When my rancher purchased Rosie the expectant Jersey heifer, he anticipated drinking fresh milk with a higher percentage butterfat than his cholesterol conscious wife buys. My mother-in-law was excited about extra cream for making that delectable official SD dessert, kuchen. My son and I were counting the grocery pennies saved. Surely Rosie milk would cost less than buying milk at nearly $5/gallon.
Rosie finally calved about a month ago. My rancher milked her out and froze several quarts of colostrum to revive any flat on the side, cold calves he might come across as our beef herd started having babies. The future of the Rock Hills Ranch dairy looked bright, except for one tiny problem. Rosie has no problem with Sunshine poking around looking for lunch, but she hates being man handled. Milking her turned out to be a one handed job because my rancher had to hold the bucket in one hand to keep her from knocking it over. He tried several methods of restraining her, which worked for a few milkings. Then, Rosie would go off her feed, act droopy and forlorn and manage to contract some kind of infection that made us back off milking her. My rancher let her out so she could eat green grass. She roamed all the way to the mailbox and back and checked out every corner of the barnyard and calving pasture. Little Sunshine had to trot to keep up with her curious mama.
After a few days, Rosie perked up and my rancher commenced training her into a milk cow. Sure enough, she quit eating again. It was a classic ranching battle of the wills, man vs. bovine. My rancher doesn’t give up easily, but Rosie’s attitude eroded his enthusiasm for milking chores. Rosie might have thought she was winning. She doesn’t know that when cows win the battle they lose the war and that McDonald’s is the final winner.
Then, nature provided a good solution to the standoff. One of the beef cows had a set of twins and wasn’t enthused about raising two calves. Luke brought one in to see if Rosie had more compassion than his mama. She did. And so Rosie saved herself from a trip to town by becoming a nurse cow rather than a milk cow. Orphan calves do so much better if adopted by a cow than they do slurping up a bag of expensive milk replacer. With beef prices at record highs, Rosie more than pays her way, even if it’s not quite the kind of savings we were anticipating. She spends her days happily munching hay and a bit of grass as her mismatched “twins” nap nearby.
The RHR dairy operation has officially been suspended for this year.
Early this month my rancher happily announced to his friends the commencement of a new profit center. He so enjoyed hosting a guest milk cow last year, he decided he needed his own. He determined to have a Jersey because we really don’t need enough milk for the entire town of Lowry like Bunny the Holstein provided last spring. We just want milk for the family and cream for Grandma’s kuchens. He contacted Graber Jerseys, well known in purebred dairy circles and found the perfect candidate. We had the trailer all shined up to fetch her when we were informed that she had a displaced abomasum and was going to the ball park. Translation: one of her four stomachs slipped to the wrong spot rendering her useful only for John Morrell hotdogs.
Another two candidates were found closer to home. One was already in production, but came sans calf. Baby calves are extremely expensive this year and we don’t need two daily milkings. The other was a heifer ready to calve. My rancher brought her home and grandson Isaac dubbed her “Rosie”.
As with many other first pregnancies, Rosie’s involved some drama. She quit eating and drinking soon after she arrived at our place. Her hair coat looked rough and she ran a high fever. The vet was consulted. The diagnosis: hardware in her stomach. The vet put a magnet down her gullet, pumped her full of antibiotics and we all crossed our fingers. She survived. This is how much farming in the area has changed. Dr. Anderson works extensively in Edmunds, Potter and Walworth Counties, and Rosie constitutes her total dairy clientele.
Rosie’s previous owner wasn’t sure what bull sired her calf. My rancher had nightmares about petite Rosie trying to throw a 90 pound calf. He figured she’d calve within a week or two of arriving on the ranch. Near the expected time, my rancher checked on her frequently, visions of a C-section motivating him to brave the cold to take a look. After nearly 3 1/2 weeks of “she’ll calve any time now,” she finally did. A puny red calf with white markings popped out quickly, apparently the product of easy calving Hereford genetics. Little Sunshine is almost as big as Rosie’s postpartum udder. Most hunting dogs weigh more than she does.
So our new enterprise is underway. We froze enough colostrum for our own upcoming calving season. Sunshine is growing and the barn cats are fat and happy. Next week she’ll commence supplying us with milk and cream. At the current price of dairy products, and with all the summer visitors to feed this summer, the Jersey Rose might just be the ranch’s biggest profit center.
My mother-in-law loves raising poultry. Come spring, between scouting the chicks for sale at Running’s and setting clucks, it’s nearly an addiction. Every spring since we’ve been married (going on 38 years) she’s had baby chicks and/or ducks corralled in a paper box someplace in her house.
One of the nice things about somebody in the family having chickens is fresh eggs and old hens. Nothing makes better chicken soup than an old hen. Last fall, I stewed four of them with carrots, celery, onions, a couple of bay leaves, some whole allspice and peppercorns and a handful of fresh parsley. I poured off the broth and canned it. The meat I diced and froze in pint size bags. Thaw a bag of chicken, cook some noodles and add a quart of broth and you have nearly instant comfort food on a cold night. Lord knows we’ve had plenty of them lately.
This cook tires of making the same old all winter long. The following recipe is spicier than noodle soup, but is still definitely comfort food. It’s been in my “to try” folder for several years. I wish I’d kept the source so I could give credit where credit is due because it’s a keeper. I served it for our Before Bible Study supper at church last Wednesday night. Everybody enjoyed it except my rancher who dubbed it “Rabbit Turd Soup”. He has a point about the appearance, but the cumin and cilantro give it a warm taco-y flavor and the heat from the hot peppers and cayenne will take the chill off any cold evening. I’m definitely feeding it to my hunters next fall, probably laced with a few more hot peppers.
The white chicken/black bean contrast and assorted peppers give it a festive appearance. You can make it as hot or mild as you like depending on the peppers and amount of cayenne you use. Lots of South of the Border type foods aren’t particularly healthy, but this recipe is gluten free, high fiber and lo-fat to boot! Corn chips, cheese and sour cream lessen the healthy factor, but do punch up the flavor. I made it a second time and added rice to make it thicker. Like most soup, it’s even better reheated. I think it would also be good with beef and beef broth instead of the chicken. Cut way back on the broth, and it would make a good burrito or enchilada filling.
Chicken & Black Bean Soup
3-4 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
3 cans black beans (drained) or 6 cups cooked beans (1lb dried beans)
8-10 cups chicken broth
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, diced (I used an assortment of colors)
1 habanero pepper, seeded and diced (I used 2 jalapenos)
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cayenne (I used ¼ tsp)
1 tsp oregano
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bay leaf
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion, celery, peppers in olive oil until softened. Add garlic and hot pepper; cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot, bring just to a boil and reduce heat. Simmer slowly for 1/2 -1 hour so spices blend. Stir and check flavor every 10-15 minutes. Adjust spices to taste—after all, a recipe is just rough guide!
Stay warm—there’s still plenty of winter left!