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Dexter Cattle — A Thriving Niche Breed In Canada

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“Our grandchildren like it because they get the whole ribeye and don’t have to share.” Adrian Hykawy



Adrian Hykaway takes pride in the size of his cattle – how small they are, that is.

Adrian and his wife Rita have been raising Dexters since 1998 and now have a herd of about 30 head.

Dexter cattle are a heritage breed that originated in southwest Ireland. They can be raised both for meat and milk. Cows grow up to 800 pounds and stand between 38 to 42 inches, while bulls can grow up to 1,100 pounds and stand between 38 to 44 inches.

The breed used to be on the endangered list, but have now recovered to the “watched” status. Hykaway estimates there are about 3,000 to 4,000 registered Dexters and about the same number of non-registered animals in Canada. Alberta is home to the highest number of registered Dexters. Hykaway, who was once the president of the Canadian Dexter Association, says he likes Dexters for several reasons and thinks the breed is a good choice for older farmers and small-acreage owners. “They’re very easy to work with because of their size and disposition,” he says.

Hykaway doesn’t milk his cattle, but has heard of young families who keep a Dexter cow to provide the milk. He also likes Dexters because they produce smaller steaks.

“Our grandchildren like it because they get the whole ribeye and don’t have to share,” he says with a chuckle.

The small size of the breed makes the animals a good choice for 4-H projects. Children have an easier time controlling and handling the smaller cattle. “They can be handled and straightened out by a 10-year-old,” says Hykaway.

Dexters can have horns or be polled and can be black, red or dun coloured. Hykaway says the animals are easy calvers, and it’s rare that a producer will have to assist with calving. In all his time as a Dexter owner, Hykaway has only had to assist with one or two births.

Hykaway raises his animals naturally and does not feed them grain, hormones or antibiotics. The animals are finished on grass and hay and are given a kelp supplement with their minerals.

Hykaway direct-markets the beef from his cattle, When he first got into Dexters, he began his marketing by selling the meat to his family. His daughter ran a small restaurant in Edmonton, and indirectly promoted the beef by making some of the Dexter meat into hamburgers, which proved popular with customers. Word of the taste of the meat slowly spread. Hykaway sold some of his meat to his co-workers and then listed his products through Dine Alberta.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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