While most women her age are settling down for retirement, Carol Farrell of Coldwater, Miss., is knee-deep in a new adventure. She and her husband, noted Quarter Horse Trainer Jack Farrell, are now raising American Dexter Cattle on their 15 acres near Coldwater. When asked how she became interested in this new little breed, Carol points to her 23-year-old granddaughter, Alyssa Alley, who is also a big part of the operation. Alley is currently living in Fayetteville, Ga., where she recently became licensed in Aircraft Dispatching. She also holds a Bachelor of Business Management degree from the University of Mississippi.
“I saw a Dexter cow that was auctioned at a horse show,” says Alley. “I called Grampy (Jack) and told him I was bringing home a cow. He believed me and got a stall ready.” Although, she was just kidding, and really didn’t bring home a cow, she sparked an interest in her Grandmother (Carol). “I did a lot of research,” says Carol, who is quite an accomplished horsewoman in her own right. “I found a herd in Holly Springs [Miss.] and went over and spent the afternoon looking at the cattle and asking questions. I knew I was hooked.”
Originally an Irish breed, the small cattle are gaining more popularity in the United States. The cattle are a small, tri-purpose cattle breed, raised for milk, meat, and draft, according to the American Dexter Cattle Association. “I love my cows,” says Carol. She can’t seem to help but smile when she talks about them. “They are just great little animals. They are very docile, friendly, and easy for people to manage, and more cattle can be sustained on fewer acres. Now, I have 29 cows on 12 acres and they are doing just fine.” When you register Dexter cattle, breeders use the farm name where they were born and then you add the name of your choice. Carol’s cattle are registered under the J.A.C. name, which stands for Jack, Alyssa, and Carol.
“Last year, at age 70, I showed my first cattle at a show in Springfield, Mo., I got a second with my steer and a fourth with my heifer.” She smiles the whole time she talks. Carol says she sells her cattle to other registered breeders, and sometimes reluctantly, for beef production. There is some variation within the Dexter breed. Some variety is found in their color, stature, and horned status. They come in three solid colors: black, red, or dun (brown). The cattle can be polled (hornless) or horned, with some breeders choosing to dehorn them.
Typical range in height for cows of either type is 34-46 inches. Bulls are in the range of 36-50 inches tall, with the majority within the range of 38-44 inches. Breeders find that the cows have relative ease in calving. “Some of the cattle are carriers of chondrodysplasia, a unique genetic mutation that affects bone growth,” explains Carol. “Most of our cows are chondro free. We have a few mama cows that are chondro, and that’s how we got Willie the steer and another ‘shorty.’”
So Carol and Alyssa head to the pasture, armed with range cubes, a high protein feed concentrate, to check out their little herd. “This is Clara Bell,” says Alyssa, proudly. “She was one of the first ones we got. She knows her name, and she knows me.” That is evident since Clara Bell is following her every step, her head just inches from Alyssa’s back pocket. After looking at the herd, which includes mature cows, a wild red bull, and two baby calves, Carol shows off her favorite in the herd − her steer, Willie. “Willie is a shorty. His body is regular size, but his legs are short. He is a dun with long curly eyelashes. He has a forever home here,” she says. “I take Willie walking down the road. I have even started driving him so that he might pull a cart. Aren’t they cute?” she asks. Carol still works full-time at Idexx in Memphis, Tenn., and manages the herd with Jack and Alyssa’s help. “When I do retire, I’ll have something to do. I love my cows.” she said while smiling.
article and photography by Nancy D. Patterson