History of The Group
The formation of the first NI Dexter Cattle Group took place in 1991, with Veronica Schofield appointed by the Society to assist the Group.
Many thanks to Mike Frazer, Deirdre and Howard Hilton for documenting this fascinating history.
After the export of the first Dexters to England there was a growth period in popularity of the breed with a range of breeders from larger owners such as King Edward VII (Breed President 1901-02) to the many small holders/farmers who used the Dexter as the farm ‘house cow’. However over the years with the introduction of larger continental breeds and the scaling up in size of some other native breeds the popularity of the Dexter fell away, particularly in its native Ireland. By the late 1980’s the only registered Dexter herd of any size in Ireland, North or South was the Bellevue Herd under the supervision of John Strong at Belfast Zoo.
After a few false starts Vaughan K Byrne was involved in the first import of Dexters from England which took place in 1991 from the prize winning Knotting herd of H J Paynter. This was followed in 1992 by 7 females and 1 bull from the renowned dexter breeder, Beryl Rutherford and her Woodmagic Herd. It is interesting to note that the Woodmagic Herd was famous for the milk produced; Dexters really are a dual purpose cow.
The first few years saw limited growth of interest in the breed in Northern Ireland and the reintroduction of Dexters to NI perhaps only finally gained traction when Deirdre and Howard Hilton relocated from England to Boveedy, near Kilrea in 1994 bringing their Dexter herd with them. Along with other key influencers such as Ian and Joan Simpson, Newell and Andy Bingham, Bertie Mairs, Niall Donaghy and Andrew Montgomery they became the nucleus of the reformed NI Dexter Group. As the Dexter numbers nationally had reduced to such a level as to make them an endangered breed the group was supported by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust NI, with for many years the former RBST NI Group Show and Sale at Cultra being the focal point for the promotion of the Dexter Breed in Northern Ireland.
Apart from the imported cattle one of the first Dexters bought for the Bingham start up herd was Bellevue Tabatha from the Belfast Zoo herd. It is a matter of pride for the NI Group that the lineage of these two foundation Hillhead (Hilton) and Ballykeel (Bingham) herds can still be traced through to several of the current leading herds in Northern Ireland. We also still have the influence the original Woodmagic and Knotting imports in our regional herd.
From these humble beginnings the NI Dexter Group has seen the number of Dexters in Northern Ireland grow to nearly 800+ animals in 2020. They have been strongly supported during this process by the main Society in England and in particular by Mary Kay who as a Trustee and Chief Judge of the Society had offered to support the NI Regional development. There are now approximately 80+ Dexter herds in Northern Ireland with many farmers using them as a high profile selling point for their ‘farm shop’ business. The quality of the regional herd has increased dramatically over the last 10 years with the import of semen, bulls and cows from the leading herds in England and Scotland, with the Northern Ireland herd as a whole now being recognised as containing many of the best bloodlines in the Society.