Wisconsin farm raises distinctive Scottish highland cattle
BURLINGTON (AP) - Watching Jean Gruenert walk through her family farm's highland cattle pasture is somewhat like watching the most popular kid in school walk through a busy hallway.
Gruenert knows every single one of the 78 long-horned cows by name, and every bull and heifer in the pasture comes up to her to say hello and have their signature long fur brushed, The Journal Times reported.
"They're our loves," Gruenert said of the cows. "I grew up working with horses. I just love being on the farm."
Gruenert, along with her husband Rich and the rest of their farming family, run Four T Acres, a 99.6-acre farm that straddles the Racine-Kenosha county line on Fishman Road, south of the Bohners Lake area.
On June 24, the farm will host its first auction and the first exclusively highland cattle auction in the north central district, which also includes Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
While the farm has been in Gruenert's family for roughly 90 years, it didn't play host to Scottish highland cattle until 2000. Gruenert said she had no idea raising and selling the cattle would become a labor of love all these years later.
"This was not the game plan at all," she said. "We're supposed to be retired."
Instead, raising the cattle has become a successful business for the Gruenerts, as they tour the country taking their cows to shows, sell them to fellow farmers and also have a successful meat sales operation.
"They tell us it's a sweeter meat," Gruenert said. "Missouri University did a study and they say its the most tender beef they've ever tested."
The attention to detail and tender loving care Gruenert puts into raising the animals is apparent in the way she interacts with them, carrying on conversations with them as they saunter over to be brushed. It's also clear through the complexity and creativity of the animals' names, such as the three generation lineage of Martha, Vinny (short for vineyard) and Merlot.
"They're not dumb animals," Gruenert said. "They're pretty much disease resistant, which is another plus."
Occasionally, Gruenert opens up the farm for tours, including school groups and scout troops. She offers free reign to the groups, pretty much letting her guests dictate how much they want to learn and how much they want to play with the animals.
Gruenert is especially passionate about teaching children about the process of raising meat.
"Kids have got to learn where their meat come from," Gruenert said. "Most kids say, 'yeah, it comes from the store.' "
Gruenert is anxiously looking forward to hosting the auction later this month, which she anticipates will draw a few dozen highland cattle from around the Midwest. In the meantime, she's going to keep running the family business the only way she knows how.
"We do it the old-fashioned way," she said. "We're as natural as we can be. It's the only way we've ever done it."