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Dun and Dunnage

Dun and Dunnage

A Cautionary Tale

Black, red, and dun calves from dun mothers

We were at a Mainland Dexter Group meeting last year and were in the process of introducing ourselves.

One member had extolled the virtues of his all-black herd (and a fine herd it is too); then it was my turn.

I started by saying (a little bit tongue in cheek) that I wouldn’t have a black Dexter on my property – this was because I’m rather proud of my all-dun herd. But I really should not have tempted fate.

There are three standard colours of Dexter cattle and I had arranged to borrow a dun Dexter bull to service my dun cows while my own herd sire, Charming St Paul, was away visiting another breeder’s herd. The borrowed bull was of course purebred, had good breeding, and was registered with the Dexter Society of New Zealand as being dun in colour.

When he arrived on my property, however, he was clearly red. What to do? By the time I considered the options he had already mated one of my heifers. So I thought I’d take a philosophical approach and just see what he produced.

Although Bev had followed the overseas research and worked out the genetics of Dexter dun colouration, and we had achieved success in our own dun breeding programme, we hadn’t actually put it to the test with other genetic combinations. So to make the best of a bad situation I left this red bull with my cows, and waited – somewhat resignedly – to see the results.

Dunnage Not surprisingly, the calves came in all three colours – as can be seen in these photographs – and given a basic understanding of the genetics involved this was exactly as might be expected. See Dun Genetics. (In summary, a Dexter with two black colour genes, or with one black and one red, will always be black unless it also happens to have two dun genes acting upon the black – in which case it will be dun. A Dexter with two red genes will always be red, regardless of whether it has any dun genes or not, because these have no effect on red.)

One of my dun cows was carrying red (that is she had one black, one red, and two dun genes) – she produced a red calf from this borrowed bull. Of the rest, three produced black calves and two produced dun (the bull must have been carrying one dun gene). Not quite what you’d expect to see at a Dun Dexter stud, but nevertheless an interesting experiment.

Michael Trotter

(The above was first published in Rare Breeds NewZ February 2011.)


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