Dexter cattle originated in the early 1800’s from small herds of native cattle found in the Kerry region of southwest Ireland.
Perhaps descending from the predominantly black cattle of the early celts . . . or from
the black and white spotted cattle described in early Irish writings . . . the true origin of these beautiful cattle is unclear. Some writings, however, credit a Mr. Dexter, who served as an agent for Lord Howarden of County Kerry, as their original breeder. He is said to have selected the hardiest mountain cattle of the region in his breeding program, working toward developing small cattle that were suitable for both beef and milk production.
In their journey to becoming an offcial cattle breed, Dexters were originally associated with Kerry cattle. In 1887, the first known record book was established for Kerry and Dexter cattle in Dublin Ireland. The Kerry cattle were described as small-boned cattle with a dairy-like appearance. Dexters were distinguished from the Kerrys by being stockier and heavier boned.
In 1892, England also began to recognize the importance and growing popularity of Dexters by establishing The English Kerry and Dexter Cattle Society. Finally, by 1924, The English Kerry and Dexter Cattle Society changed its name to the Dexter Cattle Society and began to focus exclusively on Dexters.
The first recorded importation of Dexter Cattle to American occurred when over 200 Dexters and Kerrys were brought from England to the states between 1905 and 1915. A large percentage of these were imported to three major farms:
The Elmendorf Farm (Elmendorf Herd) in Lexington, Kentucky (eventually completely dispersed in 1917)
The Castlegould Herd owned by Howard Gould of Port Washington, New York
The North Oaks Herd, owned by Mrs. James J. Hill of Gladstone, Minnesota. Mrs. Hill was the wife of the famous railroad magnate James Hill, builder of the Great Northern Railway. Mr. H. C. Lawton was employed as the “Superintendent Breeder of Dexters” for this herd. She also purchased additional animals from Mrs. Clarence Moore of Washington D. C. and from Elmendorf Farm.
In 1917, the Castlegould herd was sold to the famous metals industrialist Daniel Guggenheim of Port Washington, who changed the herd name to
Hempstead House. Daniel’s brother was the benefactor of the famous Guggenheim Museum in New York. Several years later, a part of the Hempstead herd was sold to Mrs. Louisa Satterlee (Dover House Farm) of Greenwich, Connecticut.
Other early Dexter herds include:
The Ophir Herd, owned by Mrs. Whitelaw Reid in Purchase, New York. This was a small herd of both Dexter and Kerry cattle.
The Grant’s Farm Herd, owned by August Anheuser Busch in St. Louis Missouri. Busch was part of the Busch Beer family. He purchased several Dexters from C.D Gregg of St. Louis and additional animals from the Elmendorf Herd in Kentucky.
The Big Tree Herd, owned by James N. Hill of new York, New York. He purchased his small herd from Elmendorf Farm.
Xalapa Herd, owned by E.F. Simms of Houston, Texas. He built a Dexter herd in Paris, Kentucky from animals purchased at Elmendorf Farm.
Mountain View Herd, owned by William R. Bush of Benson, Vermont, who also bought his Dexters from Elmendorf Farm.
Clove brook Herd, owned by Mrs. Mabel Ingalls. These animals were obtained from Mrs. Louisa Satterlee (Mabel’s mother) at Dover House Farm. Mrs. Ingalls also imported some Dexters from England.
Peerless Herd, owned by John Logsdon (bought for his daughter Nancy Logsdon), in Decorah Iowa. In 1918 Mr. Logsdon bought his foundation animals from the Elmendorf Herd, Grant’s Farm Herd (August A. Busch), and North oaks Herd (Mrs. James J Hill). Later, Nancy Logsdon acquired two of Daniel Guggenheim’s bulls: Warrior of Hempstead House and Captain of Hempstead House. The Peerless Herd grew to 150 head by 1944. Ownership passed from Nancy to her sister Daisy Moore, and then to Daisy’s daughter and son, Kay Moore Baker and Michael Moore.
The first official American Kerry and Dexter Cattle Club was established in July of 1911. Kerry cattle and Dexter cattle registrations were kept separate, each eventually forming an independent group. The offspring of a Kerry/Dexter cross was regarded as a “cross bred” and was not eligible for registration. Soon after the publication of the 1921 herd book, the club ceased to operate and its records were placed in the care of the Animal Husbandry Department of Ohio State University.
After the reorganization of the American Kerry and Dexter Club in 1940, the official name was finally changed to the American Dexter Cattle Association in 1957.
Import of British Dexters was renewed in the United States from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Prominent in the pedigree of many modern American Dexters are animals from such British herds as Grinstead Herd, Atlantic Herd, Parndon Herd, and Woodmagic Herd.
Becoming practically extinct in the United States by the mid 1970’s, their upsurge in popularity has now earned them a place on the American Livestock Breed Conservatory’s “recovering status” list. Today, Dexter cattle can be found in almost every state in America.
The Dexters we breed at Kirkhaven Farm honor those
small, hardy, multi-purpose cattle that grazed on Ireland's rocky braes.
We feel blessed to share in the preservation and the heritage
of these amazing animals!