Jim Athearn is excited about the genetic possibilities from his new bull Moshup.
“We need to get into better breeding in two respects — better percentage of calves each year from the females we have, and have each one grow to be a profitable size,” Mr. Athearn said, looking over his cow herd in Chilmark. The owner of Morning Glory Farm will be the first to admit that the farm’s strengths lie in their vegetables and not in their meat production, and he’d like to do better.
Grazing in a pasture on Peaked Hill last week, the new stud bull was far from home. Moshup was raised in Hardwick, but originally hailed from Wanganui, New Zealand. The Rotokawa Cattle Company purchased an entire Devon herd of 100 bulls in 2008 from a breeder in New Zealand. The cattle were flown to California and quarantined on an 1,100 acre ranch in Santa Margarita, later traveling across the country to Hardwick.
This strain of Devons has been refined through generations of breeding, and are “very well adapted to grass” and “producing a good strong carcass for offspring,” Mr. Athearn said. Moshup will be three years old in December and weighs between 1,400 and 1,500 pounds.
Morning Glory raises 25 hereford cows “with a little bit of angus mixed in” and are now looking to hybrid breeds that can consistently grow faster, bigger, stronger and healthier.
“I’m not an expert at this, but for centuries people have been trying to match cattle and breeding – they want longer legs or shorter legs, a straighter back or a wider spring rib, the ability to calve with ease and adapt to environmental conditions,” Mr. Athearn said. “This Devon apparently has all those good things.”
With the addition of the bull to the herd, the farm hopes to step up meat production. The new offspring should yield a higher quantity of meat, he said.
“Particularly when it comes to making money for the farmer when he goes to sell his cattle,” he continued. “Instead of a carcass that weighs 480 pounds he has one that weighs 600 pounds, for instance. That makes a big difference when profit and loss is just a whisker apart on an enterprise like this.”
There are only a handful of bulls used for reproduction on the Island. Between Mr. Athearn’s new bull, two at the Farm Institute in Katama and several belonging to Ralph Packer, the number of bulls is roughly around five. Moshup was donated by longtime Edgartown summer residents Betsy and Jesse Fink. For years, one of Mr. Packer’s ‘traveling’ hereford bulls, shared amongst Island farmers for reproduction, has been the go-to stud at the Chilmark pastures.
“It’s been terrific – easier for him [Mr. Packer] because we feed his bull for two or three months, and easy for us because we don’t feed his bull for nine months,” Mr. Athearn said. Like Mr. Packer, Mr. Athearn said he, too, intends to share Moshup, hoping to help cattle genetics Island-wide.
On Wednesday of last week, Mr. Packer’s bull watched rather forlornly as Mr. Athearn and his son Daniel attempted to corral the ladies from the pasture at Daniel’s home off North Road, to meet Moshup who waited on Peaked Hill.
The girls were going to “meet their new boyfriend,” Mr. Athearn said.