By: Amy Barnes
Photographer: Kathryn Harrington
The sun is setting on TC Highlands Farm on a beautiful Monday evening in Pleasureville, Kentucky, and 16-year-old Tristin Carmack is corralling 35 cows across a field and into a new pen, along with the family dog, Oakley.
Her mother, Kristin, who owns and operates the business alongside her daughter, is helping to call the cows off the pasture and into the fenced area. There is a “hierarchy” among the cows. The older cows lead, and others fall into step according to the ranking of the herd. Some slowly saunter in and pause for another drink of water; the calves happily skip along, hanging back behind the rest of the group. Another adult cow stays by the gate, waiting for the young cattle to go inside. Much like a school group, there’s a head count to ensure everyone has safely arrived.
The total cow count is 35, thanks to mother/daughter team Kristin and Tristin, who raise and breed them. Kristin’s husband (Tristin’s father), raises Angus cows, which was oddly the inspiration for the duo to get started with their first two cows. ”He always wanted me to go out there and feed them with him, and just spend time with him,” said Kristin. “They’re not tame. You can’t pet them or brush them, they don’t even want to be fed treats…they’re commercial cows. So ‘kind of’ as a joke,’ one day I said me and Tristin, we’re gonna get our own cows. They’re gonna be tame and…you’ll see. I think he thought I was ‘crazy.’ I did some research and I found this breed, and nobody around here had them, and they were really cool. so I reached out to a breeder, and I bought two, and we fell in love with the breed.”
Two turned into several as Kristin and Tristin began to learn to care for the cows. “We started getting more and more, and now we have thirty-five,” said Kristin. We have a bull, we have a bunch of calves on the ground, some of [the cows] are pregnant; they calve in the spring and they calve in the fall. They are beef cattle, but we don’t raise them for beef. But, they have to ‘earn their keep’ somehow, so that’s when the whole agritourism thing came about.”
“It was never supposed to be a business,” said Kristin. “I didn’t plan for any kind of photography, or a place where you could come out and visit the cows. I started a Facebook page for fun, and people started following it, and I would get messages like ‘well, my daughter loves cows, could she come out for her birthday,’ and it just took over.”
Today, Kristin and Tristin work on the farm daily from morning to dusk; feeding them, corralling them, breeding, and brushing them (their hair thickens toward November and can often get matted if not maintained). They regularly host school groups and photo sessions; in fact, the visit requests are so in demand, that visitors must schedule them in advance through the website. Visitors to the farm can have their photographs taken alongside the cows and brush their long hair —a trademark that has attracted many to the breed.
“When I started this business, I had no idea how much my daughter would take off with it,” said Kristin.” I named the business after her, using her initials; and hoped that she would love them as much as I do, of course. I didn’t expect her to be so good at working with them.” “Neither of us grew up on a farm. Everything we’ve learned has come from trial and error and other breeder friends mentoring us along the way. She’s my ‘right hand’. She helps me with everything from halter training calves, vaccinating, calving to birthing and breeding. In so many ways, she’s better at it than me. I really admire how easy it comes to her. Knowing each cow and their ranking within the herd to safely work each one is something that takes a good eye.. There’s no man I’d rather work cattle with over her. I’d pick her any day over any cattle farmer to help me with anything cow-related. She’s recently taken an artificial insemination class so that she can AI our own cows instead of having the vet come out, I’m excited about that. There’s nothing more precious to me than being able to share this love of the breed with her.”
Regarding beginning the farm, Tristin, who was then 11 years old said, “I don’t even remember talking about it. She was literally like, ‘There’s cows coming today.’
Kristin and Tristin know each of the cattle by name, along with their special personality traits. Some enjoy attention; others like to be left alone.
The hardy breed initially came from Scotland and is known for its long horns and shaggy coat. It was primarily reared for beef and has since been exported to several countries. Adult females weigh around 1500 pounds; full-grown males weigh in at 2000 pounds. The cows mature around five to seven years and typically live 18-23 years. Female horns point up, while male horns point outward. At birth, the calves weigh a mere 50-80 pounds. They can be bred at two years old and typically have one calf at a time. The gestation period is nine months.TC Highlands Farm is one of few in Kentucky raising Highland Cattle. Kristin and Tristin have connected with several other breeders throughout the US and travel to several Highland shows each year. The cows are registered with the American Highland Cattle Association; there are sanctioned shows throughout the US. The mother/daughter duo travel to shows in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Colorado, annually. They view the Highland Cattle show community as their family, and even take each other’s cattle to different shows.
“When you show them, they’re judging body composition,” said Tristin. “When they’re babies, they all look the same so it’s kind of hard to judge what they’re going to look like, so we keep them for six months until they’re weaned from their moms. Across the six months, we’ll pick out our favorite features; as they get more mature and we really see the definition of their body and their muscle. How they look, how they walk; you want a good, smooth transition.” While TC Highlands Farm occasionally offers cows for sale, there is a very specific vetting process to ensure they go to a good home —due to the care required for the animals. “I don’t advertise them for sale. We do sell them if people have the correct setup to raise them. They’re not goldfish; you can’t just flush them if it doesn’t work out. You have to have a pasture and fencing and water and a cattle trailer and a vet and a way to restrain them to give them a shot. I’m very particular,” said Kristin, who follows up with the owners after the sale. “It’s important to me where they go,” she said.
The family-friendly farm is available for bookings by appointment; to learn more about the cows on TC Highlands Farm, visit tchighlandsfarm.com.