By: Linda Haley
It’s time once again for Open Farm Day in Madison County. I’ve been asked to visit select farms to offer folks a sneak peak at just a few of our participating farms.
Today’s visit was to 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+ 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 Campbell’s used to bring them in each night until they realized they’re happier & healthier in the pasture.
What do they feed them? Grass, JUST grass. The Campbell’s currently 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: Madison County Soil & Water for their enormous help in making things better and easier for the farm. Thanks to Troy Bishop, Jessica Hiehm and Joanne for their rotational grazing education, and to Big Brook Carpenters, the father & son team that made building their barn a positive experience.
Stop by on Open Farm Day on July 28th. Wendi and Matt will be giving farm tours, showing off the happy herd and offering plenty of other activities to keep folks busy. Just in case you need a gift for that person who has everything they also have long horns and cattle skulls for anyone looking to customize a Cadillac, fancy up a barn or westernize their homestead. See you there!