Three’s a herd
Any time someone visits Oliver Communications Group, Inc. on Old York Road, director of operations Phil Oliver is happy to take his visitors across the driveway to meet his pets.
The several acres of fenced-in land out back is home to eight Watusi cattle, which are native to Africa and named after the Watusi tribes. Their most distinguishing attributes, however, are their large horns, which keep growing and can measure up to a 5-foot spread.
“It’s a great conversation piece…someone will always bring up, ‘how [are] the cows doing?’ and then we’ll get into a cow conversation,” Oliver said. “So it’s really kind of a nice ice breaker.”
Sometimes he’ll arrive at his business on a weekend to see a client who brought his family back to see the cows.
The Cream Ridge resident first started buying the cattle eight years ago, after a friend told him about the breed. He’d always wanted a cow, he said, especially after often finding black Angus cows wandering over to his doorstep from a neighboring property.
He traveled to a breeder in York, Pa. with plans of buying one male and one female, but the breeder informed Oliver that he’d need three to be able to call it a herd. Oliver agreed to take another male.
When the breeder called again a few months later to say that two more Watusi had been born, Oliver agreed to take those, too.
Now, eight Watusi cattle can be seen on the property.
“I didn’t realize what passionate lovers they are,” Oliver said. “So now, they’re out there loving each other, and I’ve got a lot of them.”
Oliver used to have more, but sold a few of them last year to farmers who like to keep the cattle as exotic pets.
The Watusi population has been growing outside of Africa for several years. According to the World Watusi Association, the first Watusi were brought to the U.S. in 1960. Two bulls, born in Scandinavia, were imported, but it took another three years until the first female was brought over, too.
The largest of the herd is the bull, which is eight years old and weighs in at nearly 2,500 pounds.
“The coolest thing really is being able to climb over the fence and walk over and pet something that big,” Oliver said.
“I go out there and see them every day,” Oliver said. “You can never trust them, or turn your back on them, but they’re pretty incredible animals.”
Though he doesn’ trust the cattle, Oliver isn’t afraid to hop over the fence and get close to the animals (with caution). He even joked that one day he’d convince someone to ride one.
Oliver’s property was zoned as farmland, so it wasn’t an issue when he decided to start raising the animals there.
A handful of times, Oliver has arrived on his property to see the cattle roaming well outside of their designated space. Each time, he said, had been after a storm had sent one of the surrounding trees crashing down on the fence to create an escape route.
Oliver installed a bell next to the pen, which he rings to summon back the cattle on those few occassions.
But on one especially far excursion, the Watusi couldn’t hear the bell, and Oliver was forced to improvise. He took one of the front-end loaders he keeps available on his property and filled the front bucket with grain.
“They smelled it and came right over to it, and [I] just backed the machine all the way back up here, opened up the gate and drove right in,” Oliver said.
Despite the rare escape, maintaining the animals and the land is simple, Oliver said. The cattle are fed hay every day, and grain every other day, and a veterinarian visits yearly to check the animals. A stoop and what Oliver calls the chute were even built so he can put special medicine on their backs as they walk by.
Unlike horses, Watusi don’t need any assistance in the birthing process, and prefer to be left alone (anyone who tries to help would be probably get hurt anyway, Oliver said).
Oliver has individual names for all the animals, including Bucky the Bull, who was born on the property.
“I’ve been petting him since the day he was born, so he was the most social of all of them,” Oliver said.
The cows aren’t the only animals who have resided at the property. A cat roams the area and isn’t afraid to tread on the cattle’s turf, and another pen even housed several peacocks at one time.
“Everybody’s got a hobby of some sort, I guess that’s part of my hobby,” Oliver said (his main hobby is building racecars with his son).
Oliver Communications Group, Inc. is located at 2457 Old York Road in Bordentown Township.