Friday's Featured Farmer~Charlotte VanGenechten from Canada

This week our featured farmer is  Charlotte who lives and farms in Canada.  Thank you so much, Charlotte, for contributing to our Friday's Featured Farmer series!


When we first moved to this farm I knew I wanted a cow. I wanted a milking cow even though I didn't really know what that would entail. Although I grew up on a farm and we did usually have a cow to milk, it was almost always my mother who did those chores. As an adult I was used to handling horses as a professional trainer but always boarded them and lived in town. Now we were on this farm and I wanted a cow...now!! I didn't want just any cow though, (OK at first I did until DH's cooler mind prevailed) I wanted something special. Thats when I learned about Dexter's; 'The little cow with a big future."

We bought 4 cows the first year and a Bull...

Then we bought a surge milker, built a stanchion and I began to teach my cows to milk.

Flossy and Roxy became very good milk cows but now I had to do something with the extra milk. Thats when I learned the magic of cheesemaking. I have been a raw milk cheese fanatic ever since.

I have learned to make all sorts of cheeses and since there are so many different kinds to make, I am still learning more! Of course I will never stop learning about the magic of cheese.

The legal climate in Canada does not allow the sale of raw milk or cheese so of course I had to become an activist for the raw milk and real food movement in Canada.

Of course we raise other critters here; pastured eggs and meat birds, the occasional pig and we had sheep and lambs for a while, but the Dexter's are our main focus and the source of the most fun. We are a mostly grass based, organic farm striving for sustainability.
Bonus:  Lucy's Story

This story goes back a few years before we moved here. According to lore our neighbour, when loading cattle to ship to market, had 6 of them break loose. They were able to corral 4 of them but a bull and cow headed for the swamp and out of site. This swamp is extremely thick and encompasses a very large expanse of land. A year later they (the farmers in the area) shot the bull after he broke into a dairy farm and bred a couple of those cows.

We came here 3 yrs ago and that winter I found rather large bovine tracks outside the barn where we kept our 2 cows. I inquired of the neighbour whether he had been missing a cow and that's when I learned the story of the wild cow. Farmers had hunted her since her escape to no avail.

That first summer, we fenced off 15 acres and our herd grew. We never saw the wild one that summer or winter even though we already had a bull. That next spring saw Charlotte's web farm with 3 yearling bulls and our herd bull Dreamland Samson.

One morning Gerard woke me just before dawn because he was sure he saw some cattle in the yard. I quickly dressed and ran out to the barn yard where I found all my cows but NONE of the bulls! Finding tracks that led from our house yard to a side pasture the horses used, It was foggy and dawn was just breaking when I spotted them in a huddle in the middle of the pasture. I had fetched a bucket of grain and shook it and called them. Something huge was in the middle and she lifted her head and bolted-4 bulls in tow-3 yearling's of which had already been sold but not yet delivered. Since I was too injured at the time to give chase, Gerard lit after them through the fence, into a corn field and up the hill towards the ridge and yup, into her lair-that big mennacing swamp.

Arriving back at the house we both lamented about the money we had just lost and the futility of pursuit. Gerard had to go to work so I got in the truck to see if the owner of the wild cow could help do something. His son shrugged and said; "O-she's back is she?" No help there. Not knowing what else to do but sit and wait, I made the cows stay yarded up. They seemed a bit perturbed about the loss of their bulls and bawled most of the morning. Around 10 am I could hear one of the yearling's bawling in our house yard and ran out to get him in. He seemed tired of his ordeal and I was quickly able to get him stalled up. Scanning the horizon though yielded not a trace of the others.

My sister decided to come out at this point to see if we could get up to the ridge and spot them. When she arrived just after noon, lo and behold there were the other 3 walking the fence on the North side of the property. We quickly walked down and lifted the fence to let them back in. Our herd bull bellowed a lot but ran promptly back to where his own cows were yarded. Nobody was any worse for wear and that cow never showed up at our property again to my knowledge.

Last fall we walked over the ridge and into the swamp to see if she was still around. She certainly was with tracks and fresh manure everywhere under cover of those cedars. We even saw her running deep into the swamp, always keeping swamp-side to us.

Gerard tried to hunt her all fall, salivating at the thought of all that corn/grass fed Angus beef. Alas, I don't think he would like me blogging at his being out-smarted by a cow!

Part Two:
This winter was very, very dry, meaning very little snow cover and when spring arrived there wasn't the usual rain to come with it. (feels funny saying that now when it's raining cats and dogs and turtles out there!) The lack of moisture didn't help the grass get it's usual start and our herd had grown to 19! The conditions were ripe for a breach of containment since the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. (and breach they did almost daily!) The usual culprits are the 3 yearling heifers and sometimes the new 2010 calves. It doesn't make for good neighbour relations when your cattle are wondering around in someones corn/soy fields. So the girls got themselves quarantined in the barn. They will be off to be bred by another bull this week and hopefully once pregnant they will not wander so much.

The constant breech of containment was taking a toll on us and we sold 5 cattle to lessen the pressure on the pastures. That was hard, making the choice of who had to go but you can't just collect cattle and they multiply! Now we had things under control! For a whole week, nothing strayed.

On Monday Gerard started back to work and I let little Shaylee out in the small paddock with Roxy the milker and Ruben the little steer. She was out there all day so I wasn't worried that she would try the fence. When Gerard came home though......he was mad as heck because he saw a black dot in the neighbour's soy field. Off we went through the fields to capture the rascal. When we got close enough I saw it was a little heifer. Damn! How could Shaylee get this far away since last I checked on her. We chased her through the fence and the cows and horse chased her back through. I ran for grain but the cattle didn't want it they wanted to check out Shaylee....sheesh she had only been in the barn a few days, why were they so fussy over her. I was able to sneak up and grab her back leg and Gerard got a rope on her. Mind you, he is MAAAADDDDD!! And yelling at me-and we are dragging this heifer up the hill towards the barn. As we push and drag her, I notice her neck and shoulders are mangy and her ear is ripped up somewhat....and she is thin!! How could that have happened in an hour??? We physically drag her into the barn and she is with the other calves now. Looking outside I see another black calf on the lawn. "O! NO!" "Sambo must have somehow jumped through the barn window!" I cry in despair, running to chase him in. But-but-he is smaller than he was this morning....My mind is getting confused....I've just entered 'The Twilite Zone' It's not Sambo-it's Shaylee! WHAT? NO! "GERARD" I scream...."That's not our calf!!" He comes running out of the barn......'What?" "it's not our calf..." I repeat. The heifer we dragged up the hill is a dead ringer for Shaylee but it wasn't Shaylee.

Just the weekend before our neighbour came over to inform us that our heifers had been spotted in that field. During the course of the conversation he let it be known that they had shot the 'wild' cow from a distance. He said she had a calf at her side. This is the calf. A little Angus/Dexter cross. How long it took for the mother to die, I have no idea. How long before this little heifer left her dead mother? How did she escape the coyotes? She is weak, thin and covered in 'rain rot' but once she learned what was in that calf bottle she gulped it all down. I have been nursing her wounds and feeding her 3 times a day. Today is day 3 and her eyes are bright and she is bouncing and playing. What a miracle!! What a miracle for Lucy! (Loosy)



Interested in finding out more about Dexter cattle?  Charlotte hosts a facbook page just for you at the Canadian Dexter Cattle page. 

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