SPANISH FORK — As the joke goes, where do you get dragon milk? Answer: from short-legged cows.

Yet, while these cows stand a mere 3 feet to 4 feet tall, about the size of a Shetland pony, they don't drag anything. They weigh less than half the weight of a normal cow, while normally proportioned. They milk and moo just like their taller barnyard counterparts, and their beef is as good as gets, breeder Pat Sorensen says.

"We call these dual-purpose animals," she said of Dexter cows. The breed normally gives at least two gallons of milk a day, and produces family-size packs of fine-grained, lean meat.

They eat about half as much as a normal cow. Steers are popular when trained to become miniature oxen, she said.

Pat and Neil Sorensen's full-grown, 4-year-old bull, Freddie, weighs just 900 pounds.

While there's definitely not a lot of bull here, most folks would want to stay out of its way. But for the Sorensens, Freddie is easy to handle. They dehorned him, just in case.

Dexter cows are gentle animals, easy to touch and pet, she said.

The first Dexters are believed to have been produced through selective breeding in Ireland in the 1820s. With land at a premium, "everything has to be smaller in the British Isles," Pat Sorensen says. Requiring just a half acre, they could become the newest yuppie pet, she said.

They come in two varieties, long-legged and short-legged. The short-legged are the most popular, she said, while the long-legged variety look more like a normal cow, just smaller. Commercially, Dexters may not ever become popular, but for hobby or family farmers, the breed may be considered ideal.

"They don't fit into regular beef production," said Craig Burrell of the Utah State University agricultural extension office. "They don't fit the size. They're way under."

As beef cattle, they are usually marketed neighbor to neighbor or sold as locker beef. Instead of neighbors sharing a beef animal, they can get the whole carcass.

"It's a backyard project," he said.

As milkers, they come up udderly short, producing about a 10th of a dairy Hereford, or about as much as a goat. But that may be fine for family use.

The Sorensens will show their Dexters in the upcoming Utah State Fair, which run Sept. 6-16. It will be the first time anyone has shown a miniature cow at the state event, fair coordinator Judy Duncombe said.

"This is a new breed to this area," she said.

The state fair isn't sponsoring the show, set for 7 p.m. Sept. 6 in the show ring. If attendance proves the popularity of the animals, the fair will sanction a Dexter show next year, Duncombe said.

The Sorensens' two acres also provide a home to a horse, three ponies, three goats, a pot bellied pig and other, smaller animals. Their spread has become a popular school field trip destination.

"I'll put them out to pasture and when I want them to come in, I'll holler and they'll come a-running," Pat Sorensen said. "They're sweet little cows."

While the animals will likely never become commercially viable, as a family cow in suburbia, the Dexter fits in.

"People want to be self-sufficient," she said.

She sells to folks who want their own family cow to produce a daily round of milk. Sometimes they don't want to buy commercially produced milk from the store because of a fear of chemicals.

However, milk production is tightly regulated, Burrell said. When milk producing cows are put on antibiotics, for example, their milk is dumped.


E-MAIL: rodger@desnews.com