Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dutch Belted Cattle

When I was a little girl growing up on the farm, my daddy raised Hampshire pigs.  They were black with a white band around their tummies.  I used to stand on the wooden fence and pass my time watching them root in the ground with their snouts, snuggle in the mud, grunt, and eat the slop from their wooden troughs.   

See the Calf In Front of Mama
Not too far from where we live now, a farmer raises cows that are black with a white band around their middles.  They are the Dutch Belteds.  We stopped to take this picture because the calf was sucking its mother, but by the time we positioned ourselves to click the camera.....well, the calf decided to stop sucking and pose for the picture.    

I did a bit of checking about this breed, and here's what I discovered:
    Belted Beauties
  • The Dutch Belted's history is a bit unclear before the 1600s.  A few records and paintings show belted cows grazing on the estates of Dutch nobility before this time.
  • The breed flourished in Holland in the 1750s.
  • Dutch Belted cows are known for their easy calving, easy handling, and docile, friendly nature.  They have unusual longevity and continue producing calves later into life than do most other breeds.
  • The breed standard is a belt at least 6 inches wide making a complete belt around the body.
  • The Dutch Belted is considered a critically endangered breed.
  • There are other breeds that have belted cows, like the Galloway and Welsh Black.
  • The breed was introduced to the United States in 1838. 
  • In 1840, P. T. Barnum imported several head for exhibiting in his circus.  He displayed them as a "rare and aristocratic" breed of cattle.  Barnum discovered that the Belteds were excellent milk-producers, so he placed the cattle on his farm in Orange County, New York.  The Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America was established in New York, New York, in 1886.
Cows in their
One has to stop and consider just how much cattle contribute to our lives.  Just imagine a world without milk, cheese, yogurt or butter.

Back when I was a little girl, small farmers pastured around 20 cows, we milked them by hand in the morning and evening.  It was critical to my daddy that our cows were milked exactly at the same times every day.  When it was time to get them home from the fields, we'd walk up on the hill to bring the cows home.  We'd call out, 'com boss,' and they would instinctively start to walk in single file back down to the barn.  They followed the path that was well worn from their daily marches to be relieved of their milk.  They would go right to the barn, they knew which stanchion they belonged in, we would lock the stanchion so they couldn't get out, and then the milking by hand began.  No automatic milkers...only our hands, a milk pail, and a stool. 

What it was like to
milk a cow by hand
Ahhh, the memories.  But, don't for a second let me glamorize this chore.  The flies drove us nuts, the flies drove the cows nuts, the cows kicked and switched their tails, and we cussed.  Once in awhile a cow would kick and get her leg into the pail of milk.  Omigod, that meant that pail of milk had to be poured out.  This was not a good thing cuz milk was a major source of our family's income.  I remember clear as if it was yesterday, me sitting on a milk stool sandwiched between two cows, milking a cow by hand, vowing openly (with sweat dripping and flies biting me) that I would never ever marry a farmer.  My mom often warned me not to say that.  She said when it comes to love, the heart has a way of taking over when the brain is sleeping.  Boy, that really bugged me, because the last thing I wanted was for her to be right and I'd have to eat my words someday. 

As it turned out, I got my way.  I guess my brain stayed awake as a young guy came along and captured my heart.  I've never admitted this to anyone before, but on my wedding day I was secretly grateful that my mother wasn't able to tell me, "Aha, I told you so."