Archive | March 2013

The Love in a Mother’s Milk

Sometimes nature can be so cruel. A storm has taken hold of eastern Colorado, dropping a good twelve inches of snow. We celebrate the moisture surely, however, also hold our breath hoping that our soon-to-be momma cows will wait for a different day to give birth. Delivering in a storm like this is a rancher’s fear – but it’s hard to control Mother Nature.

We are almost half-way through our calving season. Thirteen down, fifteen to go. It’s a small number compared to the big ranches, but a big amount for us. It’s more than any other year as we continue to grow our grassfed beef operation. All thirteen babies have been successfully delivered, but sadly we lost one of our two-year old heifers about ten days ago. She was a lovely, quiet Angus-cross, but her baby was immense for a first-time momma. She died in childbirth. We have been heartsick at her loss, but smile each time we see her calf – a big feller we have dubbed as ‘Rex’ as in T-Rex. He is a bouncing baby bull calf with an insatiable appetite. He finishes his bottle and looks for more. He wraps his lips around anything that resembles a nipple. Morning, noon and night he gleefully gulps his milk replacer and hunts for more!

We are a close-knit group out here in the country. Your neighbors are as close as family, so when the phone rang yesterday morning and a fellow rancher asked, “do you still have your orphaned calf?” we were not surprised. Our friend explained that he had lost a calf during the storm, and was willing to bring the momma to our calf!

Over they came, pickup and trailer, rancher and momma cow. She hesitantly stepped off the trailers. She had to have been distraught at everything that had happened to her in the last twelve hours, but still – there she stood, calmly looking at our calf.

Our little guy had never had the pleasure of his momma’s milk – knowing only a human’s touch as we tried to keep him healthy. He was clueless! He ran after us knowing a human as his only source of food.

We waited for a little while, watching quietly. She appeared very willing. Her udder was distended with colostrum and milk and she murmured to him. The little guy wasn’t sure, so we decided to milk the cow and put the liquid in his bottle. Coaxing him to come to her with the bottle, we leaned down and transferred his mouth from the rubber nipple to the real thing. She immediately quieted with the pressure being relieved in her udder. The calf nursed and nursed.

We were hopeful as he got his belly full. He fell fast asleep! We too slept well with the hope that he finally had the presence of a mother so willing to love our orphan – even after the loss of her own baby.

As morning dawned, we were eager to see how the two had gotten along. We couldn’t tell if he had nursed on his own, so we guided him over to the cow again. He took to the promise of a full belly even faster than he had done the first day. Even though he needed to be coaxed a bit, he latched on and drank like a pro.

This evening we sat a distance away from them both, watching through binoculars to make sure we didn’t disrupt them. Kevin turned to me and said, “I think he is nursing right now!!!”. Sure enough, his whole face was covered with milk. At one point, the momma cow turned 180 degrees for him to nurse the other side. We were amazed.

We are truly grateful for the friend who lent us this quiet momma and her life-giving milk. The only one who was disappointed with the whole situation was Lolli, our chocolate lab, who loved to catch all the drips off the calf’s mouth as he drank his bottle!!

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Easter Dinner – en Croute!

The crew is coming here for our Easter celebration. I'm sure we will have bright eyes and smiles as the little ones come with their baskets to see what the Easter bunny has left for them!

It reminds me of an Easter Sunday just two years ago. Our family was blessed with five Swedish visitors, three of which would stay on with us for almost a month. They were chosen by their school to come to Colorado in a study to compare Sweden to America and how we use our horses! Of the other two visitors, one was a beautiful girl who had spent her senior year with us as an exchange student in the 1990s.

So, what better place to show our American horse heritage than on a ranch? Our eager visitors jumped in head first – learning how to move cattle, tag newborn calves, and even helping on branding day.

It was a month we all remember fondly!

Happy Easter girls!!!

A special Easter Dinner this year will be both Pork and Beef Tenderloins en Croute.

So…what's en croute? Sounds pretty fancy, huh? It typically means “to wrap”, so our holiday dinner will be wrapped in pastry. Since we raise our own beef and pork, we often put the tenderloins away for a special occasion.

Begin by taking a 3-4 pound tenderloin and roast it in 425 degree oven until it reaches 130 degrees. Remove it from the oven and place it in the refrigerator to cool. The reason we do this is so that the meat is “partially” roasted when you fold it inside the pastry.

Next, take 1/2 pound of finely chopped mushrooms and sauté in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add one 8 ounce container of your favorite cream cheese with herbs and garlic. (You can find it pre-packaged at the grocery store, or you can add your own favorite herbs yourself). Combine the mushrooms, cream cheese, 1/4 cup of dry bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons of Madeira wine or fruit juice of your choice. Finish the mixture with one tablespoon of freshly chopped chives and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let this mixture cool.

The recipes that I have always used call for you to wrap your tenderloin in “puff pastry” sheets. Feel free to do that if you wish. I like to prepare a dough in my bread maker, any of your favorite bread recipes will work – just set your machine on the dough setting. This gives you even more control of the flavor surrounding your tenderloin.

Lay your pastry on a lightly floured surface and place the tenderloin in the middle. Spread the mushroom/cream cheese mixture over the meat and fold the pastry around it. Just like wrapping a present! Press the edges of the pastry to seal, and brush your masterpiece with an egg wash. Place in a greased pan for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. (Remember, we pre-baked the tenderloin, so it will basically just reheat inside the pastry envelope.)

 

Pork Tenderloin en Croute

If your group enjoys pork as much as mine does, try this slightly different version:

Using a 2 pound pork tenderloin, wrap with four pieces of prosciutto. Top with two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and a pinch of dried rosemary. You will note that you do not pre-bake the pork before wrapping it in your pastry. Poke three holes in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes double checking the pork's progress with a meat thermometer. Let rest for five minutes.

Have a blessed Easter!

 

Here’s the Scoop! (on dirt…)

Spring is almost here in the Rockies! I have been diligently checking my soil temperatures in the high tunnel and the day finally arrived! My raised beds were above 40 degrees and the cold crops of vegetables can go in the ground!

For the last two years I have been working on a grant through the NRCS on extending the growing season for fruits and vegetables. What that means is….I try to dream up any way I can think of to extend our zone 5 growing season.

After constructing our high tunnel, one of our first order of business was to construct raised beds. These can be made of any material you wish – anything from 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s, even larger lumber like 2 x 12s. You can use cement block or bricks. Please avoid railroad ties and pressure treated lumber! They contain chemicals that could leach into your soil and get into your plants. We only want you to grow goodness in your beds.

We used 2 x 6s in our high tunnel, but dug the soil within the bed down 6″ and mixed it with the organic matter and new soil we had brought in to fill our bed. You want to avoid just putting your new soil on top of the existing soil – it can seriously impede your plant roots from going down. Mix it up!

Raised beds give the gardener a jump on the growing season as they dry out faster after a snow or rain, and the soil warms at a faster pace than regular ground-level soil. It is easy to check the fertility of the soil within your bed and to apply any fertilizer you may need because you know how many square feet you are dealing with within the bed itself.

It's important to make your raised bed only as wide as you can reach across from each side. For me, my beds are four feet wide. I can easily reach two feet across to the middle – which is very important! One of the secrets to gardening in a raised bed is you never ever want to step in it! Soil compaction is a gardener's enemy!

Have you ever heard of block planting? It's relatively new in the gardening world, but it's benefits are astounding. I remember, as a little girl, following my Dad around the garden with my bucket of seeds. One seed spaced perfectly from another in a long row. Thirty feet of beets, fifty feet of beans. A nice walkway in between each row. A beautiful garden – brings back great memories!! But even better are the results you can get with block planting.

Take carrots, for example. By planting a carrot seed every three inches, every direction, you not only increase your yield up to five-fold, but the foliage will block out the sunlight to the weed seed in your soil. Without sun, your weeds cannot germinate! We are all for less weeding – for sure! Here are a few examples of how your raised beds will look during the growing season.




As you can see, I have been able to pack a lot of beautiful vegetables into my 4' x 8' raised bed. It is easy to reach into, I have installed four 1/4″ drip line with emitters every 6″ to put that moisture right where the plant can easily receive it. Mulch is necessary in most of my beds in the high tunnel. Colorado has very low humidity and great temperature fluctuations. The mulch allows us to keep that soil moist and cool in the hot sun and helps to shield the weed seeds from sunlight and germination. The taste quality of your crop is improved also. Think of it this way…have you ever been in your garden on a hot July day? Your corn plants had received an adequate watering that morning but now the foliage is drooping and they look thirsty? You are right! Not only has your water dissipated in the sun or wind, but the plant's taste is affected with the stress. A three inch layer of mulch would have helped protect your corn from the loss of the moisture, shield the weed seeds from germination, and make your crop taste better. Bingo!!

Compare the taste of your home-grown tomatoes to any store-bought one! There is none!

Happy gardening!

 

Flour Bin or Flower Bin?

We purchased our property in late 2004. I say “property” because it was vacant land with what realtors refer to as a pusher-downer house on it. The house was in such bad shape that it was not considered in the asking price of the property.

 

Little did we know, on that first day as we toured the place, the inside of the old house held a vast amount of treasures….even photograph albums of the family as it had grown over the years. We just couldn't push the house down, nor could we stand to throw all the old relics inside.

 

One of the old pieces of furniture was dragged to a storage shed where it stood, patiently waiting, for someone to spend time refinishing it. That time finally came! A couple of weeks ago I donned a respirator and a sander and began to strip the old paint off this beautiful pantry (for lack of a better word). It had stood right inside the entry door as you entered the old home and housed Mrs. Scott's recipes and special articles she had saved from the early 1900s.

 

There were multiple news articles showing how to cure meat inside the pantry. One of the recipes explained how to “put up sausage”. It called for “24 pounds of meat, 9 tablespoons of sage, 7 tablespoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of black pepper, 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Make into cakes, thoroughly cook without browning too much, and put into big-mouthed glass jars and cover with lard. In this way, it will keep indefinitely.” Wow!!! These people did not have access to refrigeration as we do now, so they had to be creative to keep meat year 'round.

 

There were newspapers from The Weekly Kansas City Star dated November 17, 1926 that lined the bottom of the area where flour was kept. I guess it kept the flour from slipping through the cracks in the bottom of the pantry. There was a brochure that touted Iron Day Drudgery is Unknown to the Woman Who Uses a Royal Self Heating Iron. I am sure that it was a great improvement to ironing in the early 1900s.

 

We had found three old kerosene lanterns on the property during those first days. The globes had broken over the years, I had imagined, but the Scott's family had fashioned a screen to protect the flame and make it usable.

 

We have had the lamps on display in our kitchen for years now. I had wondered, many times, what they had looked like when they were new. Lo and behold, inside the pantry came the answer – the lamps were called the New Sunshine Safety Lamps. They had been sold with a 15 day trial and were guaranteed for five years. Check out the beautiful globe the lamps had! May be on the ” look-out” for them in an antique store!

 

We found an interesting trial package of Walko's White Diarrhea Roup and Cholera Tablets for poultry. It had been sent as a trial package to the box holders on the mail route. It was still full of the tablets – never had been used. Full directions included….

 

On to the task at hand! I sanded the paint off the pantry and found it to be as cute as I had hoped it to be. It has a drop-down lid missing, but appears to be otherwise in pretty good shape. Back in the day, there was no such thing as a “finishing nail” as the heads on all the nails are big! I think that's what gives it character!

 

I measured the pantry and then ran around the kitchen to see where it might fit in the house. It will fit pretty well in the hallway where a quilt stand sits now. I am torn between putting the piece back in action as a “flour” bin, or painting it a vivid color and filling the drawers full of beautiful draping flowers….a “flower” bin. I believe Mrs. Scott, who passed decades ago, might be pretty happy to see her pantry back in the kitchen of her home (you got it, we fixed the old house up – just couldn't bear to tear it down!) I have been told that she was also quite a gardener, so either way I think she will be pleased!

What do you think?

 

Mrs. Scott's seeds