All photos by Robin Hagy.
FEATURED PHOTO: Kera Brichetto and one of her prized Scottish Highlanders.
The sight of shaggy, miniature Scottish Highland cows grazing on high grass causes daily traffic jams near Oakdale, California, and an unexpected bright spot in the bleak Covid-19 era.
Two enterprising women ranchers discovered more people are homesteading or working from home now, and the cute, little cows can be great additions for breeding stock and pets.
Olive stands stately at under 50″ hook height.
If the creators of the Muppets had designed a cow it would likely resemble the Scottish Highland. Their short, shaggy stature, combined with a gentle disposition, make them an attractive alternative to standard cattle, especially for newbie hobby ranchers who are more interested in pasture pets than meat production.
Wooly looks on with interest.
“About a year ago, I had a serious growing interest in smaller bovine breeds and purchased two mini zebu (small cows) from Texas,” says LeeAna Brichetto. “There are a few very niche cattle markets rolling through the US and I kept my eye on the fuzzy creatures, hoping to eventually land a few.”
Nellie leads her small herd through the lush grass.
LeeAna and her sister-in-law Kera (Brichetto) began talking about the undiscovered and unbelievable market occurring and decided to venture into the Highland breed together. Other cows came from California, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
The pair wanted everyone to be able to enjoy ‘a few cows in the pasture’ lifestyle.
The extended Brichetto family farms in the Central Valley with cherries, walnuts, almonds, and a cow/calf feedlot operation. Kera has a husband, Joe, and son, and LeeAna has husband, John, and daughter. Both Joe and John are cattlemen.
Lou sets the perfect profile of the Atypical Scottish Highland.
“In our experience so far, the animals are lovely to raise, but not for their meat or milk,” Kera says. “Highlands are a slower-maturing breed of cattle and their shaggy coats make up for their lack of fat insulation, like what others breeds have. Beneath all that soft hair, they are relatively leaner animals.”
LeeAna Brichetto with a young Highland calf.
The Brichetto’s fold (Groups of Highlands are called folds, instead of herds) varies from cows that are 39” hook height to cows that are 50” hook height. Part of the focus is to breed smaller framed Highlands. They have two bulls that will decrease the frame height on some of the larger cows. They are a rugged breed and will eat just about anything.
The fold runs on about 50 acres of irrigated pasture with plenty of water, loose mineral, and Vitalick tubs.
Highland cattle are known for being easy to raise, docile and curious, and take longer to mature and to reproduce than other breeds. However, the smaller Highlands live longer and can reproduce well into their teen years.
“Since buying our first few Highlands near the end of last year, LeeAna and I have grown our fold to 20, have raised and sold a few calves, and have fall 2021 calves on their way,” Kera says.
“This is an incredibly rewarding hobby venture we have taken together and we look forward to growing our fold over the years,” LeeAna said. “It is a joy that others share an interest in these beautiful animals and we hope to continue sharing our experiences and growing knowledge with our community.”