The following article is copied from: The Dexter Bulletin Dexter Cattle Society (UK) April 1970 Pages 6,7,8.
SOME NOTES ON PRELIMINARY ENQUIRIES INTO THE BACKGROUND OF DEXTER CATTLE.
It is widely believed that Dexters were originally a mutation of the Kerry breed, but it is not known when this is supposed to have occurred and the obscurity surrounding the origin of the breed leaves scope for rival theories. Among these is the romantic one that they are the result of crossing between the old Kerry cattle and Spanish cattle shipwrecked off the south-western coast of Ireland. Another one, that of Professor Wilson ( Royal Dublin Society, 1908), that the breed results from the crossing of Kerry and Devon cattle.
First mention of Dexter cattle by name is made by Professor David Lowe in his " Domesticated Animals of the British Isles, 1842". He cites the "late Mr. Dexter, agent to the late Maude, Lord Hawarden" as the sole honourable exception in the general neglect of the native cattle breeds. He is said to have formed his curious breed by selection from the best of the mountain cattle of the district, this resulting in the remarkable roundness of form and shortness of leg. The steps by which this improvement was effected are not recorded, and doubt exists as to whether the original was pure Kerry or some other breed proper to the central parts of Ireland, now unknown, or whether some foreign blood such as Dutch, was not mixed with the native bred.
Unfortunately, in the intervening 130 years no further definite information has come to light and some authorities no longer believe in Mr. Dexter's active involvement with the breed, and it is not easy to place the gentleman accurately. A Mr. Dexter, Agent to Lord Hawarden, did exist, and is referred to in Mr. A. Young's " tour of Ireland 1776/78", but in connection with improving a breed of sheep, with no mention of cattle improvement. Young then went on to County Kerry and, reproting on the small cattle he saw there, commented that some of them reminded him of the Alderney cow.
Lord Hawarden's property is said to have been situated to the north of Tipperary town. In his book (1842) Professor Lowe also wrote:"one character of the Dexter breed is frequently observed in certain cattle in Ireland, namely, short legs and a small space from knee to hock and hock to hooves. This has probably given rise to the saying "Tipperary beef down to the heels." County Kerry is the traditional home of the Dexter.
References to very small cattle in books written in English from about 1802, are made. Tighe, in a survey on Kilkenny, 1802, refers to "Kerry cows often driven into Kilkenny for sale being preferred in dairies fro their quantity of milk, their size not often exceeding a moderate sucking calf". Wakefield in his "account of Ireland, 1812," worte: "In the mountainous parts towards the southwest of Cork the Kerry breed of cattle is found; by frequent crossing with the longhorn they have produced a small breed which has nearly the same character."
Cattle of Dexter type were recorded by Sampson in Derry in 1815 and by Youatt in Wicklow in 1834 but none of these works refer to Dexters by name or to Mr. Dexter. These excerpts from reports published in English show that cattle of Dexter type were noted in Ireland approximately two hundred years ago; there are even earlier documents and reports in Gaelic which seem to indicate the existence of a strain of cattle resembling the Dexter type.
Sine the middle of the last ventury excavation of archaelogical sites in Ireland has shed some light on early cattle types. Skulls retrieved from several crannogs consisted of straight, curved, short horned and hornless samples, none of them identifiable with the modern Kerry. Sir William Wilde, who in 1835 examined and wrote about these excavations, stated that about 1835 Ireland possessed four native breeds of cattle, among them the "old Irish cow" of small stature with intermediate length horns and of various colours but principally black and red.
In view of the foregoing it is difficult to accept that a Mr. Dexter evolved in Co. Kerry, and launched in 30 years or so a breed of cattle which has spread to many countries and whose characteristics have persisted and are clearly recognisable. The significance of Mendel's discovery on genetics, and the fate of other small breeds whose names are rarely heard today increase one's doubts and curiosity regarding the real background of the breed.
**End * * Thanks were given to Mrs. D.M.Whelehan, of Transvaal, South Africa for the above article.