bovine move into bedford
Mary Ann Hawley
Fashion-forward Mary Ann Hawley loves her cowboy boots and Texan hats, but she never thought of herself as a cowgirl until she took up cattle farming in Bedford. Tooling around on her Gator, a John Deere utility vehicle, she makes the Hawleys’ 70-something-acre spread on Guard Hill Road seems like a Wild West dream come true.
“Most of my life I’ve been a city girl,” Hawley says. “I’ve lived in Tokyo, New York City, London.” For 20 years Hawley’s family lived in an 1836 townhouse she renovated in Belgravia. In 2005, when her husband’s work returned him to New York City, the couple chose Bedford for their residence in part because it was oriented to the English-style equestrian. An avid horseman, Hawley once again took up riding. Two years ago she invited her husband, Bob, to join her on vacation at the exclusive Red Reflet Ranch, located in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains, where the couple rode horses and learned to herd cattle.
“It was a defining moment,” Hawley says. “When we returned, Bob kept sending me emails about ranches for sale in Montana.” The couple was seriously considering investing in properties out west when Mary Ann learned the iconic Bedford property, Daisy Hill Farm, was for sale. That decided it. “I was mesmerized by Guard Hill Road,” she says.
Surprising as it may seem now, keeping a herd of cattle in Bedford isn’t really that new or novel. For much of the 19th century and throughout the 1950s, Bedford and adjacent Bedford Hills were cattle country. In 1847 when the railroad was built, dairy farming expanded and for at least 100 years, cows, not horses, dominated the landscape.
Hawley renamed her property Rochambeau Farm in honor of the French general, Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau, who in the spring of 1781 during the Revolutionary War, was in New York with 5,500 French troops to meet with General George Washington. Many people believe Washington himself was on Guard Hill, but Hawley begs to differ. “John Stockbridge, the town historian, told me Rochambeau was actually on Guard Hill,” she says. “Not Washington.”
The Hawleys are in the process of erecting a grand house originally designed for them by architect Teo Siguenza, to which Hawley is adding her own stamp. Meanwhile, for over a year, it’s all been about the cows—Herefords, that is—which are beef cattle, not dairy. To date, the herd tallies 14. The foundation stock came from a landowner in North Salem who was already raising the breed. Ellie, a bawling calf, was the first Hereford born at the farm, this past May.
Much of the focus so far has been on breeding. “A bull is brought in and introduced to the ladies in August,” Hawley says, who has become quite cattle-fluent. “He gets to know them and breeds with them through September. Then the bull is taken away.” Calves are born in the spring and are grazed on the lush grass until they reach 1,500 pounds, at which point the males are shipped to market, while females are kept on to build the herd. When a male calf is born, there is a noninvasive procedure for neutering. But things don’t always go as planned, and this spring Hawley had to oversee a late-term castration, a procedure requiring four experienced cattlemen and two veterinarians. “That was really something,” she says.
The view from the hilltop of Rochambeau Farm is extraordinary. On a clear day, you can see the Hudson River. The house the Hawleys are building is pastoral in nature with lots of exposed beams. “Part of it is traditional Georgian-style, but the rest is a series of connecting barns,” Hawley says. The exposed timbers are from an 1843 barn harvested from a property just outside Albany. “We had to build something Mrs. Waller”—the late owner of the original Tanrackin, from which Rochambeau is carved—“would have approved of,” Hawley says. “She gave the easement to use the land to the Bedford Historical Society.”
Later, Hawley and one of her South American cattlemen are in the Gator herding Ellie back to her mama. The cow lets out a bellowing moo when she is reunited with her calf, and then, strangely, sticks out a rolled tongue. Hawley laughs: “She’s saying she loves her but she’s been naughty, wandering off like that.”