Furry Highlanders Keep Cool Temperament, Physique

City Slicker

By Linda J. Haley

(Town of Lenox, NY) I was invited to drop by Ridgeville Farms on Gee Road in Canastota. I arrived to meet Wendi Campbell, a warm and friendly woman who along with her husband Matt raise grass-fed heritage breed highland cattle on their 140-acre farm. Ridgeville normally raises chickens for eggs, too, but this year so many calves arrived, chickens have been postponed a bit.

As I was heading out to the pasture to meet the cows, I noticed a very busy Muscovy duck mom with her own herd of ducklings. Wendi explained they use the ducks and chickens for natural pest and fly control on the farm. The ducks are loose, but the chickens are used with an Amish “chicken tractor.”

This portable coop follows the herd as it rotates pasture lands. The chickens’ main job is to clean up pastures after the cattle have grazed. Wendi brings me over to meet “the girls.” There are calves everywhere. They are adorable – like big, furry teddy bears. And the cows are so … calm. That’s weird, usually cows move away from people, especially when they have young ones, unless, of course, it’s feeding time.

Apparently one of the reasons Wendi and Matt chose this breed is because of their mellow temperament. Wendi introduced me to Esther, Naomi, Ruth and Helen. All names from the bible. Neat. Ridgeville chooses different themes for naming the herd each year. Past names include constellations, wines, cheeses, cars and spices. Wendi says thinking back the names remind her of family events happening at the time, like a cow timeline. I just think how funny it would be to call for a Chardonnay or Cabernet and have a cow come running.

The girls are very receptive to me and proceed to show off their babies. Everyone looks completely content. This baffles me. It is a sweltering 90-plus-degree day, and these cows are wearing fur coats that would shame a supermodel. Highland cattle get their name because they are from the highlands of Scotland, land of cold, wet and snow … sound familiar?

These cattle sport those huge horns and thick shaggy coats. I am in a tank top, hair up, sweating buckets and sticking to my camera. What gives? Wendi explains that even though highland cattle have very little body fat, their coats are actually keeping them cool. The double-layer system of hide plus hair is insulating them.

Upon closer inspection she’s right: the only thing sweating out here are the people! Highland cattle are a slow-growing breed. They are truly happiest outside, needing just a windbreak, food and water to be healthy. The Campbells used to bring them in each night until they realized they’re happier and healthier in the pasture.

What do they feed them? Grass. JUST grass. The Campbells have 45 registered stock animals and are members of the American Highland Association. They raise grass-fed Highlands because they love their calm nature and being able to offer the public a lower-fat alternative than the conventionally grain-fed beef breeds.

They have learned many lessons along the way and asked me to please give “shout-outs” of gratitude to the Madison County Soil & Water Conservation District for enormous help in making things better and easier for the farm; thanks to Troy Bishopp, Jessica Hiehm and Joanne for their rotational grazing education and to Big Brook Carpenters, the father-and-son team who made building their barn a positive experience.

At the end of my tour, I noticed a boneyard of sorts. Cool. They use everything at Ridgeville. Just in case you need a gift for that person who has everything, they have long horns and cattle skulls for anyone looking to customize a Cadillac, fancy up a barn or westernize their homestead.

What a cool addition to your décor – just saying! Thanks Matt and Wendi!

Linda J. Haley is a freelance writer specializing in rural and agricultural topics. She can be reached at linda@m3pmedia.com.

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