The UK’s split from the EU since 1 January meant two rare breed societies have had to set up a new EU herdbook in which to register animals. These breeds are the Dexter and Irish Moiled.


Dexters are a native Irish rare breed of dual-purpose cattle. They are thought to be the smallest breed of cattle in Europe.

Dexter and Kerry cattle come from the same gene pool. In the second half of the 19th Century, Dexters became very popular in Britain and commanded high prices.

As a result, most Dexters in Ireland were exported to Britain. In the early 20th century the Irish Kerry Society stopped accepting Dexters for registration.

In Britain, separate herdbooks were set up for Dexters and Kerrys, and effectively they became separate breeds.

For a period of approximately 50 years, no Dexters were registered in Ireland. In 1969, the UCD veterinary college bought a number of Dexters at the Shadwell herd dispersal in England and reintroduced them to Ireland.

A small number of other herds got going in Ireland in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, with more interest in the six counties than in the rest of Ireland.

Support for Dexters came with REPS and subsequent schemes. These schemes made it viable to get into the breed and the breed has gone from strength to strength since then. The national herd is now approximately 5,000 animals.

Up until the end of 2020, Irish breeders were registering their stock with the UK Dexter Cattle Society (UKDCS).

However, the Department of Agriculture contacted the Irish Dexter group in mid-2020 to say that in order to be eligible for any schemes supported by the Department or by the EU, the animals would have to be registered with an EU-based society.

Brexit would mean that Irish breeders could no longer register their animals with the UKDCS.

The Irish Dexter Cattle Society (IDCS) was created in late 2020 and had its breeding programme and rules of procedure approved by the Department in early 2021.

Approximately three-quarters of breeders who had been registering their animals with the UKDCS had joined the IDCS by the end of the first quarter and members continue to join.

The society is now up and running and is starting to focus more on markets, marketing and helping breeders with sales and purchases of breeding stock.

ABP has partnered with the group for a number of years and has bought a significant number of animals each year and given a premium price for the meat.

In addition, a number of other outlets have been set up by breeders around the country.

Some supply restaurants, some run box schemes. Others are partnering with butchers or other outlets and some are trading at farmers markets.

Irish Moiled

The Irish Moiled Cattle Society was formed in 1926 to develop the breed and create and maintain a herdbook.

Much support was attracted and cattle from all over Ireland were inspected, selected and entered in the herdbook.

However, with the introduction of more specialised dairy and beef breeds, numbers of Irish Moileds began to decline.

The society declined in tandem with the cattle numbers and was disbanded 1966.

The decline was so dramatic that by the 1970s the breed had been reduced to fewer than 30 females.

In 1982 the society was revived with the encouragement of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST).

Since then, numbers have increased substantially with help from valuable research and guidance from both the Trust and the Genetics Department of Liverpool University.

In 1998, the society became a company limited by guarantee and also gained charitable status. Directors are elected annually by members.

Irish Moileds are now classified as Category 4 (At risk) on the RBST watch list compared with Category 1 (critical) in early 2000s.

There are 500 active breeding females in Northern Ireland, 250 active breeding females in the Republic of Ireland and 125 active breeding females in Britain.

In 2021, following the UK’s exit from the EU, the unanimous decision was made by the directors to move the society’s company operations to the Republic of Ireland to ensure the society and the breed moved forward in this new era as one united identity. The aim was that no one would be left behind, or excluded from any part of the society, or their animals from the herdbook.

The first action required was moving the company address to a place under the jurisdiction of the EU. An address in Co Donegal was selected as recognition of the origins of the breed and the society continues to enter pedigree Irish Moileds into the Irish Moiled Cattle Society herdbook.

The Irish Moiled Cattle Society held its first ever sale in 2020 through H & H Auctioneers. Due to the pandemic the sale was held via an online timed auction, open to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain. Animals never had to leave the farm until sold and were exportable within a week of the sale and delivered within in a week.

Cattle were delivered to all parts of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain, selling to a new record price for the breed and recording a 100% clearance of females.

Due to its phenomenal success and the platform of being able to market to a much wider audience, the society is holding a second online timed auction next month from 6 May to 8 May. It will offer mostly males but a select group of females also.