Snow and temperatures may be falling, but Hampshire’s herd has been blessed: the cow Calypso is with child, thanks to the effort of third year student and cow enthusiast Amye Gulezian, who has been working to breed Hampshire’s herd of rare Dutch Belted cows since last year.
According to the Dutch Belted Cattle Association of America, Dutch Belted cows were bred for nobility in the Netherlands in the sixteen hundreds, and were brought to the US by the Consul in 1838. Two years later, P.T. Barnum touted a few as part of his circus. To date there are less than 300 of the cows in the country, partially because, as Gulezian says, “they don’t produce A LOT of milk… the modern dairy industry has been demanding quantity, so our modern holsteins [dairy cows] have been bred to produce 100-120 pounds [11-13 gallons] of milk a day.” Dutch Belted cows produce about half of that, but their milk is contains more fat and protein. They also live much longer and are productive during their teen years, unlike many cows which only live to between five and seven years old.
But up until Gulezian’s intervention, Hampshire’s cows– the first three of which we got from a group of nuns in Connecticut about twenty years ago– weren’t being bred, or milked, or making any money. Word was that after they died, they were not going to be replaced– “it’s expensive to keep a huge 1200lb pet,” she told me. “And they wanted to do beef, which is cool, but very hands off. Beef cows don’t require much handling or monitoring so from the student perspective it is cool to have the Dutch Belted herd, because we work with them with the EPEC and students get to be involved with the decisions as well as handling, and they can actually pet the cows and do projects with them. And be there when the vet comes!”
The last vet visit was certainly worth noting– about five students were there to witness the ultrasound, as well as Gulezian “almost falling over” with surprise when they learned that Calypso (on the older end of the spectrum, at four years old) was pregnant. Her pregnancy was a bit of a test balloon– last year, Gulezian discovered that Hampshire already owned the semen of a bull named Fortitfied. They’ll be ordering more semen in the next few weeks, and hope to breed some of the other eight cows this winter. Like humans, they have a nine month gestation period, so they’ll be dropping babies next fall.
As for their future– “depending on the [sex] of the calf… we will decide at a certain age if we want to keep it here or sell it to another farm where they breed Dutch Belted, so we can diversify their genetics and help other farms increase their herds.” (The cows could sell from anywhere between $800 to $3,000 each). Gulezian had been hoping as well to advertise Dutch Belted to conventional dairy farmers, and breeding them in with dairy cows to increase their lifespan and milk quality. “I am hoping what we do here is raise awareness about the breed and the herd at Hampshire. And then we breed and grow starter stock that we then sell to other farms for them to add to their herd! Because farmers are always looking for new genetics, and because our cows haven’t been off our farm, it would be giving them something new to work with.”
But until then, she and her EPEC are going to be monitoring Calypso’s health as the baby gestates, and preparing for the first mooing bundle of belted joy, which is due in July.
Also, she wants to remind students that it is not safe to go into the pasture with the cows. “They are friendly, and you can pet them, but do it from the outside of the fence. I see people in the pasture a lot and it’s scary because if they don’t know how to act around cows they could get very very hurt… if anyone were to get hurt at Hampshire that would be it for the cows and my project… which would be very sad.”