Irish Dexters are little but come with a lot

Warren Moore points out an Irish Dexter cow he likes at his NorthFork Irish Dexter Ranch in the Hibbard area. He purchased his first Dexter in Canada and has raised the breed since 2007.

Irish Dexter cattle produce milk that is high in butterfat, and dark, lean meat that can be high in omega 3 when grass fed.

Although they can buck, they are quite docile and small in stature too, they are often used in junior rodeos, where youngsters can learn how to ride bulls — safely.

Warren Moore, who is vice president of the Rocky Mountain Dexter Breeders Association, was raised with many of the major breeds growing up on a farm in the Yakima Valley near Sunnyside, Wash. One day, when he was perusing a website of rare beef breeds, he noticed the Irish Dexter, and he’s been hooked on the breed ever since and has been raising them at his ranch near Hibbard.

“I like things that are different, I don’t like the run-of–the-mill and the Dexter is perfect for niche marketing,” he said.

Dexter cattle were initially developed in Ireland by small land owners, and eventually brought to this country in the early 1900s, Moore said.

“They were a poor man’s milk cow,” Moore said. “It was a way for a farmer to have a backyard milk cow, raise a calf and have some beef at the end of the year, too.”

Moore and wife Cheri have raised the breed since 2007, and have about 30 head today. They’re among about a dozen owners/breeders in eastern Idaho. The Moores sell steers, heifers, grass-fed beef by the pound locally, and semen from two registered purebred bulls now, and will add a third bull this spring. The bulls stand at their Hibbard ranch, he said.

“We started shipping semen a year ago and have shipped all over the United States,” he said. “Some believe the milk from Dexter cattle — that carry a certain gene — appeal to people who are lactose intolerant. There’s talk of testing (the theory), but right now there’s nothing out there to prove it.”

One of Moore’s customers from Idaho Falls is a repeat buyer of his grass-fed beef.

“I still had a few pounds of beef from the grocery store left in the freezer, so I made spaghetti with it,” Kandy Croft said. “The next day, I made stew from your Dexter beef. I decided to compare and just smelling the store-bought beef leftovers made me throw them out. I know the (spaghetti) is technically fine, but it smells really bad after comparing it with your beef. It’s hard to describe other than it smells of death. Store-bought beef isn’t palatable anymore – I’m feeling rather spoiled by Dexter beef now.”

Irish Dexter cattle are known for ample, and rich milk production that can have up to 4 percent butterfat, similar to Jersey cows. They can produce enough milk to nurse two and even three calves. And Dexter cows tend to calve easily, and are protective and nurturing mothers, Moore said.

He even received an inquiry from an FFA group in northern Indiana. For an agri-science fair project, they want to create a miniature milking cow for small farmers in poverty-stricken countries by crossing one of Moore’s Irish Dexter bulls with a Holstein cow.

Dexters have a gentle disposition which makes them a pleasure to handle and they’re easy on fences and equipment. Because of their small stature, they eat less and are perfect for small operations. The average bull stands 38 to 44 inches at the shoulder and weighs 1,000 pounds. The average cow weights about 750 pounds and stands 36 to 42 inches high at the shoulder, Moore said.

The breed is hardy and thrives in either cold or warm climates. They are predominately black but can also be dun or red in color. Moore raises both polled and horned cattle. Newborns usually weigh between 30 and 50 pounds, and one calf that weighed only 18 pounds at birth is now used for therapeutic purposes — like dogs and ponies — at a California university, Moore said.

The breed is also sought after for bucking stock at junior rodeos for kids 7 to 12 years old. A bull Moore sold to a rodeo was bucked 20 times in his first year, but only ridden once, he said.

“They buck very well, and will sometimes turn and look at a kid, but they won’t attack, like the bigger bulls do,” Moore said. “The majority of Dexters are very calm, very docile and extremely gentle. They are like overgrown teddy bears. They work well for young kids who want an opportunity to ride a bull in a rodeo, instead of a steer or a sheep.”

The meat from the Dexter breed is a little darker in color, and lean. It ranked high in a taste test compared to 17 different cattle breeds, conducted in Virginia by a group of restaurant owners and food magazine writers.

“The Dexter was third behind the Randall Lineback and the Galloway,” he said. “Angus tied for sixth place.”

Moore markets his grass-fed beef locally and has plans to expand.

“We sell our beef in this area and are working to introduce it elsewhere,” he said.