Explore the 7 Cs in the Heart of Dairy Country
Just as the expression “to sail the seven seas” signified nautical skill in ancient time, the 7 Cs Dairy in South Central Minnesota has charted its own course.
“A 4-H project gone wild!” is how Christina (Tina) Vinkemeier describes her family’s dairy operation in Norwood Young America. Her husband, Jeff, grew up on his family’s dairy farm that was homesteaded in 1860. Fast forward nearly 20 years and now the operation has nearly doubled as their six children have become involved with 4-H and the family dairy.
Here’s a breakdown of everyone’s involvement:
- Oldest daughter, 24-year-old Courtney, has her own hobby farm where she raises horses and fainting goats. She and her fiancé have a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.
- Daughter Carley 18, helps Jeff do the evening milkings. They milk 125 cows in a double 4 step up parlor. She’s also responsible for registering all the cattle. (Side bar: Carley just graduated high school. This fall she will attend Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar for Dairy Science and Ag Business, so 7 Cs is looking to hire a full-time milker.)
- Sixteen-year-old twins, Collin and Caleb, are relief milkers when Carley or Jeff needs to be gone. They both work for neighboring dairies, plus they help Jeff with breeding cows and doing field work.
- Canton, 12, is the first one to check on the newborn calves. He enjoys feeding the calves and also helps milk when his older brothers aren’t available.
- Cadee, 11, likes to help Carley milk and feed calves.
Jeff was milking grade Holsteins when he and Tina moved onto the home place in 1997. Now their herd includes mostly crossbreds along with registered cows of several breeds including Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Ayrshire. Because their children have developed preferences for certain dairy breeds, the family had farm shirts made that read, “Add some color to your barn.”
Carley and Cadee have Jersey cattle. Caleb has his own Ayrshire cows. Collin likes the Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorn, Jersey and Guernsey. Canton enjoys showing all breeds, but he owns Ayrshire. Cadee also enjoys showing. She showed her first spring calf when she was just 3 and couldn’t wait to join the Benton Hilltoppers 4-H Club with her siblings.
When I asked them what they enjoyed most about 4-H, the Vinkemeier children told me showing cattle and dairy judging. Last year Carley, Collin & Caleb were on a 4-H dairy judging team with Jeni Haler, who is currently serving as Princess Kay of the Milky Way. With Jeff as their coach, they placed second in the state in 2014 and earned a national trip to Harrisburg where they placed third.
“We hope at least one of our kids will want to continue this legacy,” says Tina. “Regardless of what they decide to do in the future, they’ve learned life-long lessons working on our family dairy.”
Tina said that although she grew up in town, she really enjoys raising her family in the country. She says her children learn how to prioritize at a young age. They’ve developed a strong work ethic. They’ve learned how to work together, and they’ve learned how to answer questions about how food is produced.
So what do these dairy farmers wish consumers understood about milk production? Carley, one of 12 finalists for 2015 Minnesota Princess Kay of the Milky Way, was the first to respond by saying, “I really wish they understood how well we treat our animals.”
Jeff added, “My dad always said, ‘You take care of the cows and they’ll take care of you’.”
Tina said, “There are so many misconceptions about hormones in milk, the use of antibiotics and GMOs. BST is a naturally occurring hormone in milk. We only use antibiotics when our animals are sick, and the milk from animals under treatment does not get consumed. There are 17 milk tests, so there’s no chance of antibiotics being in milk that gets sold in a store.”
Got questions about milk? Talk directly to dairy farmers like the Vinkemeiers. You can reach out to other farmers across the U.S. by finding Common Ground. In addition, Best Food Facts provides answers from experts to the most frequently asked questions. There are many resources available to help you get the “Real” facts on dairy products, so you can feel comfortable making dairy a part of your family’s diet.
Today the Vinkemeiers are sharing a few of their family’s favorite recipes with us.
Wild Rice Soup
3 (10 ¾ - oz.) cans condensed chicken broth
2 c. water
1/2 c. uncooked wild rice, rinsed
1/2 c. finely chopped green onions
3/4 c. chopped carrots
3/4 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
1/8 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 c. half-and-half
8 slices bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
1 T chopped pimiento
In soup pot, combine chicken broth, water, wild rice and onions, Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add carrots and celery. Cover and simmer 60 minutes, or until rice is tender. In medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, poultry seasoning and pepper. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly until smooth and bubbly. Gradually stir in half-and-half; cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly. Slowly add half-and-half mixture into rice mixture, stirring constantly. Add bacon and pimiento. Heat gently, stirring frequently. Do not boil!! Enjoy!