Written by Lindsay Haymes, OFN Contributor
Vance and Gloria Mattson started with 10 Angus cows when they first moved to Everton, Mo., in 1999. But that just wasn't really cutting it for them. "Gloria wasn't really comfortable with them, so we started looking for something smaller," Vance said.
Their search sent them to Farm Fest where a few breeds caught their eye, but ultimately, it was the Dexter cattle that won them over. By 2003 they had a few of their own, and, as Vance put it, "it all started from there."
In 2005 Vance started showing their Dexters, and after a less-than-impressive first go in the show ring, they decided they needed to make some changes. They bought a new herd sire in 2007 and took Grand Champion at the Missouri Dexter Breeders show that very year. The awards continued straight through until their daughters and their son-in-law got into the Dexter cattle business. "They've been kicking my booty around the arena ever since," Vance laughed. Their children, Juli, with her husband, Kevin Holland, and Rebecca Gygax, with her husband, Joe, purchased their Dexters in 2009.
Success in the show ring was not the only compelling characteristic this family found in Dexters. "They are low-feed, and low-maintenance," Rebecca noted. "In the heat, when pastures get low, they don’t consume as much, so the pastures can sustain them longer."
“Dexters require only a half-acre of good pasture per head. This low-feed requirement is notable during the winter feeding months as well," added Joe.
"They can utilize land on small farms; they're kind of like goats in that they'll eat a lot of the weeds that other cattle breeds won’t,” Vance said.
And, their meat and milk is desirable as well. The milk has 4 percent butterfat content. "Because of their small frame, our steers dress out around 58-60 percent,” Juli noted. "Their cuts are the ideal serving size and are nicely marbled. A Dexter steer is perfect for a one family freezer," said Juli, adding, “Dexters are a wonderful size and are of good temperament for our youth to work with and show in 4-H, or as FFA projects. The last three heifers we sold at Autumn Woods were all to youth owners 13 years old and under.”
"This is not an animal you take to the stockyard, they are a private treaty sale animal. The two organizations we belong to have yearly Dexter auctions that many utilize if they don’t sell off the farm," Vance noted.
"There is a high demand for Dexter cattle right now as the number of small acre hobby and homestead farms are increasing,” stated Rebecca.
Juli and Rebecca have smaller herds than their parents do today, but that doesn't mean they're any less involved with the breed. All three have positions with Dexter cattle associations. Vance is the Region 1 Director of the American Dexter Cattle Association. Juli is the Secretary of the Board for the Missouri Dexter Breeders Association (MDBA), and Rebecca is the webmaster of the MDBA.
"Missouri has the largest state Dexter show and sale which is hosted by the Missouri Dexter Breeders Association. It draws breeders and buyers from across the nation." Juli noted.
"In fact," she added, "We'll be hosting the American Dexter Cattle Associations National show, at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds next year on June 18-22, 2013."
“The Dexter shows are getting competitive and we feel that is great. What's good for the show ring is good for the breed. For us, showing is fun and the people are great, but it also helps keep us from getting barn-blind; it keeps us on our toes, thinking what we can do to continue to improve our stock." Rebecca said.
And what does this improved Dexter that Vance, Juli and Rebecca are working toward look like? For one; shorter, Vance noted. "Ours were getting a little tall pushing 43-44 inches tall. The cows should be 36-42 inches, we are introducing new sires to shorten the cows a little."
Further characteristics of a quality Dexter include a straight top and bottom line, a round rump, good feet and legs, and a deep body.
The Mattson family is originally from Wisconsin, but came to Missouri for the four seasons and a more reasonable cost of living. Vance and Gloria came to Missouri first, and then their children followed. Their son Nathan, his wife, Shawnna, and their children, McKayla and Hailey, live down the road, and aren't into Dexters… yet, said Vance, laughing. Juli and Kevin Holland own their own small farm, Autumn Woods Dexters. Nearby, Rebecca and Joe, and their children, Hayden and Kaitlyn Gygax, own Maple Hill Dexters.
However, the name that started this whole family adventure is Sac Valley Ranch, which is owned and operated by Vance and Gloria Mattson. Truly, Dexters are a common passion and bond for this family.
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