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Special Dexters fill a very special need

Dexter cattle are renowned for their intelligence and apparent willingness to deliver what ever it is we humans think they should. Most breeds of cattle have the quiet individuals with a personable, easy going nature that are easy to train and will afford their keepers the ability to handle, show and milk them. 


Dexters however, seem to demonstrate characteristics that go one step further and appear to be quite unique in their ability to bond with individual people, form specific relationships and interact on a very different level.


Recently Judith Hill of Magrita Dexter Stud was approached to sell two Dexter females,  Vanessa and Wysteria, for use as therapy animals at a privately run retreat for children with Asperges Syndrome and Autism.

Judith has for a long time recognised that many Dexters seemed to have that little bit more when it comes to being able to understand and adapt to different people and situations.


She first recognised the potential for Dexters to be used as therapy animals when her animals were part of the “Cattle Experience” exhibit at the EKKA. Generally animals are exhibited and attendants are there to talk to people about their particular breed, but it is not normally a hands on experience. But when it was the day for Dexters things changed rapidly with many requests for youngsters to be able to touch the calves. The flood gates were then open so to speak, and there was a steady stream of people wanting to be hands on.


Judith says the most notable part of the day was the number of physically and intellectually impaired people, both children and adults, whose carers requested their charges be allowed to touch the cattle. “It was an interesting and moving experience to watch how the cattle just seemed to know who needed them to be patient and gentle and how to interact with the different requirements of each individual,” Judith said.

“The young cattle were happy to be approached by those in wheelchairs and those with unusual and limited movement and were seemingly able to recognize the limitations of each. “In one instance the animal laid its head in the lap of a wheelchair bound adult who was unable to reach out so the Dexter did the reaching.


“Another saw the animal sit down beside a child who was unsure. The child sat down with the calf who responded by laying its head on the child’s knee and a bond was formed. “And so it went on through the day. The demand from so many was such that I was pleased to have the assistance of long-time Dexter breeder David Ziebell. The show society was so pleased with the level of interest they also had a staff member to help man the gate to the pen and help control the flow of those wanting to share the experience. “Though it goes without saying not all Dexters are the perfect temperament for this type of work, it appears many individual animals certainly have what it takes to be therapy animals.”


Judith has had a lot of experience with animals and has two daughters trained as Special Needs Carers so she has a good reference resource when preparing and selling animals for this type of work. 


The most recent enquiry came out of the blue when Judith was approached to supply the two Dexters. The sale of Vanessa, 21 months and in calf, and Wysteria who is just six months old is to be followed up with support assistance from Judith. 

There are many stories of Dexters demonstrating an unusual ability to bond with and understand the needs of people. Dexters are intelligent and,  as with all cattle, should be handled with respect and care. Not all Dexters are suited to intense handling so careful selection and training is required.


Editorial: By Roz Michelini

Photos supplies by: Juddith Hill


Note: Photographs used in this article were taken under controlled circumstances. Individuals should not assume an animal is suitable for intense handling unless it is trained, experienced and interaction is fully supervised by experienced handlers.


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