When Laurianne MacMillan was 16 years old hitch hiking from Saskatchewan to Vancouver in the early ’70s, she would never have guessed she would one day be calling cattle on her farm on P.E.I.
Flash forward more than 40 years, and Laurianne now lives with her husband Gordon in Murray River, P.E.I. where they care for 11 cattle, a couple of alpacas and one farm dog called Vrinda.
The couple arrived on the Island about eight years ago. Looking back, there were a few things that steered them toward life as they now know it.
Laurianne remembers feeling she needed to leave her Cree community in Saskatchewan’s White Bear First Nations in the early ’70s. She’d spent her childhood in the foster care system and decided she needed to find herself.
She couldn’t have imagined she’d meet a Scottish man named Gordon who was also meandering through British Columbia.
They fell in love in Gastown, Vancouver, and after just one year of dating the pair got married in St. Andrews, Scotland.
The well-travelled pair has lived in many places including Panama and India, and Gordon said the decision to move to Prince Edward Island was simple.
“It was the closest to Scotland we could be.”
Joking aside, Laurianne, or Lal as she likes to be called, said the couple’s intention is to care for the cattle, giving them a home where they can live out their natural lives.
Lal and Gordon are both vegetarians, and believe in Vaishnavism — devotion to the Hindu deity Vishnu, which views cattle as sacred.
“We see them as … things worthy of love,” Gordon said. “Really we’re rescuing ourselves, if truth be told.”
You can find a mixture of cattle breeds happily grazing the MacMillans’ 36-hectare (90-acre) property.
How the animals come to the farm varies. Gordon said sometimes the couple will receive a call from a person who’s heard from a friend of a friend about the farm. Sometimes he and Lal find cattle in advertisements online.
But much of the time, they approach farmers and negotiate with them to take their cattle, and pay for them — on average, about $1,000 per animal.
Running the farm
After veterinarian bills, food, and maintenance are accounted for, the pair said they spend about $15,000 a year to run the farm.
To help with costs, Lal and Gordon make soap and sell it at markets, local shops on the Island, and out of their home. Their business is a catchy play on words, called Om Made Soap — get it?
When they’re making and wrapping the soap, Gordon said he produces about 100 bars a day. They make about 88 varieties. Lal jokes that she has designated herself as the operation’s “quality control.”
The couple use some of the milk their cows produce to make their soaps and shampoo, they said, as well as coconut oil, oatmeal, and olive oil.
Even though she’s living the farm life, Lal said she still makes sure to find time to put on her makeup every day and look her best for her animals. She endures some good-natured teasing from one of her daughters about it — the pair has three daughters and a son.
Lal sad she has even learned how to call the cattle to her, by watching videos online. She said she was pleasantly surprised when she tried it the first time and it worked.
“They would come from a kilometre away — their ears go up and then they start trotting and then they come exactly where you need them to be,” she said.
When she looks at the possibilities for the rest of her life, Lal said she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“These cows are like my children,” she said of the cattle.
“You have a relationship with them and they have a relationship with you,” Gordon added.
‘Whatever needs to be done’
From Vancouver to Murray River, P.E.I., Gordon and Lal have been on many adventures together.
And while the couple is devoted to their animals and has no intention of moving on from their life on P.E.I., they said they’re open and ready for whatever life intends to throw at them next.
“I think we’re very versatile people. So whatever needs to be done, that’s what we do,” Lal said.
“We’re really good at working together. So with this teamwork, we usually can do pretty much whatever we set out to do.”