They’ve known each other since they were young 4-H members showing calves. Both graduated with ag-related degrees from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Both worked on other people’s farms before buying their own scenic spread called Wide Open Acres, outside of Hixton in the hills of Jackson County in 2001.
In other ways this dairy duo is non-traditional.
He works off of the farm while she farms full-time. For the last eight years, Charlie has been a district sales rep for Semex, a cattle genetics company. Katie milks their herd every morning and they split chores every evening.
Their dairy herd is also non-traditional, not just because it’s made up of black and white Holsteins and red and while Milking Shorthorns. The Bues have carved out a niche by providing exceptional care for other people’s high-end show cattle. For half a stake in their ownership and a monthly charge, the cattle are being kept in a separate pasture, fed a special ration based on their individual needs, and washed and led regularly. One of the Milking Shorthorns on the farm was named best of her breed at the 2011 World Dairy Expo in Madison.
“I never dreamed I’d have a good herd of cattle,” said Katie, who first became active in the cattle showing circuit with her family’s Milking Shorthorns.
Her soft spot for the relatively rare dairy breed comes partly from family tradition and growing up around other enthusiasts; most of her childhood family vacations were trips to Shorthorn conventions.
Katie credits her father, Vince Ruzic, with driving her wherever she wanted to show her cattle, but says she and her siblings’ showing skills literally started from scratch.
“We learned through watching others. It was trial and error,” she recalls.
Seeking more show ring competition, Katie bought her own Holstein as a teen. She married Charlie (a Holstein fan) and began milking their blended herd in 2002.
“I have a quota,” she said with a laugh, referring to how many red cows Charlie wants to see in the milking string.
These days, leading the pack of “shorties” (as Katie affectionately calls them) is a temper-mental five-year-old named Lady. She came to the farm from California in July 2010 with some health problems following a calving.
“She was a beast,” Katie said of the cow’s behavior on the halter. “I put a lot of time into getting her to chill out.”
With Katie’s sister, Carla Stetzer, on the halter, Lady paraded herself into being named grand champion of the International Milking Shorthorn Show in Madison.
“It was fun for me to watch her develop,” Katie said of the somewhat-surprise champion. “After all of that work, it was an indescribable feeling to see her win.”
As for future goals, Katie says she would like to have an Expo winner bred on their farm. With just over 100 acres, the Bues may add more land in the future, but do not intend to add more cows. Katie said their motto is to “get better and become more profitable from within.”
World Dairy Expo is one of the four or five cattle shows the Bues exhibit at annually. Upon returning home from this year’s Expo on an early Sunday morning, Katie said her thoughts turned back to getting into the routine of her family and farm.
When asked what kind of homecoming a world champion cow receives, Katie said she simply turned Lady out to pasture with her herd mates and said, “You can go out and be a regular cow for a while.”
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the December/January 2011-12 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.