By Tom Hacker
It is safe to say that Ben is the last miniature panda cow born anywhere in 2010.
In fact, he has few peers, being a calf and one of only 24 of the scarce breed in the world.
At just after 8 a.m. Friday, on a farm east of Campion, Ben entered the world after mother Bella, a lowline Angus cow, spent a zero-degree night in labor in her stall.
Two hours later, still wet and shivering, the tiny calf snuggled against his diminutive mother.
“We’ll get him bundled up pretty soon,” said Chris Jessen, who has miniature donkeys, other miniature cattle breeds and even a wallaby — a miniature kangaroo — on his hobby farm.
“We’ve got a regular petting zoo, here,” wife Pam Jessen said.
It could have been even more so, with the Jessens having explored the idea of raising reindeer, and even camels, on their acreage.
Ben’s namesake is Chris Jessen’s brother, also born on New Year’s Eve.
“He was the first person I called this morning,” he said.
The miniature panda cow is the result of 44 years of genetic manipulation by Richard Gradwohl, a farmer in Covington, Wash., about 20 miles southeast of Seattle.
A white belt encircling the animal’s midsection, and the white face with black ovals around the eyes, give the cow an appearance that is very much panda-like.
“We had a Chinese delegation visit our farm, and they were fascinated,” Gradwohl said in a telephone interview Friday. “They want them in China, so we’re going to be exporting.”
He describes the breed that he has trademarked as an eight-breed composite, drawing on previous strains of miniature cattle that he also developed.
“There are 26 breeds of miniature cattle in the world, and we developed 18 of them,” said Gradwohl who has seven of the existing 24 panda cows on his Happy Mountain Farm.
Miniature panda calves sell for as much as $30,000 from Gradwohl’s online clearinghouse for mini-cow aficionados. While Chris Jessen said he’ll likely sell Ben, his price has not been set.
As a small entourage cleared the gate leading to the stall where Ben and Bella were recovering from their ordeal, Molly and Bacco, the two miniature donkeys, greeted them.
“They get a little nippy,” Jessen said. “They like to tug at you.”
Right on cue, one of the donkeys grabbed a sleeve and gave it a gentle pull.
Bella and Ben stood together while the sire, a miniature panda bull named Donovan, watched from an adjacent stall.
“They’re so small that they don’t fit in a calf blanket, so we had to get him a lamb blanket,” Jessen said, preparing to outfit Ben for another frigid day and night.
The mini-cattle are bred solely as pets and can be welcomed into owners’ homes without causing any mayhem.
“Once he feeds, I’ll start working with him,” he said. “Cows are very social animals. They like people. He’ll come into the house eventually.”
In fact, by Friday afternoon, Ben was snug in the Jessens’ laundry room, still drying out.
“He’s good,” Pam Jessen said. “He’s going to be just fine.”