The drought we are currently suffering through is showing no signs of improving. Despite our positive attitudes and all the thoughts and prayers for water that we can muster, things continue to get worse. All agriculture related conversations inevitably circle around to water. When will it rain? Will it be a wet year? El Nino? Do you know anyone with extra feed? How are we going to survive? Needless to say, our whole family, actually the whole community, is suffering from a great deal of anxiety.
Let me tell you, the worst thing you can say to someone in agriculture right now is anything along the lines of “it’s not going to rain” or “it’s going to be another dry year”. It’s almost like a slap in the face. Staying focused on the now, making it day to day, convincing ourselves it’s going to be okay, are the only things keeping most of us motivated. This is very real to us.
Every rancher I know is making every effort to conserve water, to become more efficient and, well, survive. Some ranchers are buying and making all the hay they can. They need feed for their cattle and know that is the only way to get it right now. Other ranchers are culling their herds. We are doing both.
In addition to selling our calf crop, where we earn the majority of our income, about two months early, we made the decision to cull or sell, more cattle than we normally would. Selling your mother cows is almost like selling your future and past. These are cows whose genetics were planned years before they were ever born. We watched their births, we watched them grow up, we cared for them their whole lives, we watched them, in turn, give birth. Now we must sell them.
Granted, culling cows is a necessity for a healthy herd. Removing genetics that are not efficient makes your herd more sustainable. And, ranching is a business. If a cow is not making you money, she is costing you money. Most of us operate within such tight margins, we simply can’t afford to have the deadweight, even in a good year.
It’s different when you are forced to cull cows before they are ready. The drought has forced such action. Cows that had calves that weren’t “perfect”, older cows, cows that simply looked at us the wrong way at the wrong time, all were sold. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to some of these good cows.
This is our reality. If we want to continue to ranch despite this drought, tough choices need to be made. Having healthy cattle and ground is our only option and that means doing whatever we must to sustain those things. Running less cattle on our dry ground will cause less stress to everything, therefore when it does rain again (and it will!!), we will be able to bounce back faster and better.
A few weeks ago, my Dad was reminiscing with me about family history and family members long dead and gone. I was lucky enough to meet some of these people when I was small. I have some hazy memories of certain encounters. I am constantly trying to strengthen these memories by pestering people who remember more than I do, or connecting by recipes, because taste and smell seem to bring memories galloping back.
My Dad was telling me about cutting firewood for his Aunties and doing various “chores” for them like picking fruit, killing wild game, etc. Dad mentioned he used to pick a lot of chokecherries and gooseberries for jelly making. Immediately I perked up and demanded to know more.
I had vague memories of riding my horse and picking something for jelly when I was very small. I was little, therefore, super short, and couldn’t reach the fruit. But, like any enterprising young ranch kid, you found ways around that. I can’t remember much about this memory, like what berry, how old I was, or who we were picking them for, but I do remember riding my horse Sequoia.
I spent so much time on our mountain ranch this summer I was unable to devote as much time to my passions of gardening and canning. However when Dad taught me what a chokecherry bush looked like, I knew I had the opportunity to make up for lost canning time! During the middle of the afternoon, when it was too hot to do much else, I picked chokecherries, lots and lots.
- 3 cups chokecherry juice
- 6 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 box (2 pouches) liquid pectin
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon butter (to prevent foaming)
Pour juice, sugar and butter into large heavy saucepan and stir to mix. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Bring to a full, rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir and skim off foam. Add almond extract. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal with two-piece canning lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
This jelly is delicious. The almond extract really adds a lovely layer of flavor. Since I picked so many chokecherries I am attempting to make wine. Stay tuned as I am just a few more weeks from trying it, and if it’s good, I’ll show you how I did it!