Sunday, November 7, 2010

Food-The Real Deal

I guess it is a matter of perspective.  Some people ask us,
“How do you do it? Being so far from “civilization” with no Walmart, no Lowe’s, no fast food?”
Living 5 hours from grocery shopping is, to me, a blessing. I remember living in the city, and swinging thru the local drive-thru for almost inedible fare, and going out on a regular basis for ‘heart-attack-on-a-plate” meals at restaurants because we were either too tired, or too stressed, or too late getting home from work to fix anything else.

I’ve never been suited to the city lifestyle, so it wasn’t a difficult adjustment when we came to work and live at the ranch, here in SE Oregon. There are 4 freezers and a walk-in refrigerator at the end of our house, which hold beef, venison and pork for the ranch crew.  We also have 2 freezers in our quarters, and 2 refrigerators. One small room is all pantry shelves and we buy staples in bulk, as everything is made from scratch. We work 7 days a week here, often long hours, but the stress levels are almost 0. It is a natural rhythm that goes on and there is more hilarity found in the things of life here than one could possibly imagine.

Being a ‘homebody’ who detests long drives, I have compromised with Randyman and we go to town 5 hours away and shop every 3 months, instead of every 6, which would be my choice. The only thing we run out of is lettuce, which cannot be stored more than a couple of weeks. Although, with a Vacuumsaver, Jarsealer and Large Mason jars, even that can be extended.

A small flock provides fresh large eggs with dark yolks that stand at attention and taste infinitely better than commercial eggs, which are usually 3 weeks old or so before they even hit the stores, and besides who couldn’t appreciate the little murmuring sounds of contented hens, and the crowing of a rooster at dawn? It’s music to my ears.

Our little Jersey cows give creamy, amazing milk. Fresh raw milk is much different than commercial pasteurized. I left a gallon in the fridge for 2 months as a science experiment and instead of rotting it just clabbered. Although pasteurization is a necessary evil for commercial milk, clean raw milk tends to become other products, long before rotting. I notice after 1 week of not drinking raw, that my pain levels rise. The natural cortisone in raw milk must provide enough to take the edge off.
Heavy cream skimmed off the top after 24 hours provides us with things like homemade ice cream, sour cream, and homemade butter that is so rich and dark yellow that even with its added food coloring, commercial butter looks pale alongside. Mozzarella, ricotta, feta, cheddars, and other cheeses can be made at home, although hard cheese production has been delayed here until next season. Yogurt is a staple, as it is easily made and is another good use of the extra milk we get, and the remainder is often ‘clabbered’ and made into cottage cheese, or fed to the chickens and pups, who consider it a delicacy. A little milk or cream is always put in the freezer for making homemade soap, which is a luxury I would never give up.

There is incredible satisfaction that comes from going out in the pasture and calling the milk cows in. They are spoiled and Dolly, with her little twisted face bearing a resemblance to Stallone, begs shamefully and EmmaLou, her newly bred heifer, bucks and plays and runs in circles more like a horse than a cow.
Milking time is not to be under appreciated. I’ll sit in the barn with the smell of fresh straw, rubbing her shoulder and leaning my forehead against her flank as she happily munches on her hay and grain while my surge-milker does the hard work for me. Lots of daydreaming, and expressions of thankfulness occur in this setting. As I am active with many other chores on the ranch, I don’t milk daily. We keep 2 orphan calves with her all the time, and they ‘relief’ milk for me, so its only necessary for me to milk her when we need it, or it is convenient. With 4000 head of beef cows on the ranch, there is no shortage of orphans here. I raised 26 of them on a bottle this year, as I only allow my cow to foster 2 at a time.

A milk cow is the most efficient and productive animal on the ranch. She not only provides us with an abundance of dairy products, but she also provides meat thru her calves, and outstanding fertilizer for my garden. She feeds nearly every critter on the place in one way or another, and does it by eating grass…a renewable resource. I am grateful and lucky to have a cow.

The calves provide a lot of entertainment, as well as exasperation.  They clamor for their bottles, often settling for a knee or an elbow while I fight my way thru the mob to the bottle hangers and return to the house covered with calf spit and hickeys.

The boss buys pigs every year at the fair, and has them cut and wrapped. We are fortunate that the butcher does a good job smoking the bacons and hams. Butchering used to be done on the ranch, and all the equipment necessary to doing it is still here, but it’s a specialized skill and time consuming, so we hire it out. Being the one who usually has to cut and wrap our own deer every year, I appreciate it. Randyman wants to raise some of his own pigs, as he is fond of them. I don’t mind, as long as I don’t have to go in with them.

The sheep and goats are social and even affectionate with me, as they are a very small herd and get lots of individual attention. The two Maremma guardian pups were bought for their protection from predators, but have brought a lot of laughter and affection to our summer as well. I now look forward to walking the perimeter of the 20-acre pasture behind our house (the smallest on the 250,000 acre ranch, most being 200-1500 acres in size) while my little “thundering herd” of goats, sheep, orphan calves and pups follow my every move. If there was any laughter stuck in me, it manages to bubble out somewhere along these walks. Nothing is worse than being laughter-constipated. It’s a proven fact, and I highly recommend the treatment. The bible says “laughter is like a medicine” and so it is.

Freezer space is at a premium, so vegetables are mostly canned, and bread is homemade, as is soup and broth. I am not an ‘organic’ or even a health fanatic, although I know we have reaped the benefits from eating real food, and the difference in flavor and quality have made a lifetime advocate out of me.

 There ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby!


  1. Sounds like total job satisfaction - for you and the animals you care for! Having a milk cow that resembles Stallone - hilarious. And what a great shot of the smirky smile from your goat - even a bad day at your place must be good.

  2. Thank you, and you are right. Even a bad day here is good!