Little dogs laugh, cows are over the moon and the dish definitely ran away with the spoon (because it was full of heavenly heavy cream); things are pretty storybook at the Holy Cow dairy farm overlooking Otago Harbour. However, 16 months ago things didn’t seem quite so rosy posy when one of Merrall MacNeille’s non-milking cows tested positive for TB and it looked like he’d have to send his beloved herd to the slaughterhouse. Dedicated customers and friends were mooooved to say ‘No!’ fundraising to save the cows, providing money to feed them over the winter and towards the cost of building the pasteurising plant needed to meet standards for MPI. Merrall and wife Alex can’t be doing with the internet, just busy enough as it is, working from sunrise to sunset. Enter Tess and Sam (“We’d be closed if it wasn’t for Tess”) former customers who helped coordinate community support, manage the MPI hurdles and get them up and running again. Merrall bought his first cow at 6, “My mother wasn’t very happy about it” and has been a cow whisperer ever since. Holy Cow’s cows are Jersey’s, their milk has a high fat content and contains a slightly different protein, meaning many lactose intolerant can easily digest it.
Customers know the names of the velvety brown-eyed cows (Lulu, Lilly and Louisa amongst them, gorgeous and don’t they know it) being milked under the grape arbour and the cow poo is great for the flowers grown by Merrells’ son, also called Merrell. Flowers and dairy products are available from the Otago Farmers Market every Saturday, so you can decorate your table and eat at it, too.
Daughter Cecil lives in the gingerbread house above (not actual gingerbread) and designed the logo painting, Merrall hand draws the labels. People bring their children out to see the cows, maybe because everyone loves a happy ending. But just what is it about Holy Cow that inspires such devotion? “Merrall and Alex themselves,” says Tess. “The way the farm makes us remember days of old, it’s the way they live, and these days people are growing more uncomfortable with dairying, big factory farms, milk being split into components and shipped all over, cows as commodity, cruelty – nobody wants to buy something that makes them feel guilty. The affection lavished on Holy Cow is a reaction to this, something that’s local, social, environmental and ties in to how we feel about our food is a real winner. Not to mention, when your butter looks beautiful and comes from beautiful people and beautiful cows, it tastes delicious.”
With a hilltop view that makes you want to yodel-lee-hoo, strolling up from their paddock above Carey’s Bay, the worlds’ most spoilt cows clock in at 9am, taking places in stalls with their names inked in flowery calligraphy. Milking takes about an hour if there’s no trouble (a tail in the eye can slow up the whole morning) and then the milk is either stored in returnable bottles or made into butter the colour of suns in kid’s drawings, heavenly heavy cream, yoghurt, ghee, berry lassi made with slim yogurt or sometimes something new. The price of milk is kindness itself: $2.20 a bottle from the farm, $2.50 everywhere else. Merrall refuses to put it up.
Available: Otago Farmers Market on the platform, at Taste Nature, on High Street, Deep Creek Deli in North East Valley, Port Chalmers Motors and store in Karitane.
Cafes: The Corner Store, Beam Me Up Bagels and Union &Co -Port Chalmers.
Post submitted by Lisa Scott
Images by Sharron Bennett Photography