Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Will the cattle come?

Last year Paul and I spent about an hour in the exotics barn at the Puyallup Fair, totally enamored of the variety of critters our local farms raise. We especially loved the Scottish Highland cattle. Maybe someday, we thought, maybe someday.

Now that we're on our land, we realize it hasn't been used in at least the past four years, but more likely longer than that. There is a barn (needs paint and a new roof), a fenced paddock, and the rest of the remaining 2+ acres not taken up by house/yard, barn and paddock is fenced and mostly ready to roll. The weeds and wildflowers are getting to be nearly knee high. The wild apple trees dotting the pasture are blossoming. The pheasant loves the tall grass and visits twice a day. But wouldn't it be better to put our land to use?

Somehow (and I truly can't remember, it's all a blur) those Scottish Highlands came to mind. I did some Internet and learned they are incredibly hardy animals, 40% leaner meat than your regular beef, and browse for food (they'd take care of our tiny bit of scotch broom in no time). They also calve easily, are good mothers, gentle animals, and don't really need much shelter. Wow.

Somehow we found ourselves emailing with a farmer nearby who breeds them for meat and for calves, asking if he had any meat to try. We visited him last Sunday morning, both Paul and I grinning from ear to ear as we walked through his pasture, calmly coming to a stop in the midst of his herd, who all continued munching their grass, nearly oblivious (but I'm sure looking out of the corner of their big eyes). The farmer generously gave us two T-bones, some stew meat and hamburger from his freezer to try. We ate the T-bones that night...YUMMY! "Sign me up," I said.

The farmer is moving and has some animals for sale, most of them registered. He was very helpful and patient, not only answering our millions of questions on the spot, but continuing to respond to emailed questions the past couple of days as they come up. I've reached out to a couple other highland breeders, too, for information and an idea of what animals they might have for sale. It was recommended we start with a bred cow and her calf, or a bred cow and another heifer or steer. My brain is trying to wrap around the idea of how one decides which registered animal to butcher. Butcher the wrong one, and I can envision needing to buy another animal, or going without meat for a couple years longer than planned. It seems like a Rubik's Cube to me.

I just left a voicemail message with the Thurston Conservation District, which has a great .pdf doc online about rural living in the county, hoping to schedule an appointment for someone to come out and assess the condition of our pasture and fences, offer suggestions for placement of additional cross fencing to further break our L-shaped pasture into paddocks, and possibly test our soil so we know what we might need to do to keep our land in top shape going forward.

I can envision three or four shaggy animals in our pasture. How sublime! Will it happen? I'll keep you posted...we sure hope so!


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