Hard work, dedication make dreams a reality for Monroe woman
MONROE ‒ When Carrie Ritschard was a little girl, she dreamed of milking cows and showing cattle in the big show venues – World Dairy Expo, Harrisville and Louisville. Today, she is making that dream come true with a sixth sense for the sixth breed of dairy cows – Milking Shorthorns.
On a seven-acre farm she owns near Monroe, she has built Heavenly Show Cattle, milking a herd of 50 cows, each of which is known for its top-shelf genetics. “Heavenly” is the prefix that all her registered cattle carry. She does most of her marketing on Facebook under the banner of Heavenly Show Cattle.
For a while she milked as many as 90 cows and nearly half of the herd was Jersey, but she felt closer to the Milking Shorthorns and has removed almost all the Jerseys from the farm. “At one time I had 40-plus Jerseys but I had no luck with them. I had crabby Jerseys,” she said with a smile. She has two registered Jerseys left and is custom boarding some Canadian Jerseys on the farm.
Today her herd of mostly Milking Shorthorns numbers 150 head, with about 50 milking. Their production, which goes to Decatur Dairy to make cheese, stands at about 4.1% butterfat and 3.3% protein. Flushing her top cows and selling embryos, calves and heifers for others to show is a big part of her business plan. Showing her genetically superior animals is all part of her marketing plan. “If I wasn’t showing I don’t think I’d be farming,” she said.
She has shown as many as 15 animals at one of the big shows and currently has nine or 10 picked out for showing next year. “We only have two heifers left to show. We sold all the rest to others who are going to show them,” she says.
The breed is something of a family tradition. The farm where she grew up had belonged to her grandparents and then her parents, Mike and Sandy Ritschard, whose farm was called Mi-San Acres. Eventually they sold it. Carrie would love to someday re-own that family farm, which is a ten-minute drive from where she lives now. She has talked several times to the current owner about that possibility.
On that farm both her dad and grandfather milked Holsteins and then her dad met a guy with Shorthorns. By the time Carrie was born it was all Milking Shorthorns in the family’s barn.
After establishing her own farm and cattle business, in 2016 Carrie showed a Milking Shorthorn heifer in what she refers to as the “Triple Crown” of dairy exhibitions – winning Junior Champion with Heavenly Zippy in Harrisburg, Louisville and World Dairy Expo that year. She travels to 15 shows each year and considers that part of the marketing plan for the genetics she is cultivating in her herd.
Her parents’ tradition was to milk their cows at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. so there would be family time to do things like go to basketball games – something she has always had a love for. Carrie continues that milking-time tradition at her farm, which works well for her since she has two young children. She wants to be able to do things with them in the evenings.
Carrie graduated from Monroe High School in 2003 and the next day she bought the cows from her parents. She moved around the area, taking her cows to several rented barns, and eventually bought her current property in 2007. It was not without its heartaches. Her sweetheart of six years proposed to her and they became engaged. The next day he was killed in a tractor rollover on the farm.
Through the heartache, Carrie persevered. She has produced 70-plus All Americans of the Milking Shorthorn breed in the last six years. Son Tyler, 11, started showing at World Dairy Expo this year and is all smiles when he talks about his show heifer Heavenly Badger ZZ. Daughter Emma Lucille, 2, is named in honor of both of Carrie’s grandmothers. “She can’t wait to start showing,” Carrie said during a recent visit at her farm. “People tell me she looks just like I did at that age and she wants to show cows just like I did.”
Showing by nine
Carrie first walked her family’s Milking Shorthorn cattle on the colored shavings at World Dairy Expo when she was nine years of age. “It’s all we’ve ever shown.”
Her farm partner and fiancé is Scott Young who helps every day with the cows and the kids as well as working a full-time job in town.
When Emma gets old enough to go to school, Carrie said she might have to find something to do during the day. She hopes to get a position with her veterinary practitioner, the Argyle Veterinary Clinic. Carrie has learned to take care of a host of veterinary issues with her cows and calves but calls on the Argyle Vet for official calfhood vaccinations and serious matters like twisted stomachs.
When Carrie bought her farm it was set up for hogs. She has turned the farrowing barn into a south-facing heifer shed and added another loafing barn, which faces east. By design, her line of equipment is minimal. She has two skid loaders, one tractor and a manure spreader. She works with her neighbors on manure spreading and buys all her feed. Her cows are fed hay, ground corn and a custom protein mix.
She reserves her small acreage for pastures. The day we visited, the heifers and dry cows were lounging comfortably in pastures along one side of the farmstead.
She remodeled the red barn on the farm to hold three rows of cows in a total of 48 tie stalls which are bedded with sand and fodder. A PVC pipe holds the sand in place. The barn also houses an array of friendly farm dogs – one Corgi puppy came home with them from World Dairy Expo – and a group of Siamese barn cats. Someone dropped off those genetics at the farm one day.
History of breed goes back centuries
The Milking Shorthorn is a British breed of dairy cattle derived from the Shorthorn cattle of Tees-side in Yorkshire and Northumbria in northeastern England. At one time it was known as the Durham or Teeswater because it was developed in the Tees River Valley. Much of the breed’s improvement in the early days was done in the counties of Northumberland, Durham and York.
Milking Shorthorn cattle are red, red and white, white or roan; it is one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world. Shorthorn cattle were known for two hundred years prior to 1780 on the estates of Dukes and Earls in northeastern Britain. Different Scottish and British breeders were known for developing the cattle for either milk production or were blockier and intended for beef production.
The first importation of Milking Shorthorns to the United States was in 1783, when “milk breed” Shorthorns – then known as Durhams -- came to Virginia. An unknown number of the cattle of both the beef type and the milking type were imported to the United States and quickly spread to New York, Kentucky, Ohio and into what we would now call the Midwest. The cattle were noted for providing meat, milk and transportation for pioneers in the expanding nation.
Milking Shorthorn cows are known for being extremely docile, producing large volumes of nutritious milk and are large enough to have a high salvage value when their milking careers are over.
Breeders in the United States first began recording their Shorthorn cattle in 1846 and by 1882 the American Shorthorn Breeders’ Association was formed to register both the Milking Shorthorns and the Scotch (beef) Shorthorns. By 1948, the American Milking Shorthorn Society took over the registration and promotion of Milking Shorthorns. Milking Shorthorns were declared a dairy breed in 1969 and a few years later the breed became a member of the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association. The Society’s national office moved to its present home in Beloit, Wisconsin in 1986.
The Milking Shorthorn cow is known for its structural soundness, calving ease, long productive life and feed efficiency. They are also known for their versatility in a number of production environments, which explains why they were favored by American settlers as they formed communities in the expanding United States, with its varied topography and climactic conditions. Today, milk from Shorthorn cows averages 3.8% fat and 3.3 to 3.5 % protein.