Celebrity panda calf may star in Roy petting zoo

kari.plog@thenewstribune.comDecember 29, 2013 

John Bartheld checks on Peanut, a rare miniature panda calf, on his 11-acre ranch outside Roy in July.

TONY OVERMAN/STAFF FILE, 2013

Peanut the panda calf has grown in popularity, but he hasn’t outgrown the small city of Roy.

The tiny rarity quickly turned into a big celebrity after he was born June 28 at John Bartheld’s farm in southern Pierce County.

The calf belongs to a miniature breed of cattle that have panda-like markings. He is one of about 40 worldwide.

After The News Tribune’s first report about Peanut on July 17, reporters swarmed Bartheld’s home, and Web searches returned dozens of articles from around the globe.

“It got kind of overwhelming. A lot of people just wanted to come see him,” Bartheld said, adding that he got 30-plus calls from strangers, some offering money just to take photos with the bull.

Peanut’s international celebrity status could have landed him a new home anywhere in the world as stories trickled out to places such as Europe and the Middle East. Instead, Peanut is living a humble life about 5 miles from his birthplace, at a soon-to-be private petting farm in his home city of roughly 800 people.

Mary Gall, Peanut’s new owner, thinks it is great he is staying close to home.

“People will know him from the stories that were told,” she said. “He will be our star.”

Gall, who already has lots of birds, goats, sheep, dogs and chickens at her Roy farm, plans to open the petting farm soon. She said Peanut fits right in with the other animals.

“He’s made friends very quickly,” she said. “He’s just one of them.”

Life at Peanut’s new home is slower paced than the former media frenzy. Neighbors immediately recognized him after he arrived, but they are the only outsiders to see him so far. Gall is not allowing visitors until he’s better acclimated.

Bartheld parted ways with Peanut and another, less-rare female miniature calf named Star in November. He said it was hard to say goodbye to the duo.

“I buy and sell cows all the time,” he said. “But with these little buggers, it was tough.”

Bartheld said it was especially difficult to sell Star, who became more like a family dog than a cow. He had second thoughts about letting her go. She now lives in Snohomish, along with another miniature calf from Happy Mountain Miniature Cattle Farm in Covington. They were sold as a package deal.

Happy Mountain, a family operation developed by the late Richard Gradwohl, started and trademarked 26 rare miniature breeds of cattle, including panda cows. Peanut’s mother was artificially inseminated by Happy Mountain’s longtime breeding bull, Rebel.

Bartheld plans to visit Peanut because he’s close by. Star is out of the way, but her owners have sent photos of her and her new companions.

Bartheld hopes to breed another panda, but it could be challenging; it took seven years of trying before Peanut arrived.

“I’ve got three cows bred at home to Peanut’s dad, so hopefully we’ll get three more next year,” he said.

Bartheld wants to keep the breed growing so more people can experience owning the lovable animals.

“It was just a real joy,” he said.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682 kari.plog@thenewstribune.com @KariPlog

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