Jacqueline Crackel was excited this spring when she received a letter notifying her that her small cattle farm was nominated for the University of Minnesota Lake County Extension Farm Family of the Year.

"It was nice to be nominated," Crackel said. "But then to get that letter saying 'congratulations,' that was really exciting. I couldn't believe it."

The Crackel family purchased the 40-acre farm near Two Harbors in 1999 and brought with them a leopard appaloosa mare. The family also raised chickens and built a barn. Crackel had plans to start Encampment River Farms, named for the river that runs through her property.

Crackel raised horses and bred dogs for several years, but she always wanted to start her own cattle farm. Her dream became a reality three years ago when she purchased her first bull and two heifers from a friend.

"My childhood friend's husband kept talking about Dexter cows," Crackel said. "He said they were really docile and they don't get huge. He'd raised cattle all his life and was tired of dealing with the bigger cattle. So he decided to get into them (Dexters) and I bought my first three cows from them."

Dexter cattle are a smaller, friendly breed of cattle that can be used for milk, bred for beef or used like oxen. The breed is considered a recovering breed by the Livestock Conservancy, after years of being listed as a rare breed. Crackel breeds her cows to be sold or bred.

"I'm trying to build up my herd, while also selling some of the calves to help cover the cost of hay," Crackel said.

She puts her associate of applied science veterinary degree to use when working with the pregnant cows. She's also a member of the American Dexter Cattle Association.

Crackel is trying to breed cattle that will produce high-quality milk by tracking the calves' beta casein protein levels.

"There are many kids today who have problems with milk, so they're looking for milk that meets the old A2A2 standard because it can be easier on their stomachs," Crackel said.

A2 milk is produced only from cows that have two copies of the A2 gene for beta casein. Some research has shown that A2A2 cows' milk is easier to digest than that from A1 cows, which is mainly produced by cows in the U.S.

About 15 of the farm's 40 acres are cleared for use, though Crackel said she hopes to continue to make trails and clear away more land. Her cattle help care for the land by grazing and producing manure. She is looking for farmers who are interested in the manure for their gardens.

The farm is a family operation. Crackel's husband, Gene, helps with maintenance around the farm. Their son, Levi, a graduate of Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Wadena, helps with chores including fencing, feeding and watering. The Crackels' daughter, Lydia, is enrolled at North Dakota State University in Fargo after helping around the operation for many years.