Scottish cattle draw interest along Highway 34
FEDORA -- If you've ever slowed down to look at those unique cattle along state Highway 34 between Fedora and Howard, you're not the first.
In fact, Gary Moschell says they've got to be the most photographed cattle in the state.
"People love to stop and check them out," he said. "They've got so much more personality than your typical angus."
That's because Moschell Farms has Scottish Highland cattle, which carry a long, shaggy coat during the winter months to keep them warm and often have long locks of hair above their noses.
Moschell said Scottish Highlands usually handle the cold weather better than the herd of bison that are also on his land in western Miner County.
"They're out there in 20-below weather and they're grazing. I'm freaking out," said Lynette Forth, who lives with Moschell. "I worry about them nonstop, but we really don't have too much for winter problems."
They vary in colors from red to white, silver to black and brown, and sometimes a yellowish color.
"They've been known to change colors three times in their lifetimes. It's pretty neat," Forth said. "They are just so fun."
Forth said the cattle are like people, in that they're calm and crazy at different times. Moschell told the story of being picked up by a cow from behind and both Moschell and the cow being a little surprised.
"She had her forehead right in my butt and her nose right between my legs and I had a handlebar on each side," Moschell recalled. "So she gave me a ride for about 10 feet and the she was like 'Oh.' She put me right down and almost apologized."
"They don't really poke us with the horns," Moschell added. "They'll swat us first. Or they'll do what we call the hamburger dance and they'll shake their head at you."
What's in a name
Forth, who has been with Moschell since 2000, said the cattle story started in 2007 when they traveled to the western part of the state to buy a calf.
"I really like cows and I kept teasing Gary that I wanted a little white baby," Forth said. "We went out there and I thought we would go out there and pick out a calf and have it as a pet, and we came back with a herd. That's kind of how it started."
As Moschell describes it, he's just the farmhand and Lynette runs the operation.
"Do you think she loves them?" he asked teasingly, as she dug out photos and referred to each of their cattle by name.
Forth has found a way to personalize each of her cattle in the pasture. She refers to each of them by name, as opposed to the typical standard numbering of the ear tags on a cow. The names, which she had to get permission from the state veterinarian to use, have taken on a life of their own. One of them is named Patsy Cline, because as Forth said, she's "Crazy." Other names include "Merigold," "Angel" (and her calf known as "Angel Baby"), "Calendar Girl," "Effie" and "Brown Cow."
"There's Iffy," Forth said about one who was named based on her mood. "We weren't sure if she had a good mom or not."
"We try to give them names that we wouldn't give our grandkids," she said. "Everyone makes a big deal out of it because I name them all but, you know, everyone that puts a number on it, they're naming them, too."
Lean and local
The farm has more than 35 cows and 25 calves. The calving process usually starts in mid-March and Scottish Highlands are usually born at about 30 to 40 pounds. Moschell Farms usually grows the cattle to about 20 months before butchering, and the cattle grow to 700 to 800 pounds.
Moschell Farms has its cattle feeding on grass from start to finish, as opposed to finishing the cattle with corn or some other type of grain. That helps make the meat leaner.
Forth says it can take a while to learn how to cook the meat, because the ground beef cooks much slower than a typical package of hamburger. She said the roasts can oftentimes be easier to cook.
Locally, the meat has been carried at Prairie Town Grocery in Mitchell since last summer and has been a popular product at Pomegranate Market in Sioux Falls. On its own, Moschell Farms also sells half and whole cows to those who wish to buy that much. Prairie Town Grocery owner Leonard Lambright said the product is similar to buffalo meat, because it's lean and high in protein.
"It's a good feeling to provide a product that is locally grown and you know that it's quality meat," Lambright said. "I'm really proud of what is being done by Moschell Farms."
But buyers should know that the meat sells fast. Moschell says they've been sold out as far as two years in advance.
"She actually sells her meat really reasonably," Moschell laughs. "Actually too reasonable, I think."
Forth said there's a reason for that.
"I just wanted my meat available to those people that wanted it," she said. "I didn't want to have people have to be a millionaire in order to buy it. I didn't think that was right. It's worked out well."