If you live near Brome Lake and have walked on Bailey Road in Bolton West, you must have seen the majestic Highland cattle at pasture. Their long coats have become emblematic of the area. They are the pride of John Badger, who, with his spouse Manon Legros, owns 200 head, including some one hundred adult cows.
John has worked on the farm since childhood. In 1982, when he was 12, his parents bought three Highland cows and a bull to add to the 40 dairy cows in their barn. They opted for this low-maintenance breed because their son intended to take over the family farm one day and wasn’t at all keen to get up at four every morning for milking.
Little by little, John took on more work alongside his father and finally bought the herd in 2017, becoming the farm’s sole manager. His father still helps with wood-cutting in winter and haying in summer.
John loves his “girls,” as he calls them. He respects them and cares about their well-being throughout their lives, right up to the abattoir. In fact, he loves them so much that he used to have a hard time letting them go to their ultimate destination. John sought help and came to accept that it was all part of the cycle of life but that he should honour his girls by thanking them and not wasting anything. He is now more at peace with the final stage of cattle farming and takes pains not to stress or rush his cows, even at the abattoir, where he sings to them and recites a mantra recalling their lives from the day they arrived at the farm.
Raised with love, John’s Highland cattle are given no antibiotics and range freely over his land. The resulting meat is lean yet tender and marbled, and renowned for its taste. It is now sold in certain Montreal food stores, by “Barnes” in Knowlton, at La Rumeur Affamée in Sutton and at the Badger farm’s shop, which is run by John’s sister, Robin. The change of hands has resulted in an easily recognized new logo for the farm.
For people who are equally fond of beer and fine beef, the micro-brewery À l’Abordage in Sutton serves a Highland beer to go with its Highland hamburger made of beef fed with brewers’ grains, a residue from brewing that makes excellent cattle feed.
So many people stop at the side of the road to photograph their cows that John and Manon plan to set up a few tables this summer so that visitors can have picnic lunches while admiring the herd. The lucky ones may even hear Manon playing her piano on the porch of the family house facing the fields.
Adored by John, raised in an idyllic setting and serenaded by Manon, “John’s girls” have lives most other cattle would envy!
Five things to know about Highland cattle:
• Like the rings of tree trunks, their horns give an idea of their age.
• This hardy breed requires little care day-to-day or when calving.
• Gestation takes 40 weeks and cows between three and twenty years old have one calf a year on average. Calves are not separated from their mothers and are weaned at six to eight months.
• Natural mating occurs between July and September and births come between April and June.
• They live outside year-round, in all weather.
Translation: Brian McCordick