An alert member found the following fascinating tidbit: Devon and Cornwall were the last ports of call for sailing ships departing for Britain’s colonies abroad. In 1623, the British ship Charity brought “red cattle,” one bull and three heifers to Edward Winslow, agent for Plymouth Colony, making Devons the first British cattle to set hoof on American soil. Cattle became an important source of wealth in the colony; the average cow sold for 28 pounds in 1628. So valuable were they that in 1627, Edward Winslow “sold unto Capt. Myles Standish his sixth share in the red cow,” indicating that one cow was often shared by several families (www.hobbyfarms.com/farm-breeds/others-profiles/devon-2.aspx).
To agist is, in English law, to take cattle to graze, in exchange for payment. Agistment originally referred specifically to the proceeds of pasturage in the king’s forests, but now means either (a) the contract. . . for taking in and feeding horses or other cattle on pasture land, for the consideration of a weekly payment of money, or (b) the profit derived from such pasturing. An agister is defined as “a farmer, ranchman, herder of cattle, livery and boarding stable keeper, veterinarian, or other person, to whom horses, mules, cattle, or sheep are entrusted for the purpose of feeding, herding, pasturing, training, caring for, or ranching.”
Thus, agistment agreements have considerable historical precedent in English law; all but one American state recognizes the validity of agister contracts; and in many states, particularly Colorado, Virginia, Indiana and Tennessee, where sales of raw milk are illegal, many people are obtaining raw milk from their own cows, cared for by a local farmer through an agistment agreement.