No, you are not seeing things. There are Texas longhorns, right here in Milton, Vermont.
"Got about 10 Texas longhorns five years ago out of Ohio and brought them up to Vermont," said Shaun Brooks of Vermont Longhorns. "I have been growing the herd ever since."
Growing the herd for their beef, which is leaner than traditional beef cattle. The herd is now up to about 150 head. Some are now ready for market.
"So this year is our first year of selling and marketing them," Brooks said. "We have about 15 steers going out, pretty much all are spoken for, pretty much word of mouth."
But Brooks hopes next year he can market his longhorn beef to local restaurants and stores, where grass-fed beef is a hot commodity.
Dominic Barone is the meat department manager at Healthy Living in South Burlington. They only sell locally produced meat.
"Each week we move through two and a half sides of meat. So that is two and a half cows worth of meat we are moving through, 1,000 pounds per average of grain finished beef, every week and about 600 pounds of grass fed meat every week," Barone said.
It is a trend that is being seen statewide.
"We have seen a large increase in demand and people willing to meet that demand for local meat. Between 1997 and 2007, we actually saw a 46 percent increase in animals raised for meat, with poultry being an especially big number-- 161 percent increase in poultry raised for meat," said Chelsea Bardot Lewis of the Vt. Agriculture Agency.
Brooks was raised on a dairy farm in St Albans, but several years ago the family sold the herd. He is renting this land, about 150 acres from another family dairy in Milton that went out of business when the barn burned down about 10 years ago. It is a perfect place for the longhorns.
"There is a lot of land that was growing up and just hadn't been used in 10 years or so," Brooks said. "Another trait of longhorns is why they have a leaner diet is they eat a lot of branches and trees and brush that other animals other cattle don't."
The longhorns are also resistant to disease and they calf easily.
Brooks says these critters are very marketable, not just for their meat, but for their hides and their horns, which can fetch up to $150 each."
While these animals are grass fed, Brooks does use some grain to coax them closer for inspection-- and our camera-- and the eventual trip to the processor before ending up on the table.
"Whenever anyone can take a market niche or specialize in something that is of interest to the consumer to differentiate their product, we have seen that be successful for producers," Bardot Lewis said.
Brooks says his goal is to eventually process 50 animals a year.
We have reported in the past about the shortage of meat processing facilities in Vermont, especially for smaller operations like Brooks'. Bardot Lewis told us the Agriculture Agency has put together a task force to focus on boosting meat processing throughout the state.
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