WHEN EVERETT RANDALL, a farmer from Sunderland, Vermont, died, nearly all of his family’s breed of Randall cattle went with him. The versatility of the Randall breed reflects the older way of subsistence farming in which they were bred. They are hearty, can handle diverse pasture–enjoying “weeds” alongside grass–raise healthy calves, and yield quality milk and meat.
Cynthia Creech read an article in the Small Farmer’s Journal about the endangered breed 30 years ago. “It was just love at first sight cause they’re so incredibly beautiful and unusual,” she said in a recent interview. But there was a real possibility that the breed could be lost to American agriculture forever. So Ms. Creech, inexperienced but inspired, decided to buy the cows. A self-described “city kid” originally from Tennessee, she was living in Knoxville and working as a judicial assistant to a federal judge. “I made a lotta money and had a lotta power,” she says. And though Ms. Creech and her mother had at one point lived on eight acres, keeping a horse and a few cows, that did not prepare her for the delivery she was about to receive.
Fifteen Randalls arrived by trailer at her small Tennessee farm with severe manure burn, missing hair and in very poor health. On her website she wrote, “I ‘retired” at 49 from an excellent job with the federal government to be a cattle baroness, make no money and be happy.”
Since then, Ms. Creech has grown the breed from 15 cows to over 300 animals living on 28 different farms. She has 130 Randall cattle on two farms, all given unique names like Marble, Cloud, Carrot, Lipchitz and Astilbe. She has also changed bulls each year to increase the herd while maintaining some diversity within the unique Randall gene pool.
In 2004 Ms. Creech relocated to the Northeast after realizing the line of “Yankee cows” required a cooler climate. She now runs Artemis Farm on 120 acres in New Lebanon and rents 85 more acres in North Chatham. She uses organic practices, though she is not certified.
As we talked, one of her cows lay in the shade peacefully while three cowbirds ate the flies off her stately head and rack of horns. A group of week old calves stood by their mothers, all with black ears and noses offset by white bodies. Other cows in the breed often have a dappled black and white coat while some display the recessive red gene.
“You guys are pretty cute. Did you know that?” she asked her newest cows, right at home among her herd.
Though her cows are content to be provided with pasture and water in the warmer months, “You’ve got check in constantly cause they’re doing something they’re not supposed to all the time,” she said.
The cows know their routines, come when called, have their own social hierarchies and raise generations of healthy calves. “They are not unlike humans; they’re typically better than humans… there’s a certain amount of respect you have to give them,” she added.
She is continually working to increase pasture quality on her land, which was used in the production of corn and soybeans for generations before her, with no amendments to the fertility of the soil. Her cows do not eat grain, only fresh pasture, hay and salt lick. Many of the weeds killed by herbicides, which she does not use, are higher in protein than popular yet costly pasture additives like alfalfa.
Instead, Ms. Creech mows to create more organic matter and has improved her fields with the help of her herd’s grazing and manure over the five years she’s been on this land.
By choosing a hearty and typically healthy breed of cow and using natural land management techniques Cynthia Creech has been able to use low input and low cost, environmentally friendly practices on her farm. She sells her beef at the farmer’s market and through a meat C.S.A. In addition to running Artemis farm, she also works as the Town Court clerk in New Lebanon.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. Ms. Creech received the Good Earthkeeping Award this year from the Columbia County Environmental Management Council. In addition to her commitment to sustainably raising Randall cattle, Ms. Creech has put her farm in the land conservancy, is a member of the conservation advisory council, the town zoning re-write committee, and the Recreation Committee, all of which act as platforms for wider land stewardship in New Lebanon.