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French cows growing in popularity

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Mainly found in Minnesota, Wisconsin

By Brooke Anderson

American News Writer

A breed of cow that can weather severe cold appears to be making a comeback in North America.

These French cows, called Normandes, could soon return to South Dakota, one of the first places they appeared nationwide three decades ago.

Approximately 500 American farms have these cows, often cross-breeding them with others. Half of those farms are in the Midwest.

According to the North American Normande Association, there are 103,673 Normande cows registered in North America. That's an all-time high population that's expected to continue growing.

Although there are plenty of advantages to the breed over other types, its multi-colored hide is perhaps it's only drawback.

According to Normande cow experts, farmers tend to prefer single colored cows, such as the black Angus, to the tri-colored western European imports like the Normande.

Says Brian Toivola, past president and retired board member of the North American Normande Association and a Normande farmer from Hibbing, Minn., "I think the color shouldn't make any difference, but it does in this industry."

"They're cute," remarks Darline Nicholson, secretary of the North American Normande Association.

The organization, based in Elroy, Wis., was established in the mid-1970s - the same time the cows arrived on this continent.

The Normande cow arrived in South Dakota around the same time.

Jay Swisher of Groton had one of the first and largest Normande herds in the state, Toivola said.

But in the 1990s, he sold most of his Normandes, some of which were bought by Toivola.

Now, Nicholson reports there are no registered Normandes in South Dakota, though there might be a few unregistered.

She says that people from the state have recently been calling the association to ask about the cows.

Nicholson said the cows seem to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity and she has gotten calls from as far away as Hawaii about the breed.

Currently, these cattle, which are dual purpose dairy and beef producers, are mainly found in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In their native France, Normandes are used almost exclusively for dairy. But, according to Toivola, their biggest attraction is actually their carcass.

The purebred Normande is an excellent dairy cow.

It "milks too well," Toivola says.

He added that if they are re-introduced to South Dakota, they would be good for cross-breeding.

Another advantage of these cows to upper Midwest farmers is their endurance to severe cold. According to their owners, they don't have to be in a barn in the winter.

However, most people still continue to value the solid colored breeds.

But, says Nicholson, "This is turning around" because "the Normande is proving itself." For example, she says, Normande calves are weighing in well, they are sturdy and healthy animals, they deal well with all climates, they don't need to be fed a lot of grain, and they have a high quality of beef which is certified organic.

Earlier this month, the cow made its debut at the Minnesota State Fair, and the animal is already becoming popular with organic farmers.
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