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  Summer Wine Dun Dexters –
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Where to now?

Where to now?

Celtic design      Our dun animals, as will be obvious from the photographs on this site, are presently a fairly mixed bunch from the point of view of breed type. This was inevitable, as in order to get our basic dun breeding stock we have had to buy in animals from some fairly diverse herds. Some of our Dexters This doesn’t worry us too much as we are primarily interested in studying the dun colouration in Dexter cattle.

      However we are also very interested in breeding to maintain the true Dexter type and obviously selecting for type will be among our priorities. We are not, however interested in showing our animals – or indeed in breeding for ‘show type’ if this means discarding some otherwise desirable Dexter characteristics. For example we notice that most (although not all) dun animals appear have noticeably thicker, shaggier coats than those of other colours, even in summer. Not a good ‘show’ feature but great in a Canterbury winter!!

Rosie with horns

      Also we are intent on retaining the horns in our Dexter cattle – a natural feature of the breed. We do not dehorn and take a delight in our cattle’s ‘natural’ appearance. It is our personal belief that humans shouldn’t mutilate animals – no matter how humanely they might do it – for their own ends. We don’t dock our sheep for the same reason. (When you get to our age, you’re allowed to have dotty ideas!) Any dehorned animal on our property will have been bred elsewhere.

Paul

      The year 2004 was our first real breeding season for our (albeit small) all-dun herd. Our breeding stock comprised our bull Charming St Paul and five purebred cows – two of our own breeding and three we had been able to purchase. Type-wise, the cows were a somewhat mixed bag – but we had to start somewhere – and we were fairly pleased with their general quality. We have also purchased a new yearling heifer, Beltaine Aina, who was imported as an embryo transplant from Australia.

      We awaited calving eagerly. If our interpretation of the most recently published material on the genetics of the dun colour was correct, we believed we would always get dun offspring if we mated “dun to dun”, unless both parents happened to be carrying red, in which case there was a one in four chance of getting a red calf. In our case we knew from his earlier progeny that St Paul was carrying red, as was at least one of the cows (which had had a red dam), but for the remainder only time would tell, as red can be passed down by carriers of the recessive red gene for generations before it pops up – often when least expected.

Bull calves

      On the whole, we were quietly confident; the few dun-to-dun matings we’d been able to do in previous years had all resulted in dun offspring. By the end of the year we were feeling a little smug, with four healthy dun calves – two bulls and two heifers – safely on the ground. Our last cow however, a recent purchase, waited until the new year to spring her surprise. Close inspection of calf number five, curled up damply in the early sunshine of a January morning, revealed that he was quite indubitably red.

      If we want to eliminate red calves from our herd in the future we will need a bull that is not carrying red. If we want to eliminate it altogether from our stock we will also need to get rid of any cows that carry red. In the USA they routinely do DNA testing to confirm the colour genotype of an animal but we are not aware that such a test is yet available here.


UPDATE: The above was written in early 2005, and calves since then have followed the expected pattern. With one exception – another red – all have been dun. The guidelines we followed are summarized in The Genetics of Dun.

frieze

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