It’s Spring which means the Cow Spa is open! It’s time to clean up the clippers, sharpen the scissors and schedule spa time for the cows and steers. While the Scottish Highlander long hairy coat is perfect for winter, summer heat is another matter. Imagine wearing a heavy down parka all summer? For cows and yearlings that don’t shed that’s just what it’s like in the summer. Some of the cattle shed their winter coats but those that don’t get scheduled in the spa. The cattle at Miles Smith Farm love the spa. Given the choice between hay and the spa, my cattle will choose the spa every time.
The gentle vibration of clippers against cow skin and release from a shaggy coat of hair lulls each cow into a semi-stupor. Her head will sink towards the ground and when I clip her neck she’ll stretch forward so I don’t miss a spot. Depending on the sharpness of the clippers some cuts look better than others. But cows are happy customers no matter what they look like. Besides this spa has no mirrors.
Many folks have asked if the Scottish Highlander cow hair can be used for anything and, so far, the answer is, “No.” But there is hope. A weaver from Canterbury, NH told me of a book by Dorothy Burham, “Keep Me Warm One Night, Early Handweaving in Eastern Canada,” that details how to mix cow hair with other materials so that it can be woven. Apparently, due to an embargo in the 1800’s, Eastern Canadians didn’t have access to sheep’s wool so they mixed cow hair with other materials to weave rough blankets and other coverings. The product is scratchy and doesn’t make good clothing but apparently, it makes warm coverings. The Canadians called this mix the “Poor man’s wool.”
In the past I’ve collected cow hair for other weavers but, the thing is, they never come back for more. Maybe this Canterbury weaver can make something of the cow hair where others have failed. For now, my cows are happy to be free of their winter coats ready to enjoy a carefree summer of eating grass and staying cool. As long as there are no mirrors in the barn and the cows don’t complain about the music I play at the Cow Spa, all is well.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, NH, where she sells locally raised beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other products in the on-farm solar powered store and at farmers markets, restaurants and retail stores in NH. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.