Vermont’s Official State Heritage Breed
Written onAugust 20 , 2013
At the beginning of the 20th century, as Halley’s Comet graced Vermont skies, Samuel Randall could be found tending a herd of lineback cattle on his farm in Sunderland, Vermont. The type of cattle he kept had fallen out of favor as farmers began selectively breeding for specific traits and standardization. But over decades—until the 1980s—and in virtual isolation, Samuel and his son Everett unknowingly preserved this “landrace” herd.
A landrace animal is one that is bred in, and adapted to, its environment. Randall cattle—bred in Vermont and named the state’s official heritage breed in 2006—are “all-purpose,” meaning they’re suited to more than one task around a farm, and therefore can act as draft animals, dairy cows, and/or meat cattle.
In 1985, Everett Randall passed away and the fate of the herd came into question as it was split and sold with the intention of preserving the breed. As Halley’s Comet passed by the earth again in 1986, it became apparent that the largest segment of the herd was in trouble. Tennessee resident Cynthia Creech learned there was a need for someone to come to the rescue, so she bought the 15 cattle and relocated them to Tennessee. According to the Randall Cattle Registry, “Without Cynthia’s timely intervention, it is doubtful that the Randall cattle would be here today.” She now lives in Dutchess County, New York, and 300 Randalls are now living in 15 states and Canada.
Newhall Farm in Reading is one farm in Vermont that is partnering with Cynthia to help bring the Randall back from being what the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has deemed “America’s most critically endangered bovine breed.” We met up with the herd on a 94-degree July afternoon in a small pasture surrounded by lush woods. Here the cattle roam freely on grass, living and breeding in a natural setting with little human interference, ensuring the breed’s genetic integrity. The size of the herd at Newhall is currently a little more than 25. At this point they have “no job,” says Linda Fondulas, the co-director with her husband Ted of the Newhall estate, where the farm is located. But the plan is to expand the herd and to produce rose veal from calves that are not confined and are raised on pasture on their mother’s milk.
Halley’s Comet is due for its next visit in 2061, and thanks to the efforts of countless individuals, Randall cattle will likely be grazing beneath its brilliant light.
For more information on the history, progress, and breeding of the Randall, visit Cynthia Creech’s page, cynthiasrandallcattle.com or the Randall Cattle Registry, randallcattleregistry.org. For more information on Newhall Farm, see newhallfarmvt.com.
Photo by Barbi Schreiber