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Black and white and rare all over: Calf is 1 of about 40 minicows with perfect panda markings worldwide

“Peanut,” left, a miniature Panda cow, grazesnear his mother, “Midget,” right, on the farm of John Bartheld in Roy, Wash. Bartheld has been breeding miniature cows on his farm for seven years, hoping to recreate black and white markings in the pattern of a panda to make a panda cow. He succeeded on June 28, 2013 when Peanut was born.
“Peanut,” left, a miniature Panda cow, grazesnear his mother, “Midget,” right, on the farm of John Bartheld in Roy, Wash. Bartheld has been breeding miniature cows on his farm for seven years, hoping to recreate black and white markings in the pattern of a panda to make a panda cow. He succeeded on June 28, 2013 when Peanut was born. AP

The city of Roy has a new pint-sized rarity, and his name is Peanut.

John Bartheld welcomed the miniature Panda calf - yes, a baby panda-like cow - three weeks ago at his farm in the south Pierce city of about 790 people.

The calf belongs to a rare breed of miniature cattle that are black and white and resemble the well-known endangered Chinese bear.

“It is kind of a shot in the dark whether you’re going to get the exact markings or not,” Bartheld said.

He was aiming for just the right mix of genes when he artificially inseminated the calf’s mother, a miniature Hereford, with an American miniature Beltie bull that lives at Happy Mountain Miniature Cattle Farm in Covington.

There are various types of Panda cows with different degrees of “pure” markings, but to breed one with Peanut’s perfect panda-like features is rare. Only about 40 cows have the same markings worldwide, said Happy Mountain spokeswoman Michelle Gradwohl.

To qualify as Panda cows, the calves also must be a combination of five different breeds of certified miniature cattle and measure 42 inches or shorter at 3 years old.

Peanut is much smaller than a traditional calf. He was about 17 inches tall and weighed 30 pounds when he was born June 28, and will be about 40 inches full grown. By comparison, a traditional cow weighs around 100 pounds at birth and grows to be about 50 inches tall.

Gradwohl said her family first started breeding Panda cattle in 2000. The breed originated at Happy Mountain, she said; it was developed by her father, Richard Gradwohl, who died in 2011.

The Panda is one of 26 certified miniature breeds at Happy Mountain, many of which were started and trademarked by the farm.

Richard Gradwohl took 35 years to perfect the Panda breeding program.

“We wanted to be distinct,” Michelle Gradwohl said.

Bartheld, who works full time for a local concrete supplier, breeds miniature cattle as a hobby alongside his beef cattle. He started raising them after buying Peanut’s mom from Happy Mountain in 2006.

Peanut is one of five miniature calves born at Bartheld’s home, including another less purely marked calf named Star, who was born July 2.

“The thing I love most about the miniature cattle are all their different personalities, colors and features,” he said. “I do have regular size beef cows at home as well, but it seems that they just don’t have the personality that these minis have.”

Rebel, Peanut’s dad and Happy Mountain’s 12-year-old breeding bull, is now in retirement and has ceased natural breeding. But his legacy continues through artificial insemination, Gradwohl said.

“He was one busy bull,” she said.

Panda cows have drawn attention outside Washington state. In 2010, a man in Colorado worked with Happy Mountain to breed a Panda calf that made national headlines for its pure markings.

They’ve turned heads internationally, too. A Chinese delegation visited Covington several years ago to learn more about Happy Mountain and its animals. China, with a population density of about 365 people per square mile, has interest in using the compact animals for food production, Gradwohl said. Breeding cattle in the likeness of the nation’s most beloved animal is an added perk.

Panda cows and other miniature cattle are bred primarily as pets, and Gradwohl said they’re easy on pastures.

They eat less and are more docile, she said - perfect for small parcels of land and for kids who participate in 4H. Owners can typically keep two Panda cows per acre, Gradwohl said.

However, Tacoma residents shouldn’t rush to expand their urban farms; it’s illegal to keep cattle of any kind within city limits. Pierce County has similar regulations for urban residential areas.

Happy Mountain doesn’t allow spectators at its miniature cattle farm, but the Woodland Park Zoo has a popular pair on display in the interactive Family Farm exhibit - two female Panda minis that were born at Happy Mountain in 2004.

For now, Peanut lives on the 30 acres in Roy that have been in Bartheld’s family for four generations.

Bartheld will likely sell the calf. At least one person has made an offer.

Panda cows with pure markings can sell for about $3,000 and sometimes more, Gradwohl said.

She said Happy Mountain continues in memory of her late father with the help of her twin brother, Michael, and their mother, Arlene.

“We have been doing this together our whole life and we are going to continue on in his legacy,” she said.

Bartheld said he also plans to continue breeding the lovable cattle.

“Miniature cows for me are I guess what you could say tattoos are for some other people,” he said. “It’s just plain addicting.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog

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