Former NASA employee hoping to bring back near extinct cattle breed
NEW KENT, Va. — Gene Bowen grew up on a farm before working for NASA.
He was an employee for 35 years working on technology that led to 3D printing. After his retirement he returned to his farming roots.
He found land in New Kent, Va., that he named Paradise Farm after his grandmother, Mary Paradise. He soon became interested in the miniature Irish Dexter cow, a breed near extinction. Bowen hopes he can bring back this almost forgotten breed.
Bowen started out as a machinist and worked his way up from there, eventually becoming head of numerical control.
His main role at NASA was to program computers and printers to make parts needed for planes stationed on an overseas base.
“They wanted to park planes on bases and not have to worry about needing a repair and having the part shipped in,” Bowen said. “So I worked on a project so they could make parts anywhere.”
Bowen was born on a farm in Arkansas and said his nearest neighbor was five miles away.
“Our farm was primitive,” he said. “We didn’t have electricity, running water, et cetera. My uncle kept cattle. I loved the farm. Then daddy came home from World War II. We left to live with him where he was stationed in Fort Eustace. When I graduated from high school I started my career at Langley in Hampton, Va. My father instilled in me a love for all things mechanical. After I retired, I felt the urge to go back to my roots and went back to farming.”
The miniature red Dexter breed originated in Ireland where there wasn’t much land for grazing. Families chose Dexter’s because they are much smaller, eat less and don’t need as much room to roam.
Dexters became popular as a novelty item when Anheuser Busch and Texas A&M imported them to the United States. Then the Great Depression and World War II struck, and the time for novelties was over. “The focus was on getting as much meat on the table as you could; because there was not enough to go around,” Bowen said. “They (Dexters) just didn’t fit in with the mentality.”
There is some confusion about just how many red Dexter’s there are. Many people mistake the larger Kerry cow as an Irish Dexter.
The confusion comes from the legacy journals that were kept for cattle being shipped from Europe to the United States. Many Kerry cows, also from Ireland, were listed in the journals as Dexters.
Bowen became involved in the efforts to save the breed when a woman in Maryland contacted him looking for a fine cow to breed with her Dexter.
“She managed to buy the last living Dexter from the original bloodlines. She wanted to breed it with a quality cow,” said Bowen
But, saving a near extinct breed is very much like rocket science. The Maryland breeder “asked if she could bring her bull here to breed with my cow, Ms. Fermoy, that was 18 years old. She could get pregnant but couldn’t carry it. So we had to treat her with hormones and harvest her eggs. We had seven good embryos. Only two survived. One we immediately implanted into one of my cows. This resulted in the cow named Eve of Paradise. She isn’t red — this one is black; but it carries the red gene.”
The red gene is recessive so it takes two red carrying cows to create a red one. Even then there is only a 25 percent chance that a red Dexter will be created.
Eve recently gave birth to Titian of Paradise, also known as the “jackpot” bull. Titian is not red but he carries the red gene and will hopefully one day father a red calf, Bowen said.
Titian will be bred with Eve and her calf if it’s female, he said. Inbreeding is always a concern; but in situations like this, it must be done, he said.
Genetic testing and knowing each animal’s traits helps. It will take generations but in this way a pure bloodline of Dexter will exist again.
The Dexter is gaining popularity. People are more aware and want to raise their own cattle for milk and beef. The Dexter is perfect for the family that has a small parcel of land, Bowen said. They are also gentle and some families use them only for milk and as pets.
“People have come from as far away as New York just to pet Bowen’s Dexters.” Bowen said recalling one visitor in particular.
“A man came who was afraid to go out into the pasture. His father had taught him that bulls are notorious for being mean and are dangerous.
“The man’s father had told him, ‘Don’t let me catch you in that pasture with that bull.’
“So I took him out in the pasture. He was scared and whispered, ‘Isn’t that your bull?’ “
“I whispered, ‘yes it is. Do you want to go pet him?’
“The man replied in a whisper, ‘We can do that? I’m afraid.’
“Pet him on the shoulder,” I said. “The man shivered when he touched my bull. I shivered too. Then the bull shivered. The man started giggling. He couldn’t wait to go back and tell his father he had petted a bull.
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