Dutson focuses on breeding Red Angus cattle on his ranch
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
SISTERS, Ore. -- When Thayne Dutson retired as dean of Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences in 2008, he did anything but put his feet up and relax.
Instead, he went right to work on the cattle ranch in Central Oregon that he and his wife bought and operated as minor partners with another rancher in 1995.
"We operated for a few years in partnership with others, but mostly we had other people managing our cattle for us while I was dean," he said.
Today, Dutson and his wife Missy are the sole owner-operators of the 235-acre, irrigated ranch near Sisters that produces registered Red Angus in an area considered a stronghold for that breed in Oregon.
Choosing to remain active on the ranch -- "I still move some of the wheel lines" -- Dutson is unique in his area in that he practices management-intensive grazing, frequently moving cattle from one section of pasture to another.
"I confine the cows so they eat what I want them to eat, when I want them to eat," he said.
The goal, he said, is managing pastures and cattle to keep the pastures actively growing and the cattle from getting too fat.
Dutson said that Red Angus became a breed in the late 1940s and early '50s, when the Red Angus Breeders Association was founded. The breed, solely because of its red color, is actually an outcast from Black Angus cattle herds, even though Red Angus cattle carry similar genetics, he said.
Red Angus cattle are the result when recessive red genes from Black Angus parents express themselves.
Dutson produces mainly breeding bulls and heifers.
"The breeding bulls primarily go to commercial operations, but occasionally we'll have a purebred operation buy one of our bulls," he said. "Red heifers, most of those with top-end genetics, go back into our cow herd."
That herd, which has been aggressively culled to achieve the desired genetics, has grown from 28 head, when Dutson retired, to over 60 today, and will increase to 75 in 2013. Some of those cows are purchased.
Only a few of the bulls and heifers are sold as feeders or finished out and sold as locker beef.
The attributes of Red Angus that drew Dutson to the breed include the cows' "mothering abilities" and "excellent" meat quality.
"Good marbling, good rib eye -- they have very good dispositions," he said. "If we have one that's a little bit wild, she doesn't last long around here."
Dutson, who was raised near Idaho Falls, Idaho, and earned a Ph.D. in meat science and muscle biology from Michigan State University, runs a mostly forage-based operation.
"We buy some grains for growing up heifers. Our bulls, we put into a feedlot before bull sales," he said.
Cows are pastured until they produce calves in January and February, and then put on hay until new grass grows in the spring. Their hay is raised on the ranch.
Dutson remains friends with and, in a small way, a cattle breeding partner of Hal Schudel's, a nearby Black Angus rancher who founded what eventually became the world's largest Christmas tree farm: Holiday Tree Farms of Corvallis.
Dutson said he enjoys staying in touch with former colleagues.
"Every now and again somebody will stop by and I stay in touch with email. I don't get off the ranch very often," he said.
He said he misses the students, their activities and working with OSU's "innovative faculty."