The results are in, and the story of the last Legacy red Dexter cow is looking a little more hopeful.
Paradise Farm in Dinwiddie County has made several strides this year in bringing back the American Legacy red Dexter cattle, thanks to a careful breeding program led by a former NASA employee-turned-farmer.
DNA testing conducted by the University of California, Davis shows a calf born July 7 carries three genes critical to the American red Dexter restoration project: red, dun and chrondro, said Gene Bowen, owner of Paradise Farm.
“DNA test results are in, and the calf, Legacy Lilith of Paradise, has turned out to be the trifecta calf,” Bowen wrote in an email.
So, what does all that mean?
First, it gives hope that Legacy Lilith of Paradise, the newly-born calf, will give birth to a ginger-colored calf when she is fully grown and ready to breed.
Red and dun are both cow hair colors that are red or brown — lighter than the typical black Dexter.
Chrondro is short for chondrodysplasia, the Dexter form of dwarfism that gives them short legs, Bowen said. It makes a short, stout animal and does not produce birth defects unless both parents are chondro carriers.
Lilith and her future breeding partner, a bull named Legacy Titian of Paradise, are two keys to bringing back the red Dexter in America.
The last known Legacy red Dexter, Wee Gaelic Ms. Fermoy, died in 2009 or 2010 at age 19.
Despite a decade between them, Ms. Fermoy is the biological mother to Lilith; in 2008, Ms. Fermoy was artificially inseminated with semen from a red-carrying bull. Seven embryos were flushed from her uterus and preserved for future use.
Lilith, the trifecta calf, is Mr. Fermoy’s seventh and last embryo that was carried by another Dexter cow named Olwen.
Bad luck befell five of the other embryos; one other cow is still living that came from an embryo, called Legacy Eve of Paradise.
Eve birthed the “jackpot bull,” Titian, in March. He is Eve’s first bull calf that carried the red gene.
While Eve and Lilith are technically sisters, Bowen said “line breeding” cattle can be effective if they don’t both carry the same negative traits. Plus, line breeding is the only option because red genes are now so rare.
Bowen plans to continue breeding until he retires from farming, at which time he will pass the torch to Tracey Leftwish, a deputy with the Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Office and a farm owner in New Kent.
She is considering buying land in James City County to continue Bowen’s breeding operation. Leftwich has a Traditional red Dexter herd, and would keep the herd separate.
Leftwich is in no hurry to take the program from Bowen, however.
“Praying he is around for a very, very long time,” she said.