Dexter Cattle and Calving – Diary of an Estate Manager.

My job as Estate Manager means I also get to work closely with our herd of Dexter cattle. Tending to their daily needs is taken care of by our stockman, as manager I get to oversee the herd and ensure they remain in top condition, that they have a safe and secure environment to graze and are provided adequate housing and boundaries. I also monitor the breeding and rearing programme, ensuring that births and movements are fully registered and up to date with DEFRA and tagging.

Diary of an Estate Manager is as the title suggests a series of informative articles that detail my varied tasks and responsibilities as the Manager and Head Gardener of  a busy UHNWI London estate and associated international properties.

I really do hope you enjoy learning more about Dexter cattle and feel able to share this article with your closest friends.

So I’m sick in bed with a chest infection and a get a call early hours, informing me that one of our Dexters has gone into calf two weeks earlier than predicted and joy of joys I get to assistant in the birth of this beauty boy!

Generally Dexter’s calf without assistance but occasional a heifer can have complications and as in the case of this calf require help to get the head and legs through the pelvis. Once the legs and head has emerged birthing takes just a few seconds.

dexter calf

Dexter’s are one of the hardiest of cattle breeds and have increased in popularity throughout the UK and Worldwide in recent years, there are several reasons for this not least because the cattle are robust enough to live outdoors all year round and require only basic housing requirements.

Originating from Southern Ireland and introduced to England in 1882. Dexter cattle are easily trained, becoming hand tame and appreciating a good scratch with regular hands on contact. Needing much less space than full size cattle the Dexter once regarded as the poor man’s cow, has become a wiseman’s investment. The Dexter perform incredibly well on mountainous or pasture and as the Dexter is happy eating roughage, supplemented with hay and converts into a rich milk and lean marbled high quality beef.

The average cow measures between: 37 -43 Inches and weighs in at approx. 755 lbs or 342kg. Most bulls measure: 38 -44 inches, at a weight of approx. 1000 lbs or 453kg.

dexter calves

Dexter cattle are commonly a solid black but as you can see, genetic variation occurs producing some shade of rustic red to autumn brown. Three colours are officially recognised black, red and various shades of tan, including a rare grey-gold.  Pedigree registration of Dexters does not recognise all of the colour strains that arise for example Red’s must be DNA checked or of Pedigree checked Red parents. The brindle or tiger marked Dexter (shown in the first photo) cannot be registered as the markings are not recognised by the Dexter society and white markings mist be limited to the genital area.

Our hire young bull for the last two years has been a solid black pedigree bull and we have seen him mature into a mighty animals and of excellent parentage. However this year we have decided to alter the bloodline for a slight smaller bull and ideally one that is male/bull positive, as our current bull hire bull sure does like to produce lots of females/heifers.

Dexter cattle make extremely caring Mother’s often calling to their calves to offer some motherly affection. Bonding between Heifer and Calf begins before they are born as the Cow will make bonding calls that the calf will learn and grow to identify its mother by. These calling signals are also a sign that a cow us close to calving, as is the sudden swelling of the cows udder as milk and the all important colostrum is produced.

This newly born calf  is still being cleaned by its mothers rasping tongue, not only does this remove the residue from the calves hair but the action also stimulates the calf to feed. Taking the first drunk from its mothers teats will ensure the calf reviewed essential antibodies and rich creamy nutrients found in colostrum. Calves need this to protect them from infection and gives them the best possible start.

Our Dexter ladies waiting to have their nails done! Foot trimming is an essential part of annual aftercare for all cattle. Our herd have their hooves professionally trimmed approx 8 weeks prior to calving, we also use this opportunity to give them a close up health check to  ensure that they are in top condition pre-calving.

A mixed herd run as a family unit extremely well, our steers are castrated at a few days old, minimising stress and maximising their growth potential. We choose to bring in a hire bull rather than retain a bull on-site all year around, reducing feeding costs and allowing us to change a genetic line from time to time, the alternative would be artificial insemination maybe something to consider in the future.

Our small herd fluctuates seasonally from 10-14 cattle at it’s peak, with 20-24 month old steers annually going to slaughter, providing enough beef for family and friends. I hope you enjoyed learning more about Dexter cattle and perhaps you would like to read about our hybrid hens or Texel flock of sheep.

Grow with me on


Stephen Pryce-Lea

Head Gardener and International Horticultural Consulatant




“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, when you find it in a Garden it’s like finding Paradise“

iGrowHort – A Head Gardener’s Horticultural Journey of love, life and learning.


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About Head Gardener 291 Articles
Award winning, 40 something year old professional plantsman and horticulturalist with National Trust, private parks and estate management background. My vast plant knowledge and hands on techinical experience, afforded me the opportunity to work in various horticultural landscapes, in the UK, USA & Eastern Europe. Having worked in both garden retail & the design service industry gave me the practical diversity and managerial skill set, required for running a large prestigious gardens and stately homes. I strongly believe knowledge is to be shared and have worked closely with people and staff of all ages and abilities keen to develop their passion for gardening, including groups of children, special needs and adults. I have hosted guided walks, talks and tours for those keen to learn about cultivated and wild plants, garden development, history and design. As an member of the NNCPG and National Trust, I am actively involved in the preservation of several important plant collections both in public and private gardens throughout the UK. “It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion grow together, in a garden it’s paradise” Follow @IGrowHort on GardenTags. Stephen is passionate about gardening as Head Gardener with a team of ten staff he manages a prestigious Cheshire country estate of 55 acres, inc wild flower meadows, woodland, organic kitchen and formal gardens. Follow Stephen today”


  1. Such precious pictures of those calves. Also very interesting information on the cattle breed. Our area in both South and North Dakota has mostly red and black Angus.

  2. From very far away , we have a simmilar smaller scale operation with just East Frisian Milch sheep ( Texel is the dutch breed). The handling of the flock is identical to your description. The farm’s main income is from organic vegetable production that is sold directly to consumers. The animal operation provides for the main source of manure and bedding to keep the the nutrient cycle. As a bonus we have dairy products that are added to the fresh produce. Loved your article about Dexters. I wonder if Jerseys would play the same role, although calves are much leaner.

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