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In lightning and pouring rain, new hope for the American red Dexter cattle is born

Lilith's first day at the feed trough on Monday, July 8, 2019. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Gene Bowen)
Lilith’s first day at the feed trough on Monday, July 8, 2019. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Gene Bowen)

After a few bouts of bad luck, another jackpot calf has been born at Paradise Farm in Dinwiddie County.

On Sunday around 8 p.m. — in the middle of pouring rain and lightning — a Dexter cow named Olwen gave birth to a seemingly healthy female calf.

The calf, named Legacy Lilith of Paradise, is one more puzzle piece in bringing back an “extinct” type of Dexter cattle. 

Lilith’s owner, farmer and retired NASA employee Gene Bowen, has been working to bring back the red Dexter in America, a small, stocky, ginger-colored breed of cattle from Ireland that no longer has any known living counterparts.

“It is a heifer! Just what we were hoping for,” Bowen wrote in an email Monday.

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Lilith will follow in the footsteps of Eve, another Dexter cow that carries the red-colored gene and provides hope for breeding a true red color. When Eve becomes too old to give birth, the baton will pass on to Lilith.

In a twist of science and careful breeding, Lilith and her red-breeding predecessor, Eve, are technically fraternal twins.

It’s somewhat fitting, as Lilith and Eve were the first women in the Bible, Bowen said.

Both Eve and Lilith were born from eggs that were fertilized in 2008 in a cow named Wee Gaelic Ms. Fermoy, the last known red Legacy Dexter in America. She was inseminated using sperm from a dead bull named Rafter Dee Finn Bennach, who was black but carried the red gene.

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Seven fertilized embryos total were taken from Ms. Fermoy in 2008. Lilith is the last embryo to be born, as bad luck befell the other five.

Bowen said Olwen gave birth in the middle of foul weather Sunday night, just hours after other Dexter farmers left Paradise Farm.

“Dexter cattle don’t have to be coddled,” Bowen said. “They’re a sturdy breed. What my vet says all the time is true: Leave them alone.”

Olwen and Lilith on July 8, 2019. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Gene Bowen)
Olwen and Lilith on July 8, 2019. (WYDaily/Courtesy of Gene Bowen)

Bowen said he went out into the pasture to find Olwen in the dark Sunday, bringing only a dog and a flashlight.

He found Olwen in a “nest,” which Dexters will construct before giving birth. 

Olwen greeted Bowen with a protective growl, which sent the dog running in the other direction, but the calf stood up and walked “straight over” to him.

With just a flashlight, Bowen checked and discovered the calf was a heifer — a female.

On Monday, Bowen weighed the calf, which came in around 25 pounds and is a little on the smaller side for a newborn Dexter. 

Bowen said he believes Lilith is healthy, and is in the process of sending her DNA — some tail hairs — to California for genetic testing. Those results could be ready as soon as a week from when it’s postmarked.

His only concern is Lilith may carry a short-legged gene, making her a bit shorter than the already-stocky Dexters.

Bowen said the only issue with the short-legged gene is Lilith cannot be bred with a bull carrying the short-legged gene; otherwise, a disabled calf could be born.

“The calf is vigorous, she’s healthy and energetic,” Bowen said.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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