+3531 6313822 nationalich@chg.gov.ie

Native Irish Cattle Breeding

Location Throughout the island of Ireland
Categories Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
Keywords Cattle breeding, Kerry Cow, Droimeann, Dexter, Maol, Moiled,
Contact organisation Droimeann Cattle Society

Irish Moiled Cattle Society

Irish Dexter Cattle Society

Kerry Cattle Society

Short Summary

Native Irish cattle breeds are
• Kerry Cattle breed
• Dexter Cattle breed
• Irish Maol/Moiled Cattle breed
• Droimeann Cattle breed

Ireland’s native cattle breeds have evolved in tandem with the Irish landscape over millennia meaning they are the most suited of all cattle breeds to the landscape. They are smaller and more robust than Continental or British cattle breeds and thrive in harmony with the local ecosystem.

Native Irish Cattle Image









Background information


The Irish Moiled/Maol Cattle Breed

The Irish Moiled is one of the most distinctive native Irish cattle breeds. They are a hornless (polled) breed, red in colour and characteristically marked by a white line or ‘finching’ on the back and white under parts with red ears and red nose. They can vary from white with red ears and nose to nearly all red. The face is often roan or flecked.

The name Moile (or Maol) is derived from the Gaelic language and relates to the distinctive dome or mound on top of the head. They are of medium size (a mature cow can weigh up to 650kg) and are generally easy to handle with a placid docile temperament. These animals are also easily maintained on less acreage and less concentrated than most other cattle breeds. https://www.irishmoiledcattlesociety.com/  

 The Irish Moiled is one of the oldest of the surviving indigenous breeds of Irish cattle. The myths and legends of Ireland refer many times to ‘red, white backed cattle’ and polled (hornless) skeletal remains have been dated to 640 A.D. It is believed that the Vikings raided Moiled cattle from Ireland in around 1000AD and today in Scandinavia you can find hornless cattle with similar colour markings to the Moiled in a breed called the East Finn.

Native Irish Moiled Cattle Image







The Kerry Cattle Breed

The Kerry cow is black, sometimes with a little white on the udder. The cow is of dairy type, well ribbed with fine bone. The cow has slender white horns tipped with black, though most herds are now dehorned. The cow has character, is alert and light on her feet. Cows weigh 350 to 450 kgs depending on the type of land on which they are kept. They are equally suited to being one of a big herd or single house cows. The bull is similar in character to the cow. He is usually docile and easily managed.

The cows enjoy a long useful life, still strong and calving regularly at 14 and 15 years of age. They are extremely hardy and will out winter quite happily, growing a good coat of hair which keeps the cold out. Their agility enables them to travel safely over rough ground and they do little damage to the pastures. Because of their size at least three Kerries can be kept to two of other breeds.  Several Irish farmhouse cheese makers use Kerry milk. The average milk yield is between 3000 and 3700kg at 4% butterfat. However there are quite a number of cows capable of yielding over 4500kg. http://www.kerrycattle.ie/

 The Kerry has an unusually long history as a specialist dairy breed and it is suggested that it was being bred for milk production in early Irish Celtic times, when, it is thought milk formed a major part of people’s diet, either fresh or preserved in various ways. The type has been recorded in Ireland for at least 4000 years according to archaeological evidence.

Native Irish Kerry Cattle Image








The Dexter Cattle Breed

The Dexter breed originated in southwestern Ireland, from where it was brought to England in 1882. The breed virtually disappeared in Ireland, but was still maintained as a pure breed in a number of small herds in England. The Dexter is a small breed with mature cows weighing between 600 and 700 lb and mature bulls weighing about 1,000 lb (450 kg). Considering their small size, their bodies are wide and deep with well-rounded hindquarters. https://dextercattlesociety.ie/

Like the Kerry, they are descended from the predominately black cattle of the early Celts. The frequently heard theory that Dexters are a comparatively new breed is incorrect as the breed is fully described and mentioned by its proper name, in a report on Irish cattle written in 1845, by Mr David Low. From this publication we learn that the breed owes its modern appearance, name, and probably qualities to a Mr Dexter who was agent to a Lord Hawarden (pronounced ‘Harden’) who came to Ireland in 1750 and made his home in Co Tipperary. David Low stated that a Mr Dexter had produced his curious breed by selection from the best of the hardy mountain cattle of the area, and to have succeeded to a very high degree. Dexter cattle were first introduced into England in 1882, when ten Dexters were purchased by Mr. Martin. J. Sutton of Kidmore Grange, Oxfordshire from Mr. James. Robertson of La Mancha, Nr Malahide, Dublin. They were first shown at the Royal Show at Norwich in 1886.

Native Irish Dexter Cattle I








The Droimeann Cattle Breed

The Droimeann is a small to medium sized animal. They are generally even tempered with a placid disposition and are intelligent in nature. They are dairy like in shape and produce milk high in solids. When fattened and killed their meat is marbled and has a distinct flavour. They come in various colours ranging from nearly all black or red to white with dark ears and muzzle. More often they are dark sided red black or blue with a distinctive white back and underside. They do better than other breeds with poorer forge which they convert easily to milk and meat. The Droimeann cow is very fertile and is very early maturing. Females can often start cycling at 4 to 5 months of age. http://droimeanncattlesociety.com/

Native Irish Dexter Cattle Image









Practice and practitioners

 The individual Breed societies are the primary practitioner as the holder and guardian of their respective herd-books. The individual Breed societies are recognised as legal entities and have been approved to maintain the herd-books for their respective breeds in accordance with national and EU legislation. As the primary practitioners, the individual breed societies define the description and standards for each of the four native Irish breeds.

The relevant knowledge and skills required to breed, train, work with and exhibit Native Irish Cattle Breeds are fostered by the individual Breed Societies and dedicated members, many of whom have devoted countless hours over successive years in championing the traditions associated with one or more of the Breeds. This includes Animal Classification, farm open days, pedigree verification and exhibiting on an island wide basis.

The Irish Moiled Cattle Society was formed in 1926 to develop the breed and create and maintain a Herd Book. Much support was attracted and cattle from all over Ireland were inspected, selected and entered in the Herd Book. For many years, as popularity of the breed grew, classes were held at the Royal Ulster Show. However with the introduction of new, more specialised dairy and beef breeds numbers of Irish Moileds began to decline.

The Society declined in parallel with the cattle numbers and was disbanded 1966. The decline was so dramatic that by the 1970’s the breed had been reduced to less than 30 females maintained by two breeders – David Swan of Dunsilly and James Nelson of Maymore. In 1982 the Society was revived with the encouragement of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. Since then numbers have increased substantially with help from valuable research and guidance from both the Trust and the Genetics Department of Liverpool University. This encouragement has been greatly appreciated by the Society. In 1998 the Society became a company limited by guarantee and also gained charitable status. Directors are elected annually by members.

The Kerry Cattle Society of Ireland was formed in 1917 to do all such things necessary to promote and maintain the purity of the breed. In 2002 the Society registered as a Co-Op and became The Kerry Cattle Society Ltd, in order to be better able to carry out its work. The Society now has membership in Ireland, Great Britain, USA and Canada.

The “Farmers’ Gazette” in January, 1887, published the first issue of the “Register of Pure Kerry Cattle and Dexters”. This Register extended to three volumes, including 46 Kerry Bulls and 100 Kerry Cows. The Royal Dublin Society maintained the herd book until the end of 2001. It is now maintained by The Kerry Cattle Society Ltd., who are responsible for all registrations, issuing of herd book certificates and publishing the herd book.

The Dexter Cattle Society offers support to owners and breeders of this exceptionally versatile breed with advice, information and a range of services. Currently 1,100 Society members from all over Europe are registering 4,000+ pedigree cattle each year. The breed is represented in the Republic of Ireland by its regional group (Irish Dexter Cattle Society).

The Droimeann Cattle Society was established on 11 September 2016 at a meeting of breeders and others interested in the preservation of the breed. A Droimeann Cattle Herd book was launched on 22 August 2018.

 Development, transmission and safeguarding

 In ancient Irish society, cows were not merely one kind of domesticated animal but they were of such overweening importance that they almost had a status as members of society. Virtually everyone in that society was preoccupied with cows. They were in the mental foreground of king and peasant, cleric and layman, warrior and poet, young and old, men and women, and they touched the lives of everyone from sunrise to sunset, from birth to death. This is evident in the works of Irish chroniclers, hagiographers, historians, poets and of everyone…everything these people have written in annals, law texts, lives of saints, historical narratives, and eulogistic poems and in tales and anecdotes, in prose and verse teems with allusions to cows’.

 Cattle in Ancient Ireland, A.T. Lucas, Former Director, National Museum of Ireland


Knowledge and skills involved

All the Breed societies have a Breed standard that are readily available to breeders. The Breed Standard acts as a primary resource for the breeder to develop the required knowledge in breeding. Many societies also encourage and promote farm walks in which animals present are discussed on their adherence to breed standards. These open days also encourage and promote knowledge transfer between Breeders to help maintain and develop the required skills when breeding these rare native breeds. Additionally, as technology has developed, Societies have embraced social media and online technologies to facilitate knowledge transfer for their various members spread across the island of Ireland.

Social Aspects

Native Breed Societies have a broad membership across the Island of Ireland. Societies undertake regular farm walks and open days to develop the social aspect and connectivity across the island. Additionally, the exhibiting the animals at the various shows across the island of Ireland adds an additional social aspect.

The various Native Irish Breeds have implemented the following for future generations:

Breed Development

1) Classification/Linear assessment – adherence to the breed standards – phenotypic Evaluation

2) Genomic Assessment – Adherence to breed purity and to identify superior animals within the breed. The Droimeann Cattle used this approach in the formation of their herd-book to identify animals of the highest purity as the foundation of the breed.


Breed Safeguarding and Transition

Breed Societies have implemented Breeding Programmes – guidance for breeding and the collection of Bulls for Artificial Insemination (AI). In the event of a catastrophic collapse in breed numbers (Foot and Mouth Disease), there is a reserve of genetic resources enabling future generations to revitalise the breed.

Also the societies attend various shows throughout the island of Ireland to promote the breed to a wider audience, to attract new members and to continue the commitment to our Native breeds.


Contact organisations

Droimeann Cattle Society

Irish Moiled Cattle Society

Irish Dexter Cattle Society

Kerry Cattle Society