the meat market, you dont know where that
animal came from or what its gone through to get to the store,
Spry said. Unlike that, I know whats in our beef. Its
raised right off the pasture.
This trend toward organic food may explain Dexter popularity.
People are going back to the organic side of things and looking
for a little cow in the backyard, said Spry.
So far, Spry has not had any problems finding buyers for his Dexter
cattle or their beef partly because breeders are few. Small farms
such as Pruitts pride themselves on their small but growing herds.
Were one of only three breeders in Indiana, Pruitt
said. But Pruitt is eager to share her fondness for Dexters. She hopes
others can get started and care for them too, Pruitt said.
Dexters are seemingly easy to love. Breeders such as Pruitt and Spry
cant say enough about the benefits of the Dexter.
Get a Dexter breeder to talk, and hell talk and talk,
For more information about Dexter cows,
visit the Mother Earth News website at www.motherearthnews.com.
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