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The History of Tolland's "Oreo-Cookie" Cows

The cows are a fixture at the corner of Route 30 and Route 74.

It's easy to see that Tolland may face changes in the next decade, between development at the Tolland Village Area and discussions about a technology corridor in conjunction with the University of Connecticut.

However, it seems that some things, like the herd of Dutch Belted cattle grazing at Leonard's Corner at the intersection of Route 30 and Route 74, may never change. The "oreo-cookie" cows were in the fields in the 1800s and won't be moving anywhere, at least if the Bach family has anything to do with it.

"There are fewer that 200 registered Dutch Belted left in the country," said owner Kathy Bach. "We're just trying to keep the gene pool alive."

Bach and her husband, Bud, the owners of Lakeview Farm, have taken quite a journey through local history to bring Dutch Belted cattle back to Tolland after the family sold the herd in the mid-1900s.

The Legacy

According to Kathy Bach, the family's devotion to the breed began back in the 1800s. The Leonard family, from which Bud is descended, bought the property at Leonard's Corner centuries ago from the Chapman family, Kathy said. 

In the 1800s, the family received their first Dutch Belted cattle and built up one of two herds, which became renowned throughout the country, according to the family's informational pamphlet. Oscar A. Leonard and son Rufus led a successful milking operation and took the cattle to fairs.

The family remained dedicated to the breed through the 1930s. While there's no denying the Leonard family's committment to Dutch Belted cattle, even Bud said there's no official explanation as to why the breed became such a fixture on the farm.

"I have no idea where the family started with Dutch Belted," he said. "It's beyond my knowledge."

However, the breed's docile nature and easily digestible milk, often given to those who can't process butter fats, may explain why the breed had such a hold on the Leonard family.

Unfortunately, Rufus passed away unexpectedly in 1930, leaving his aging father to care for the herd, Kathy said. Much of the herd was sold to a farm in Florida, and by the 1940s the Leonard's Dutch Belted cattle had disappeared from Tolland.

The Return of the "Oreo Cookies"

The next couple of decades were difficult for the Dutch Belted cattle. As explained in the Bach informational pamphlet, the cows were nearly wiped out in Europe during the violence of World War II. (The lineage of the cattle is traced back to Switzerland and Austria before the Dutch nobility transferred herds to Holland.)

The breed hit another wall during the 1960s as farmers largely bred for Holsteins or Angus cows, which were in high demand.

"They weren't measuring in quality," Kathy said of the demand for high volumes of milk and beef. "They were talking about pounds of milk. Everything was going Holstein."

So when Bud and Kathy married and moved to the Leonard family farm in 1977, Dutch Belted cattle were difficult to find not just in Tolland, but pretty much everywhere.

Despite the difficulty of the situation, the family decided that they had to bring the oreo-cookie cows back. Bud's mother, Dorothy, had assisted her Uncle Rufus with the family business back in the day, and her family wanted her to see her beloved cattle return to Leonard's Corner.

"I just wanted my mother to see the belted animals again," Bud said. While Bud spent several years building his veterinary clinic on the property and raising a new barn, he and Kathy brought Belted Galloways to the farm in the late 1980s, leading to the first birth of a belted calf on Leonard's Corner in 60 years.

Yet another milestone occurred soon after, when Kathy and Bud heard of a small herd of Dutch Belted cattle being kept at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. They soon worked out a deal, and the Bach's brought two Dutch Belted cows home to Tolland once again.

"It was a major miracle," Kathy said. "It's like it was meant to be."

Looking Forward

With the herd happily back at their traditional home at Leonard's Corner, the biggest obstacle has been overcome. However, Kathy and Bud have some plans for the future of the Dutch Belted Cattle.

Kathy said they are focusing on keeping their herd healthy and diverse while maintaining the integrity of the breed. She said that diversity is essential for the health of all cow breeds.

"You can't just depend on one breed," she said. "There are scientific and health reasons for diversity of breeds on the planet." She added that they stay in touch with other Dutch Belt breeders and are also members of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving all endangered breeds of livestock to protect future genetics food supplies.

And while taking care of the rare breed is certainly a big responsibility, the Bachs find it worth their while.

"They're really a lovely animal," Kathy said.

For more information on Dutch Belted cattle, visit the Web site of the Dutch Belted Association of America.

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