Fw. Cattle help in forests.......forgive me, I couldn't remove the ad header on this.
- They were called "oak openings" by early settlers, more accustomed to the thickly wooded landscapes back east. In the 1800s, over 5 million acres of oak savanna - grassland interspersed with a scattering of trees - thrived in the part of Wisconsin Lands' End calls home.
What strikes you about the savannas is the way the trees have light and space to stretch out their branches in a leisurely, sun-gathering sprawl. But recent proliferation of some especially hardy shrub species - prickly ash, multiflora rose, wild parsnip and box elder - now threaten to crowd the splendid oaks.
On a Wisconsin farm located just a few miles from Lands' End, a battalion of shaggy beasts have been enlisted to turn back the invasion.
Peter and Mary Rathbun are proprietors of Creag-Is-Daru Farm, home to around 40 head of Scottish Highland cattle. Bred in the harshness of the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland, these rugged bovines are equipped with thick, leathery tongues that can safely browse on tough, thorny plants. They clear brush and undergrowth with speed and efficiency. For the likes of these kine, the overgrown savanna makes delectable pasture. And the oak trees are getting a little more elbow room.
Peter, by occupation, is a specialist in the restoration of historic buildings. He sees the project as an outgrowth of his professional interests: "The oak savannas were partly manmade landscapes," he says. "Native hunters burned away undergrowth to create an environment more hospitable to the bison and elk they depended on. What we're doing here is really historic preservation."
With the Highlanders as four-legged landscape architects.
The operation is completely self-supporting, a dozen or so steers sold for processing each season. With shaggy coats to keep them warm, the breed tends to develop less body fat - their meat has about 1/3 the cholesterol of other beef.
Peter grew up working with Angus, Hereford, and Whiteface cattle in Southern Illinois, where he was raised. "The Highland cows are a lot more spry," he says. "They're not plodders - when you call, they come running."
They're a wonder to behold, too. Walking carpets of shaggy russet matting, with a comical fringe of hair covering their eyes. And crowned with long, gently curving horns - some spanning 3 feet from tip to tip.
The long horns aren't just a fashion accessory, either - Peter has seen a cow scoop up a 100-lb. malamute dog and toss him 30 feet. "That dog has learned to keep his distance," Peter says.
And learned a whole new meaning for the term "highland fling."
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