As several Lowline cattle come toward her, Patricia Seeley comments on how docile this particular breed of cattle is. The short, stocky cows behave more like dogs than cattle. Human contact does not bother them, nor does the fact strangers are in the pasture with them. It's just another day on the farm at Melody Acres, a sustainable agriculture farm just a few miles from Crockett. "They're noted for their docility, too," Mrs. Seeley said of the Lowline cattle, which some call miniature Angus. The other thing the cattle are known for is their size. Most of the cows at Melody Acres top out at 38-40 inches or less and around 800 pounds. Short and small by today's standards, but closer to the real Aberdeen Angus originally brought to the North American continent from Scotland.The large Angus of today have been chosen for their larger size and sometimes crossed to gain more height and weight, which in some cases has resulted in losing the efficiency the Angus breed was originally known for Mrs. Seeley explained.
Finally, in 1927, a group of Australians picked the best of the Aberdeens they could find and took them back to Australia for study. Mrs. Seeley recites the history of the breed like an encyclopedia, belying her animal science degree from Iowa State University, one of the top agricultural programs in the country. One thing Mrs. Seeley notes is that during the Australian's study of the cattle, as the efficiency (the amount of feed required to finish an animal) of the cattle increased, the size of the cattle came down a little.
While the cattle are small, they are not bred to be miniatures. "I don't go small for small," Mrs. Seeley said. "I like them small, efficient and beefy." Two to three Lowline Angus can go on the same ground as a regular cow, but, Mrs. Seeley said, two Lowline Angus can produce more meat and double the steaks than a single animal from a larger breed. The normal Lowline has a 65 to 70 percent cutout, Mrs. Seeley noted, which means a 750 to 800 pound animal will produce 430 to 450 pounds of meat. As for the meat - it's hard to find any better, especially when you can get choice on grass alone, Mrs. Seeley said.
The Lowlines finally came back to the United States in 1997, Mrs. Seeley said. By 1999 she was in the business in Crockett. Slowly, Mrs. Seeley started bringing more Lowlines to Melody Acres; she also has been introducing full-blood Lowlines to other breeds as well. "I believe I may have the biggest little cow herd in Texas," Mrs. Seeley said, referring to her diminutive breed.
Melody Acres is more than cows. Mrs. Seeley said her entire operation is based on sustainable agriculture. Mrs. Seeley forgoes the use of modern fertilizers on her grass; instead she uses a compost tea made up of several natural ingredients with many trace minerals included and sprays that on her grass.
While the results are not quick like chemical fertilizer, Mrs. Seeley said the benefits are seen farther down the road as the soil, "begins to live again." "Healthy soil equals healthy plants and animals equals healthy people," Mrs. Seeley said. After a four-year regimen of her compost tea,and other additives Mrs. Seeley's pastures are beginning to flourish. Bermuda grass is spreading and actually taking over the bahia grass, without the use of herbicides.
In fact, Mrs. Seeley is on her third cutting of hay this year. Some of the pastures she has even had to cut for hay because the cattle cannot keep up with the grass growth. The healthy grass, combined with the Lowline cattle is creating something becoming more
popular with consumers - grass-finished beef. The Lowlines, Mrs. Seeley explained, tend to put more energy into putting on weight, instead of growing taller. The cattle mature faster, as well. Most of the animals are ready for slaughter in 18 to 20 months.
Since the cows mature faster the meat is better. "After they're grown is when most of the marbling occurs, and marbling is involved with great taste" Mrs. Seeley said. The grass-finished beef of the Lowlines also is more marketable and tastier than that of many other breeds. There are very few breeds in the country that can be finished on grass, Mrs. Seeley noted, most are bred to finish on corn in feedlots. "A lot of times people will pay $10 a pound for grass-finished beef and it's inedible," Mrs. Seeley said. "This is not. It's quality, choice beef. All it takes for people to start buying the Lowline cattle is for them to have a taste of the beef and they are hooked, Mrs. Seeley said.
While the cattle at Melody Acres may seem more like pets, Mrs. Seeley will quickly say they're not. She runs a beef operation. Embryo transfers are also part of the business. Mrs. Seeley said the embryos are flushed, then a veterinarian makes sure the embryos are good and then they are transferred to a recipient or frozen for later use.
The reasons for buying Lowline cattle are numerous, Mrs. Seeley said. Some people have small acreage and don't want large cattle on the place. Most of her customers, though, are just looking for a better way. "A lot of my clients are older people who are tired of fooling with cattle that are going to hurt them," Mrs. Seeley said. Many of her clients will begin by buying semen from Mrs. Seeley, then after that many of them will eventually purchase a bull from her.
There are other breeds on the place as well. Mrs. Seeley said she has been crossing some Zebu (miniature Brahman) with Jersey and Lowline cattle to get a mini brangus. A couple of Holstein recipient cows and a mini Jersey cow also call the place home. Mrs. Seeley said she doesn't consider her operation organic, she just wants to take a more natural approach. It's been a long trip down to Houston County for Mrs. Seeley, who grew up in Canada. Now she is happy to call this place home, surrounded by towering pine trees and gently rolling hills and pristine lakes.