Marjie Hartz says that life changes are inevitable and the one she most recently experienced has been one of the best. Marjie grew up on her family’s Middletown, PA dairy farm, where she enjoyed raising and showing dairy animals for 4-H, but hasn’t had cattle for many years.
“We milked cows until about 22 years ago, said Marjie, describing one of the major life changes on the 167-acre farm she and her husband Chet share.“After we sold the dairy cows, we raised replacement heifers for a few years. I had a dream to open a gift shop – The Country Apple House Gift Shop. We had that for 14 years, but closed it two years ago.”
A neighbor’s request for barn space for his cattle changed Marjie’s life once again.
“That’s how I became aware of the Highlands and became fascinated with them,” she said. “Chet and I had a game plan; once we closed the gift shop, we were going to explore Highland cattle.”
The dairy barn, which had been converted to loose housing, is now being used to house the Highland cattle that Marjie fell in love with just a short time ago. Marjie purchased several high-quality animals, found mentors who were experienced with the breed and started to breed and show Highland cattle.
Although Marjie is still building the herd, she knows what she wants and selects A.I. sires based on temperament, confirmation, calving ease and birthweight. In order to have cattle that are the right age for the show season, Marjie breeds for March calves.
Marjie spends a lot of time working with her show string, with daily brushing to encourage coat growth and preserve natural oils. She says the Highland coat in winter is ideal for showing, but more challenging to prepare for spring shows because animals are shedding. Last year, Marjie prepared and exhibited cattle for the New York State Fair, the York Fair and Keystone International Livestock Expo, but there was more in store for the show season.
After initial success at several local shows, Marjie’s friends John and Judy Ligo, who raise Highland cattle in western Pennsylvania, encouraged her to take several animals to the Great Western Stock Show in Denver, CO. Traveling to Denver to exhibit cattle is a memorable experience for even the most seasoned exhibitors, but for Marjie Hertz, it was even more of a thrill.
Two of her animals placed at the top of their classes and qualified for the championship drive. After what seemed like an eternity to Marjie, the judge tapped ‘Dahlia’, one of Marjie’s heifers, as the reserve grand champion female among 175 Highland entries.
“We didn’t dream that big,”said Marjie.“We just wanted to do some local shows. We didn’t think we’d have the quality animals to go to Denver the first year.”
Another one of Marjie’s heifers, Gem, is among the top six Highland cattle in the nation. Although she plans to continue breeding to top sires, Marjie would like to keep her herd small enough to manage easily.
Marjie and Chet recently hosted a PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) field day at their farm that focused on the Highland breed as one that’s especially suited for grazing. Field day participants included a group from Hameau Farm, a working dairy farm in western Pennsylvania that offers a camp experience for girls ages 8 to 14. The girls had become familiar with Ayrshire dairy cattle at Hameau Farm, and were eager to learn more about another Scottish livestock breed.
For Marjie, exhibiting cattle provides an opportunity to share information about the unique characteristics of Highland cattle. “There is a good opportunity for people who want to either show or have a small meat business,” she said. “Or have cattle just for the pure pleasure of it.”