THE BLOG

Holly Cow! Hairy Cows!

08/20/2013 11:01 am ET | Updated Oct 20, 2013

Young Holly let me pet her, reluctantly, but the others ran away in fear. Even the ones resting down in the shade abruptly stood up and decamped. I scared them. Even though they are hundreds of pounds heavier than me, the beasts were afraid of me. Or maybe they are just shy.

It is true that these cows have very little interaction with humans, as they are very low maintenance, so human encounters are not necessary to them. Their robust disposition allows them to live outside all year long, in any climate, and here in Florida, they simply eat the fields of green grass they wander on, switching pasture at will; alert! greener grass on the east side! They have small size calves, allowing them to give birth alone, basically never needing any help. The owners of the farm only know of the new baby cows when they appear in the grass.

I am talking about a specific kind of breed I just visited in a farm located in North Florida. They are called Belted Galloways, as their ancestors came from the rugged southwestern seacoast of Scotland called Galloway. Belted because they all have a wide white band around their middle, and so are nicknamed Belties. Life was harsh in this part of Scotland, and the cows have survival traits that other breeds don't have.

The shaggy animals come in three colors: red brown (the rarest), black, and dun color (soft light tan beige), always with a white belt. They are hairy and sport some long dreads sometimes on their heads, a few on their tails. Some even have dangling long hair underneath their carriage. They shed a little in the summer, and this being a hot state, they don't have as long hairs as some of their sisters up north, where you could easily knit a few scarves come winter (has anyone tried?)

Because of the double layer of fur they carry, their bodies have very little fat, as the fur protects them, and the high quality meat they offer is of great nutrition for a lot less fat than other cows. At Whitehall Farms, owners Laura and John Lee have built their house and barns almost two decades ago, their two kids grew up with the animals. Their son Tyler, age 20, gives each cow a proper name.

John Lee grew up on a cow farm and always knew he wanted to have cows of his own. When he was in medical school, he warned his future wife Laura that she will need to share him with the gentle cattle. She obviously was okay with the idea.

Baby Holly was born two years ago and nobody knew who her mom was, she was abandoned at birth and no cow came to claim her. The Lee family had to bottle-feed her and raise her; she became familiar with the indoor shelter of their majestic home, and to this day still tries from time to time to get inside. She recently won the American Cattlemen's Cute Calf contest. She is very hairy and fuzzy, a doll.

There are 150 female cows and just one male on the property, so Tyler says "He is a busy bull." There is always one pregnant cow around and the births are almost a daily event. They require very little care from the vet, besides the vaccinations that keep them healthy and safe. In the Florida winter time, they do get fed hay.

The Lees are busy people, John is a physician, Laura works in his office, the two kids are off to college, so the cows take care of themselves, wandering around the 150-acre property. They are not dairy cows, and only sold for meat or breeding. About 40 of them were recently sold. Their price is about $350-$450 each, depending on their size and age. They live 15-17 years, and weigh from 400 to 1,000 pounds.

Yes, rare cows do exist. The Belties are listed as a "watched" breed with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, meaning there are fewer than 2,500 registrations of the cows each year in the US, and the global population is around 10,000.

The two family dogs want nothing to do with the animals in the field; they are "couch" Labrador mix, and stay in the AC as much as possible. No herding the cows here, no way.
Laura told me she would never eat one of her cows, in fact she does not even eat meat. And little Holly will never ever be sold, she's a star. Holly cow!