CASSVILLE — As Jim and Deanna Moris of Cassville got older, they often wondered what they’d do in retirement. Jim had worked 35 years at Alliant Energy and Deanna had spent the last 19 years as the associate dean in the School of Engineering at UW-Madison.
Both had spent time in the southwest corner of the state, where Jim had grown up on his parents’ dairy farm. When his mother passed away in 2008, Jim decided to purchase one of two adjoining farms she owned — fulfilling a thought that was always in the back of his mind.
They decided to name it High Voltage Farms, a play on the farm’s location on Power Road, Jim’s work at the electric company and the high-voltage power lines that run through the property.
Deanna had always had an interest in miniature donkeys and Jim had an urge to buy a few cows. They finally came to an agreement: Deanna could have two donkeys if Jim could have two cows.
“It started with the donkeys,” Deanna said, smiling. “And once you start looking for miniature things online, other things pop up. The Lowlines really intrigued me.”
The couple researched and read up on Lowline cattle, learning they were developed from an Australian Angus herd established at the Trangie Research Centre in 1929. The center acquired some of the finest Angus cattle from Canada, Scotland and the U.S., and from these original 42 head of cattle, all Australian Lowline cattle are descended.
In 1974, the Trangie Research Centre decided to evaluate selection of growth rates on herd profitability within this Angus herd. They created three groups for the experiment: “Lowlines,” “Midlines” or “control lines,” and “Highlines.”
After 15 years of selective breeding, they found that Lowlines were 30 percent smaller than the Highlines and the middle control group. Lowlines were found to not only be smaller, but more efficient, high-quality meat producers. They were also quite docile animals.
“When we started researching, we were really intrigued by these characteristics,” Deanna said.
While the research center had no intent in doing so, they had created a new breed of cattle.
In the early 1990s, the Lowline experiment came to an end and two auctions were held to disperse the herd. Twenty-nine bulls, 74 heifers and 51 cows were sold, with the majority of them going to Canada. The first Lowlines came into the U.S. in 1996.
A recent “controversy” with Lowlines included a push to change the name of the breed, Deanna said. The name change was successful last year, with the breed name changed to American Aberdeen.
“I think it reflects a change in agriculture,” Deanna said.
Jim believes another change in agriculture can be attributed to success they’ve had selling their Lowline Angus meat. More and more consumers want to know where their food is coming from and more and more consumers are interested in the smaller portions derived from Lowline cattle.
Many of their meat customers are people they know and others that have heard about them through word of mouth.
“We’ve had a really good niche of selling to individuals,” Jim said, adding that they sell halves to customers, equating to about 120 pounds of meat that can be butchered in any way desired. Cuts of meat are the same as Angus cuts, but are smaller.
“Those we sell to are definitely raising animals for meat, not for pets,” Deanna said.
Customers interested in their breeding stock of females, bulls and calves usually find out about them through the Internet.
Last year, a woman from Louisiana contacted the Morises about buying six females, Jim said. She was able to track the animals through the registry, taking note of the family history of each animal. When she was ready to pick them up, the couple drove to St. Louis — meeting her halfway.
“We love to see our cows go to Louisiana and everywhere,” Jim said. “We also meet fun, great and interesting people too.”
They’ve participated in the World Beef Expo and the Iowa State Fair, promoting the breed and answering questions from curious consumers. Some ask, “What are they good for?” and “Why smaller?” Jim and Deanna are always ready to answer as they feel strongly about size efficiency and calving ease.
“I like to think they’re more like what Angus used to be,” Deanna said. “I’ve heard, ‘It looks like the Angus my grandparents had in the ‘50s or ‘60s.’ “
Jim and Deanna keep cattle at both their home overlooking the Mississippi River and at Jim’s farm just 11 miles away in rural Glen Haven. In the spring and fall, cows expecting to calve are brought to their home so they can keep a better eye on them. They anticipate 18 calves this year, Jim said.
“Almost all the animals were born here,” Deanna said. “So they are used to us.”
The couple visits the nearby farm once each day to feed and check on the other animals. Jim and Deanna spend quite a bit of time with them, breaking each one to lead because they do move the cattle around often.
Jim keeps a diary of all the happenings at both locations. He referred to the small notebook as “the bible.”
“We are always observing,” he said. “And there’s never a day we don’t work with the cattle for a couple hours.”
“We do a lot of things other people don’t do,” he said.
Amongst the moms and their calves are Deanna’s two miniature donkeys, Max and Storm. Deanna said the donkeys play a role in protecting the calves, something she has seen herself. They are also smart animals, and she has truly enjoyed having them with the cattle.
Jim and Deanna teased that a photograph Jim took that appeared on the cover of the association’s magazine not only featured a Lowline mother and her calf, but the two donkeys, disguised in the background.
The couple has found that raising Lowline cattle does take a bit of table time and planning, but they enjoy the work they have been doing the past few years. When not working with the cattle, the two are involved in their church and like to travel. Jim also sings barbershop and Deanna has served as a poll worker during local elections.
“We would have never known where it would go with just two cows to start,” Deanna said.
For more information about High Voltage Farms, visit highvoltagefarms.com.