Dexter cattle are versatile. Most Dexter cattle come with horns. But there are growing numbers that are polled. Meaning they have no horns. And many are dehorning their Dexter cattle.
Dexter horns are usually a beautiful white with black tips. Some stand up and some come around towards the face. While Dexter cattle require plenty of room to eat from bunks, they are very good at maneuvering their horns in tight spaces.
The docile nature of the Dexter breed makes having Dexter horned cattle a bit safer than other breeds. You have to be aware of their horns for safety reasons. If you are standing in the way of the horns when they swat at flies, you may well get brushed with them.
Horns on most animals are there for a reason. Some animals have males with horns and females come hornless. Some animals have both males and females with horns.
Horns on Dexters are primarily for protection. Both the Dexter bull and Dexter cow will do battle with coyotes, dogs, and etc. when being attacked. They protect their newborn calves with them.
Dexter cattle do use their horns against each other occasionally. The feed bunk is one place you can see this. Juggling for the prime spot, Dexters will “shove” with their heads and horns. They very rarely get too serious with this, and injury rarely occurs.
When a new Dexter cow comes into the herd, horns will be flying. To hold onto their position in the herd, members of the herd will take on the newcomers to see where they fit in the “pecking order”. At times, this can be a fierce battle. It usually does not last long and once it is settled, they usually do not fight again. Horns can and do cause injury sometimes in this situation.
Dexter cows clean their newborns and bath their calves without their horns ever touching the calf. They are very careful with them. They “spar” with their calves in play. Usually, the Dexter cow fits the calf’s head in the space between her horns and shoves. Then gets shoved. This is play for the Dexter cow and her calf.
What are reasons to dehorn Dexter cattle? Most breeds dehorn to prevent bruising and hide damage. With Dexters, their docile attitude does not demand this.
I think safety for humans is the number one reason for people dehorning their Dexter cattle. Milking is a good example. Most Dexter milk cows are put into stalls or milking stanchions and there is limited space. To have to get into this small space with a horned animal can be unhandy and call safety into question.
If you choose to dehorn a Dexter, try to do it at age 3 months or younger. Pick a dry and cool day if possible. The wound will dry quicker than on a wet, humid day. If possible, try to dehorn late in the day. The flies are less active then.
Some methods of dehorning are hot irons, knives, spoon or tube dehorners and chemical paste. Dehorning is not for the weak of heart or the novice.
Sometimes dehorning is not done correctly. When this happens, a scur can occur. This is a bit of the horn that survives and continues to grow. The scur sometimes curls and grows back into the head. When this happens, measures to remove or shorten the scur are taken.
There are “naturally polled” Dexter cattle too. This is due to genetics and has no dehorning involved. Their numbers have grown in the past few years.
Whether you like your Dexter cattle with horns, dehorned or polled, Dexter cattle are getting easier to find in the U.S. More information can be found on the American Dexter Cattle Association website (ADCA) and on the Purebred Dexter Cattle Association website (PDCA).