Friday's Featured Farmer ~ Pam in Alaska!

“Huh?” is usually the response I get when I tell people that my milk cow is a Scottish Highland. You know the ones. They look like a cross between a sheep and a wooly mammoth, with horns out to there. Yep, those are the ones. I milk one. It makes for great stories and admiration that I don’t really deserve. I really was blessed to get the cow that I got and I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

My journey into farming began in 2005 when I managed to obtain some raw milk. See, I grew up drinking raw milk in Colorado and the taste took me back to my childhood. Since buying or selling raw milk is illegal in the state of Alaska, very soon I was dreaming of my own cow. With visions of Jerseys dancing in my head I sat down with a pad and pencil and outlined what I needed in a milk cow. I needed an hardy animal… with horns. We have long, dark, cold winters and large predators in our neighborhood. I needed a cow that would scoff at the most severe blizzards and be begging for AC at -20 F while also being capable of defending herself and her calves against bears, wolves, stray dogs and big cats. Unfortunately, that immediately excluded all of the “dairy” breeds. A local ranch has a couple different breeds of dairy cow and they lose one every year due to our harsh climate. I was putting a lot of money and effort on the line and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot. As it turned out, after 2 years of research, the best breed for my purposes turned out to be a breed that’s primarily used for beef.

I found a young Highland x Shorthorn heifer on Craigslist and fell in love. On May 26, 2008 I drove 250 miles to meet a very nice couple who had driven 250 miles from the other direction. Did I mention I live in Alaska? Anyway, they were very happy to see one of their girls going to a good, if slightly delusional home. I had proudly announced that this yellow heifer was destined for life as a milk cow and had met awkward silence and raised eyebrows. In the past, an Highland wife would pull a newly freshened cow from the family fold (an herd of Highlands is called a fold) to be the milk cow for the year. It didn’t seem so odd to me that I could do the same thing! When we pulled into the driveway with the beginning of our farm we had no barn, no real fence and no shelter for her. We had a flimsy, welded wire fence, hay and a Rubbermaid tub full of water. I was in heaven!

Since that day our farm has expanded to include apple trees, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, standard Bronze turkeys, a brief visit by a pig and Bonnie‘s first calf, Cody. We are expanding the turkey operation next spring with the addition of Bourbon Reds. We are also going to begin clearing land for hay and pasture using pigs. We have ten acres that can be utilized in some way and we are excited to see how thing develop.

On April 14, 2010 Bonnie gave birth to her first calf ,a bull, sired by a pure Highland. Our milking relationship has had it’s ups and downs but it has been every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be. We allowed Bonnie to raise Cody, sharing the milk with him. Because our pasture (such as it is) is owned by somebody other than us, we stake Bonnie out during the summer. Because of this, Bonnie and Cody were separated during the day and we milked in the evenings before putting them together for the night. This arrangement worked wonderfully and we will do it next year as well. As the pasture is developed they will spend more and more time untethered and free.

It’s seven months later, Cody is now weaned and we milk twice a day. It’s given me a new appreciation for the farmers of old let me tell you. It’s exceedingly difficult to eat when your thumbs are twitching hard enough to vibrate the fork! I have an offer for Cody to be an herd sire but I’m not sure I want to give up my first grass-fed beef. I have a few months yet to make that decision though.

The ultimate farm plan includes more cows (of course), a laying flock of chickens, a rotation of meat chickens and pigs, enormous gardens, a bigger apple orchard and many, many more berries. It will be a challenge to find and raise varieties and breeds that not only survive but thrive in our frigid climate but I look forward to it!


Thank you, Pam for sharing your farming story with us!  As you know, I have a special place in my heart for Alaska and it's residents! 


Stephanie said...

Our neighbors have a pair of Scottish Highlands. When they first got them we could not figure out what in the world those furry things were. We finally asked. :) Theirs are pets so yours being a dairy animal seems pretty reasonable to me.

Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

Great post and pics Pam!

me said...

Loved reading about your life. Everything about Alaska fascinates me. I think it requires people with a lot more courage and fortitude than I have to deal with your temperatures and challenges! Good on ya!

farmer said...

glad to see your using the Highland for their other purpose,most people don't realize they are a duel purpose cow.
I have a fold of purebred Highlands and a pure Jersey that I bred to my Highland bull,the cross is the result of my newest heifer Sugar,I cant wait for her to be old enough to milk.
Highland have a butterfat content around 10% with Jersey 5.3 % Sugar should be a excellent milker.
Thanks for sharing ~ HM