TLH - Newsletter (englisch)
Used courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co. USA

Used courtesy of Dickinson Cattle Co. USA

Darol Dickinson: a Lifetime with Texas Longhorns

von Charly Bonifaz

DCC Ranch e-News #264 - 12-31-21

by Heather Smith Thomas

It is an honor for our family to be featured in The Nevada Rancher Magazine with a 2 page color spread. Thanks to Heather Thomas the author.�The interest in Texas Longhorns in Nevada is no surprise due to the big range country and long distances to water. Nevada fits Texas Longhorns like Burr Rabbit fit the briar patch. There are great new sales of Texas Longhorns currently going to Nevada.

The Dickinson family - Darol, Linda, Joel, Dela, Kirk, and Teu
The Dickinson family - Darol, Linda, Joel, Dela, Kirk, and Teu

Darol Dickinson was born in 1942 in Fort Worth, Texas and has led a life as colorful as his Texas Longhorn cattle. He’s been an artist, illustrator, photographer, writer, cattle breeder, cattle judge, and has been involved with a number of breed and cattle organizations — and a passionate supporter of beef-type Texas Longhorns, world-wide.

“I am a Will James fan. He was an artist, and wrote books, and his goal was to make enough money to buy a ranch near Pryor, Montana and raise Longhorn cattle and horses. When I was a little kid, before I could read, my dad read Will James’ book Smoky to me, reading a chapter every night. At the end of the book, Dad and I both cried, and Mom laughed at us. I eventually read every book Will James wrote, and we sell them in our ranch store today. We encourage people to have their kids read Smoky the Cowhorse, Lone Cowboy (Will James’ life story), and other classic books with his great illustrations,” says Dickinson.

“Will James was a better artist than Remington or Russell. He had no photographs to go by but he knew the anatomy of livestock and how they moved. He had a brilliant eye,” Dickinson says. “My early years were formed by Will James. I did paintings and portraits and sold drawings when I was a teenager, selling them from $2 to $5. By the time I went to college I’d sold enough paintings that I was able to just go in and sign up. I asked how much it cost, and wrote them a check.” He was painting portraits of people’s horses and herd bulls during his college years, adamant about having correct details.

When he was doing portraits, he diligently studied anatomy, light and shadow. A veterinarian gave him a medical anatomy book that had drawings showing how to do various surgeries. There were drawings of animal skeletons, mostly cattle, and diagrams of arteries and veins, the inner muscles and outer muscles of the body. These were illustrated layer by layer.

“I practically lived in this 2-inch-thick veterinary manual, to see where all the flow of blood went, and where the veins came to the surface and where every muscle connected. Over time I began to paint horses without hair, putting muscles and veins in the right places, even though I might not have seen those details on the horse — but I knew they were there. With the right light, you could find them,” he says.

He began to paint the inside of a horse, and then put hair on top of that. The result was amazing detail.

Every time he sold a painting he used the money to buy Texas Longhorns or land. By 1979 he quit the painting, constant traveling and taking livestock photographs.

Meanwhile, back in 1963, Darol married Linda Correll. Their ranch headquarters (mobile home & borrowed corrals) was on the high plains of Colorado. Soon their children Kirk, Chad, Joel and Dela were born.

While building the ranch in Colorado, Darol visited any ranch he discovered that had Longhorns — mostly in Texas. “I’d ask them what they would charge if I picked out some cows to buy. I’d pick 3 to 6 head from a herd of 50 to 75 cows, then find another ranch to pick out more. I’d get those paid for, or maybe buy some on credit, and take them home to Colorado. The Texas ranchers rarely turned me down, and usually said they hoped I would find some I liked, and I couldn’t believe they would actually let me pick the best cattle from their herd,” he says.

In 1967 he had 6 cows and bought three more the following year. Before long he had picked the top cattle from 15 Longhorn herds in Texas, collecting the cream of the crop. He started raising herd sires and selling some of the offspring back to the same ranches because they could see the improvement in quality.

He developed a marketing program to sell his calves — and had them pre-sold before weaning. He knew that selling registered calves at the local sale barn wouldn’t work. By 1975 he had 55 cows. He found the top Longhorn bull in the nation, Texas Ranger JP, leased him for 3 breeding seasons and collected semen.

“We started halter breaking all bull calves that were considered for herd sires. As we halter-broke them, we scored them for intelligence. We scored on nervousness, their ease of submission to training and leading, and how quick they learned — and how jumpy they were and whether they would kick you,” says Dickinson.

“Sometimes we’d roll up an overhead door that rattled, as a test, and score the cattle on how much they reacted—whether they were jumpy or just ignored it. After 50 years of scoring, selecting and breeding, we’ve developed some of the highest IQ cattle in the nation. They have the ability to make their own decisions for their own benefit,” he says. They think, instead of just reacting to something.

“As we kept working with the smarter cattle we found they were much quicker and easier to halter break and train. Today our grandkids halter break every bull on the ranch,” he says.

His family is involved with the ranch, and everything is a team effort. Darol says it would not work, without them. “I am the old man who did the early battles, but my boys and hard-working wife ARE the ranch, as I cripple on. I am in my 80th year. Our ranch would not be a success without a great family team.”

By 1979 Dickinson Cattle Co (DCC) had 200 registered cattle and did some embryo transfers. “In 1979 embryologists developed a non-surgical method so we built a facility to do embryo transfer with Longhorn cattle,” says Dickinson.

Dr. Charles Vincent from Kansas State University was a pioneer in the procedure. “He came to the ranch one day each month. During the early 1980’s, at one point in time DCC had 1200 open recipient cows maintained for embryo recipients. We had 87 superior donor cows that were flushed every 50 to 70 days. One day Dr. Vincent transferred 105 hot embryos.” The ranch grew to 2000 cattle on over 20,000 acres in 6 counties.

The cattle breeds with big horns were thought to be challenging to work with; people were afraid to handle them very much. “So we developed a type of side-squeeze chute. It would squeeze in from the side, with wider spaced horizontal bars and no vertical bars,” he explains.

Most cattle chutes in the U.S. have many vertical bars and that’s where legs and horns get caught and broken. “The animals stick a leg or horn through, jump forward and are injured. We developed a chute with open horizontal bars and never had any cattle get hurt in it. Many people came to look at it. A big embryo facility (Rio Vista Genetics) sent one of their guys to look at our chute. He was very friendly and acted like he was interested in Longhorns, but while he was there he measured my chute. Suddenly an exact duplicate of my chute showed up at Rio Vista!” says Dickinson.

“Different chute companies made patterns from my design. About 7 chute companies now make a side-squeeze chute. One by one, these different companies stole my original pattern. We kept building prototypes and finally developed what we call the Bry chute. It is the only chute that you can collapse and fold down to 9 feet x 5 feet x 8 inches for shipping on a pallet. We can ship it Fed-Ex express anywhere in the U.S,” he says.

“We developed the leading-selling squeeze chute in the U.S. — a $1900 chute that’s very sturdy and quiet — while the major companies were building hydraulic chutes that sell for $9000 to $15,000. Our inexpensive chute is totally silent and sits up off the ground safe from rust. You can put any kind of cattle in it — including Yaks, Watusi cattle, Scotch Highland — anything with large horns — and not just Angus,” he says.

The average person who raises cattle in the U.S. has about 19 animals. There are many small operations, in contrast to a few larger ones with thousands of animals. “A person with a small herd cannot afford to buy a $6000 squeeze chute. The Bry sells for $1900 and even with freight we can get it to them for $2300 to $2500,” says Dickinson. This was an idea that worked. He has invented a number of things over the years but has let all of them get away; somebody always stole his ideas.

In the late 1970’s he focused entirely on cattle and immersed himself in Longhorns. “Everything we’ve done since then revolves around the Longhorn business. It’s been great for our family. We have 3 sons and a daughter, and our son Kirk does all the computer work, website, etc. Our youngest son Joel does the AI, embryo transfer and herd management. Now there are 8 grandchildren who work the ranch part-time or full time,” Dickinson says.

In 1993 the Dickinson family made a decision to liquidate the Colorado property and relocate to the Ohio River Valley Grass Lands of eastern Ohio — moving the herd 1338 miles and starting a whole new clientele in the eastern U.S. The move was a difficult but lucrative decision. The current ranch is in the Appalachian foot hills, just under 5000 acres near the historic town of Barnesville, Ohio.

Last year DCC bred 559 cows. They raise all their replacements — rarely buying any outside cattle. “We can’t trust other people’s data so we prefer to raise our own animals. We sell about 500 cattle each year and 300 of those are registered breeding stock. The rest are sold as processed beef through the ranch store. Many people would rather buy meat here at the ranch and come here down a long gravel road than purchase at city stores, because they trust us,” he says.

All DCC cattle sell privately, mostly via the internet. “Highly promoted registered auctions have not proven feasible nor an economical way to sell. There are many unnecessary costs that are passed on to the buyer. We don’t consign our cattle to any auctions or sell at local ‘spit bucket’ sale barns. Most auctions sell at such low prices it’s difficult to be profitable. Anyone who sells cattle through their local cattle auction will never be able to buy land and pay off the mortgage with the proceeds,” he says.

“We had to create some different markets, and do things a lot different. It worked wonderfullywith a breed of cattle that nobody else wanted, and it became great. It was the dusty trail less traveled!” Dickinson says.

The family enterprise includes a ranch store (Head to Tail Store — selling fresh and canned Longhorn meat, plus anything and everything made from Longhorn hides and horns, all of which can also be ordered online) and public ranch tours, where people can see the Longhorns and other exotic cattle. The annual Dickinson Cattle Company’s Customer Appreciation Day is held the last Saturday of every September.

“The Bry chute is also a part of our business, but about 70% of the ranch income is registered cattle sales. We started exporting semen, embryos and cattle in the late 1980’s and have now sent cattle, embryos or semen to 32 countries. We’ve started Longhorn herds on nearly every continent and recently sent semen and embryos to The Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, and Costa Rica. We have developed a network of ranches we deal with, and ship all over the world.”

Texas Longhorn semen and embryos from Dickinson Cattle Co were selected to improve Israeli cattle. In those desert cattle operations, the longevity, disease resistance, calving ease, ability to browse and handle multiple predators were much-needed additions. For instance, Mount Gilboa Ranch in Israel is using DCC Texas Longhorn embryos to change the European cattle genetics to a more desert- rugged breed. Texas Longhorn history traces back to Israel and many stockmen in Israel believe they have good qualities to offer again for the area.

In Nigeria, embryos and semen from DCC Texas Longhorns were introduced into the native humped cattle herds. Nigerians love the pretty colors and also appreciate the fact that Longhorns increase the size of their native cattle.

“DCC started sending semen more than 20 years ago to ranches in Australia. Every 2 or 3 years I sent them semen from a new bull. I’ve sent them 13 bulls now. The quality of the Longhorn cattle in Australia is great; those cattle are just amazing. They have some steers now with horns over 100 inches from tip to tip, from our breeding, ” says Dickinson.

“The Australian breeders are very serious about AI and embryos. It’s a fun country to work with and very exciting. Many Longhorns from Australia are 7/8 or 15/16ths DCC breeding,” he says.

Dickinson has been performance testing his cattle since the early 1970’s, but it was challenging to get the data he wanted. “Back in 1967, I was 24 years old and had 6 cows and calves. I wanted to collect data on their performance. To get weights on the calves at weaning time, I loaded them into a borrowed horse trailer and hauled them 20 miles to the Pikes Peak Co-op that had a truck scale. To weigh the calves, I parked the truck with the trailer backed up over the scale, put a halter on each calf and dragged it out the trailer door and tied that calf standing on the scale. I’d run into the feed store and weigh it, then drag that calf back into the trailer and pull another one out. So I had weights on my very first calves, after hanging them out the back of an old horse trailer,” he says.

At Dickinson Cattle Company, 54 years of performance testing has produced Texas Longhorns with all the great historic virtues plus average birth weight of 62.5 pounds, combined with excellent growth. As an example, one of the DCC’s AI export sires, Cut’n Dried, weighed 64 pounds at birth, with a mature weight of 2202 pounds.

A wide variety of people, from many walks of life, have purchased cattle from the Dickinsons—many of them attracted to the breed because of eye appeal and unique traits. “Some of my customers are people who have no experience with cattle and want to do something fun, and something different from what their neighbors are doing.” Many just need an excuse to have some property out of the cities.

Dickinson sees more hope for the future of the breed in non-cattle people who are attracted to Longhorns. For instance, a singer from Nashville recently came to look at cattle. “That person is buying some land near Nashville and as he gets more land he wants to build a larger Longhorn herd. He wants 10 cows and a bull to get started. Most people realize that land is a wonderful thing to own, but after they buy land they need to have something to do with it — and the wise decision is to raise cattle. Some of them don’t want Angus because everyone in the neighborhood already has Angus and they want something unique,” he says. Longhorns are easy, they take care of themselves.

“DCC has Longhorns, Buelingo (colorful belted cattle) and Watusi so we can put something in their pasture that’s not like anyone else’s cattle. The whole family will enjoy them. I tell people that if they can buy their breeding stock at the local sale barn there won’t be much future in it,” says Dickinson.

He has written several books including Horn Stew (a collection of stories about people who produced great horses and cattle), Filet of Horn (an autobiographical collection of interesting business ventures), and a how-to-book on Livestock Photography. “I’ve written about the business of raising livestock and how horse and cattle people promoted their genetics and either did well or did not do well, and the interesting details why they did or did not do well, ” he says.

“When I’d go to someone’s ranch, they’d often explain to me their philosophy of what they were doing. Some of them were doing things great and others struggled along and never got anywhere. Some plans just don’t work. ” he explains.

He tells about an Indian Tribe in Dulce, New Mexico that stole a truckload of bulls from his ranch. He has sold cattle to many celebrities (who actually paid for them) including Andre the Giant (who was a world-champion wrestler) and George Lucas (at Lucas Film Company) who used Longhorn cattle for special effects in his Jurassic Park movie. “We’ve sold cattle to Colonel Oliver North and a lot of cattle to Red McCombs who used to own the Minnesota Vikings. Longhorn cattle appeal to a wide range of very successful people, and they are not raising them just for their pounds of meat; they are raising them because they like them,” says Dickinson.

“Many people think they need to be big to make their business sustainable so they borrow a lot of money (and pay a lot of interest). Sometimes this doesn’t work out,” he says. “To be successful in the registered cattle business a person must have unique-value genetics, be innovative, create a product that people want, and then market it successfully,” and this is something that Dickinson Cattle Co has accomplished very nicely.

| The Nevada Rancher | December 2021 |

Click on the link and enjoy the whole December issue. If you have never read the historic old Nevada Rancher magazine, you will enjoy it.�

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Dickinson Cattle Co., Inc.; 35000 Muskrat Rd.; Barnesville, OH 43713; 740 758-5050