Paul Dixon raises cattle and farms about three miles from where his pioneer great-grandfather bought land from Great Western Land and Cattle Co. in the 1800s. Dixon Farm & Ranch is just down the road from the original Dixon tract, west of Idaho Falls in the New Sweden area and contiguous to land owned by his parents, Don and Georgia Dixon. He raises about 550 acres of alfalfa, malt barley, wheat and straw on owned and rented ground.
Paul’s great-grandfather and grandfather fed calves with hay raised on their farms. His father, Don, bought heifers when he got out of the Army in 1950. Paul was 8 years old when he got his first calf. His herd now numbers 105-head of Angus/Hereford cows, including a few belonging to his parents and his sons, Matt and Wyatt.
One cow has been assigned to each grandchild, who receives the proceeds when it’s sold each year.
“I guess they’d be the sixth generation,” he says of the grandkids and their tie to the Dixon livestock tradition. “Having a cow gets them interested in the cattle deal, and puts some money toward college. They already love to go to the ranch, so it just connects them even more.”
Cattle are managed in a seasonal cycle. They come home in November and are turned out on harvested grain fields and hay fields after their final cutting of the year. Calves are weaned, separated and fed twice a day for sale in January or February. Paul selects replacements from his own heifers, and buys quality Angus bulls from local reputation breeders.
Cows are fed in the fields until close to calving time, when they come in to corrals protected by windbreaks of straw and hay to calve.
“We’d rather keep them out as long as possible,” Paul says. “Sometimes the weather doesn’t work with you, but I hate bringing them in until we have to.”
Paul is a former Bonneville County Cattlemen’s Association board member. His son, Matt, is now on the board. Paul currently represents District IV as an Idaho Hay and Forage Association director.
Around May 10 of the new year, the pairs and bulls go to grass at the 1,200-acre ranch in the Centennial Valley of Montana east of Lima. Dixon cattle have been going to the Montana ranch for 50 years, and a Dixon cousin is a neighbor on one side.
Pasturing cattle in two states involves extra time, paperwork and expense.
But Paul explains, “It’s good for the cattle ― they immediately start to slick up and gain weight. And the ranch has really drawn the family together. Everyone helps.”
For branding and roundups, the crew usually includes Don and Georgia, Paul and his wife, Evelyne, their five children and the grandkids.
Proximity to Yellowstone National Park means the ranch is within a Designated Surveillance Area for brucellosis. The Park’s elk and bison are known carriers of the disease, and pose a risk of disease transmission to livestock. As a result, the Dixons must have a yearly negative brucellosis blood test on every cow in addition to permanent ID tags, health certificates, brand inspections by the respective Idaho and Montana authorities, and a seasonal grazing permit for Montana. The bulls also have a negative test for trichomoniasis.
“You add all of that, and the trucking, and yeah, it’s expensive,” Paul says. A local cowboy rides the pastures regularly, “And we go up at least every two weeks to check on them. It’s a lot of miles, but just part of running cattle in two states ― and being near the park.”
The Montana ranch is remote, quiet and beautiful. The cabin is said to have been the original Armstead train depot, moved sometime before the town was inundated by the reservoir created by Clark Canyon Dam. They recently rebuilt the corrals, and work continually on fences. Saddle horses are kept at the ranch all summer, and Paul’s wife, Evelyne, cherishes long rides with the grandkids.
They round up twice in the fall: mid-October to Bangs to vaccinate heifers, then around Nov. 1 to gather, load on semi-trucks and haul home. Back in Idaho, the pairs are turned out on crop aftermath and hay ground and the cycle begins again.
Of the cattle enterprise he adds, “It’s a lot of hard work. But we get to see miracles every day ― the baby calves, the grass growing . . . It’s amazing.”