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Crazy about Colantha

Erin Crowell - June 7th, 2010
Crazy About Colantha: New dairy festival will celebrate a champion cow
By Erin Crowell
“The Holstein cow’s a wonderous thing:
She makes a feller’s pockets ring;
She fills ’em full and runs ’em o’er,
And pads up bank accounts, galore.

…An all the bossies graze, serene
Out where the grass is sweet and green;
Content to prosper those who join
The black and white for ready coin.”

--I.A. Kimble, 1925

Graves and insane asylums – creepy, right? Together, they conjure up
images of unkempt yards, wrought iron gates and stark buildings…maybe a
flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder.
So Hitchcock.
But most Traverse City residents can tell you about a gravesite that is
anything but creepy. It’s actually pretty cool, considering the girl who
lies beneath the headstone, placed between two large pines.
Traverse Colantha Walker was a cow – a champion milk cow that was so loved
by the patients and staff of the Northern Michigan Asylum, that at the
time of her death, a banquet was held in her honor. Today, she rests near
the barns that once served as the hubbub for all farming operations on the
property.
Now known as the Grand Traverse Commons, the old asylum will once again
feel the presence of this world champion cow with the first-ever Traverse
Colantha Walker Dairy Festival, held Sunday, June 13, on the Commons
grounds.
The festival combines food, music and art for a day of remembering one of
Traverse City’s most famous residents.

ASYLUM FARM LIFE
Traverse Colantha Walker was born in April 1916. At the time, the focus of
World World War I had shifted to the Western Front and Irish rebels were
being punished for the Easter Rebellion.
At home, life at the Northern Michigan Asylum was thriving. It was the
first of what would be many years of redevelopment and growth.
Dr. J.D. Munson—the asylum’s first medical superintendent—envisioned a
property where patients could relax and even work, given they were
able-bodied.
The farm operations served as therapeutic employment, allowing patients to
help grow, harvest and provide food for the entire complex.
There were 600 acres of apple, peach and cherry orchards, vineyards, berry
bushes, gardens and fields for the horses, hogs and cattle herds to graze.
The 100+ dairy cows roamed the grounds, kicking up clouds of dust as they
crossed the back dirt roads of the property.

GOT MILK?
Traverse Colantha Walker was the institute’s most prized bovine –
producing 200,114 pounds of milk and 7,525 pounds of butterfat over her
lifetime.
A February 1926 write up in the Holstein-Friesian World publication,
celebrated Colantha’s accomplishments, reporting she “set up a new world’s
butter record for the 30-day period and set a mark for 316 days’ butter
still unequaled. She has been or tests constantly since that time,
completing five records above 30 lbs. butter in 7 days, and six 10 months’
records above 900 lbs. butter, three of them being above 1,000 lbs.
butter. In her best full year, she exceeded the 1,000-lb. fat mark.”
Holy cow.
However, today’s dairy cows are able to produce twice as much milk, thanks
to breeding, diet and practice, says Bob Plummer of Moomers Ice Cream in
Traverse City.
The popular ice cream shop is one of several local sponsors of the festival.
“The average lactation is 30,000 lbs. a year,” says Plummer. “It’s all
about genetics. Many cows are specially bred to produce more milk. By the
time they’re four-years-old, they’re retired.”
Plummer runs his dairy farm differently than commercial farms, using the
same practices that were common in the days of Colantha.
“You won’t find too many cows named nowadays,” says Plummer. “It’s a
personal thing. I treat them with the same care that I’d treat my kids.”
And like Colantha, Plummer’s cows are raised and fed naturally, with a
diet consisting of primarily hay, grass, oats and corn. Comparing Colantha
to the average dairy cow today is like comparing apples to oranges. So,
how does this special bovine compare to Plummer’s cows?
“My cows are way behind her,” he says. “She was just an exceptional cow.”
Plummer likens her case to that of human females.
“It’s no different than a woman,” he says, “some are made for
breastfeeding while others barely squeeze a drop.”
Like the asylum she knew to be home, Traverse Colantha Walker eventually
shut down. She passed away on January 8, 1932. But, just as her home did,
Colantha’s allure lives on – uniting a community and celebrating all
that’s great about it.
And that’s no spilled milk.

The Traverse Colantha Walker Festival will be held on the grounds of the
Grand Traverse Commons, Sunday, June 13, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.

TRAVERSE COLANTHA WALKER FESTIVAL
The Traverse Colantha Walker Festival will be held on the grounds of the
Grand Traverse Commons, Sunday, June 13, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. The day
begins with a community pancake breakfast, followed by a farmers market,
food, art and vendors.
“Originally, the festival was going to be all about cheese, but then we
got to thinking about all the dairy options we have,” said Kristen Messner
of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. “We do have a lot of good dairy
in the area and we just wanted to showcase it.”
Other dairy-driven events include the Great Grilled Cheese Grill-Off at 2
p.m.; and a parade to Colantha’s headstone at noon. Sister Wilene performs
good ol’ country tunes from 1-7 p.m. Red and Gray Drive will be blocked
off for dancing in the street, 5-7 p.m.
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is located at 1200 West 11th St.
Festival activities will take place in the piazza, the grassy knoll behind
Building 50. Visit tehvillagetc.com for more information on this free
event.


 
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