THE DEXTER AND THE KERRY
In the recent history of Dexter cattle there has been considerable discussion as to whether the Dexter and Kerry breeds are in fact one and the same. It is known that the British preferred the cattle of shorter stature and heavier muscling and for many years it was assumed they were the “Short-legged” version of the Kerry. It is also known that many breed names were a derivation of the county or region the particular herd was located and in fact, breeds of different names quite often shared the same or very similar characteristics.
Herds were bred over generations using only animals from the same herd. Naturally each herd developed some peculiarities that were specific to just that herd. Most of the very early images of Dexter cattle appear to be what we now call short legs and are often assumed to be carriers of the Chondrodysplasia gene, but this is not necessarily correct. When old images are studied carefully many are not clear enough to make the distinction and many, quite obviously, do not display the physical characteristic of being “short-legs” in spite of being small.
Kerry cattle are noted for being significantly taller than their Dexter counterparts. So, are the Kerry and the Dexter different breeds or were they colloquial terms for two types of the same breed? Well luckily we have science on our side making it easy to determine whether the two breeds share a significant number of DNA markers.
A paper written by Andrew Sheppy, presented at the World Congress of 2002, noted research involving DNA testing had revealed that the Dexter was no more closely related to the Kerry than it was to a number of other traditional British breeds. Whilst over the course of history Dexters were traditionally inter-bred with Kerrys in the same herds, a more recent study by Tim Bray, known as the Cardiff Report, has shown that Dexters have had genetic influences from a number of different breeds, causing the Dexter to develop as a separate and unique breed.
The term “Kerry type” is quite often used in the context of describing the longer, leaner dairy type of Dexters as these were the distinctive traits of the Kerry breed. These descriptive references have little to do with genetics and are most often used as descriptive colloquialisms.
Dexters are uniquely different from any other cattle breed. As different to many more modern miniature cattle breeds Dexters are and will remain the smallest naturally occurring British cattle breed.