Necessity, not design, brought dairying here
|There were many gadgets used to pull stumps in an effort to clear lands in Wisconsin. This one was tried about 1910 in Barron County. Horses supplied power to run the lift. Farmers attempted to burn stumps. Others employed dynamite. Thousands of stumps were left behind when the timber crop was stripped from the land.|
region didn't become a great dairying section of the state by design. It was
given little alternative except to change from a predominately wheat-growing
area to a more diversified agriculture-based economy.
A number of factors were responsible. One was arrival of the "Blissus leucopterus," more commonly known as the chinch bug.
Another was that nutrients and minerals were being taken from the soil by constant growing of wheat. Markets were falling with opening of wheatlands in the west and wheat was not suited to land in cutover areas which settlers were starting to purchase.
Sketches reason for change
Emery, in sketching the revolutionary change which converted Wisconsin and this
area from wheat-growing to cow-raising and dairy product manufacturing wrote:
"The dairy house creamer, cheese factory, condensory or receiving station was the pioneer farm kitchen. The butter maker or cheese maker was the pioneer farmer's wife. Her helpers were the children. Her dairy implements were the tin milk pans, tin skimmers, the old-fashioned churn, wooden bowl and ladle for butter-making and a like primitive outfit for cheese making.
"The market was the grocery store and that was often far away and cluttered. Butter was swapped for groceries, paying 25 cents a pound for sugar and similar prices for other articles in the grocery category. Transportation was by foot or perchance by ox team. The cows freshened in March and April, ran at large during summer and were dried off in November and December.
"There was no winter dairying. Indeed, during this primitive period, dairying was merely incidental to the great paramount interest of growing wheat."
Often there was no railroad in the vicinity and the butter and cheese had to be hauled to its destination by horsedrawn vehicles, sometimes as far as 25 miles, then sold for eight cents a pound.
Skimmed off cream
was collected in the old-fashioned way when a man came around to the farm and
skimmed it off with a big spoon. He paid for the cream by the inch, just as one
goes to the store today and busy a yard of cloth.
Wheat had attracted the farmer, but as yields became less and less per acre and as the chinch bug moved into the fields wintering in protected clumps of grass, wheat production declined drastically.
Many farmers gave up and tried to outdistance the chinch by moving to the Dakotas. but it didn't help as much as the bug followed them westward the same as it had followed farmers here in the late 1800s.
Describes swarming mites
writer, Hamlin Garland, who lived near La Crosse when the chinch bug hit hard in
1879-80, years later wrote:
"The pestiferous mites swarmed at the roots of the wheat in number like sands of sea. They sapped the growing stalks until the leaves turned yellow. They filled the granary and even our kitchens with their ill-smelling, crawling bodies."
Before this, in some areas, farmers were turning toward other products, particularly in lands in northern areas of the region including Barron and Clark counties. These areas became leaders in the switch to dairying.
The idea of substituting the cow for the plow was promoted by William D. Hoard, founder of the well-known publication, "Hoard's Dairyman."
The State of Wisconsin , a leader in agriculture legislation, sought to persuade farmers to rotate crops and turn to producing milk and other farm products.
Potatoes, tobacco, corn and hay became some of the products emphasized.
Clark and Barron counties never did rival other counties in wheat: Clark because it was covered by forest for many years and Barron because it was not settled by farmers until the 1870s when wheat was going out.
The first steps toward farming were taken by those such as the Harry Meads in the Town of Warner, Clark County.
Their original log cabin home became known as the "Dirty Shirt Farm" because loggers would bring their clothes to Mrs. mead for washing. From the money earned she was able to buy a farm.
At the turn of the century in Clark County, farmers discovered, as they had earlier in the southern part of the state, that the land was best adapted to dairying.
Early butter purchasing
was the big farm sale item. Writer Joseph Schafer said in 1923:
"Sometime in the 70s a storekeeper received a visit from a traveling better buyer who examined the accumulated supply of summer butter kept in the cellar under the store.
"He inspected jars, rolls and the "pats" of the golden-hued if not gilt-edged product, sniffing and tasting as he passed from one lot to another. Finally, after the examination was complete, he said to the merchant: "Well, all I can offer is six and a fourth; now you may take it or leave it."
"'No,' said the merchant, 'You give me six and a half and take it or leave it.'"
Thus passed, perhaps to the last middleman before it reached the ultimate consumer, the summer's dairy product of a considerable farming neighborhood.
Merchant often took loss
butter had been bought at from 5 to 20 cents a pound and the sale price would
not have covered the original cost to the storekeeper, who relied for
compensation on profits of goods sold in exchange for the butter.
This also points out the chief obstacle to success in early days of dairying, the market problem.
The sole dealer to whom the average farmer or farmer's wife resorted was the keeper of the village store, who commonly took butter as he took eggs, salt pork, lard and smoked meats in exchange for groceries and other goods.
And for 25 to 30 years prior to 1900 headway against the old-style home operation and success depended on how well butter was made by the farmer's wife. For it was the only means of trade with the merchant. His knowing customers in the towns bought butter from him carefully, thankful if they could get butter made by a woman about whose product they knew.
Little incentive to produce
was little incentive for the farmer to improve the quality of his product,
produce more milk or purchase bacteria-free equipment.
Because of inferior butter and cheese produced in the home, and the transportation factor, farmers were not reaching the cities. These chief markets were already being supplied with approved quality products from Ohio, for instance.
Furthermore, development of the dairy industry continued slowly because farmers were not in a position to provide capital for dairying cows, particularly those of high quality standards.
Earlier farmers had become accustomed to merely preparing the land, planting wheat and harvesting it, leaving the fall and winter months to work in the woods before coming home in the spring to rework the ground.
In addition, money was not available for construction of barns and fences.
Needed an economic change
|Typical of the period prior to the vast use of tractors are these scenes from a threshing day before self-propelled combines. At top, farmers in a cooperative venture help each other by pitching bundles. Large loads of grain siminar to these were hauled to the thresing machine, bottom picture.|
farmers were not ready to turn to dairying because the simple frontier economy
had few wants and thus presented few local market opportunities.
However, in a few years the area became more populated, and farmers were introduced to the "bright lights" of a higher standard of living and more complex wants.
Thus the introduction of livestock in larger numbers. Also, availability for raising grains and farm crops while dairying.
Better use of time, machinery
of crops became possible with resulting benefits to the soil. The farmer, too,
realized it was of great value to be involved in farming all year rather than on
a seasonal basis because it meant better us of labor and expensive machinery.
Raising livestock also allowed the farmer to make use of much land considered wasteland.
Farm income did not depend on a single crop such as in wheat-raising days, and large gains or losses were no longer common. Agriculture could be better planned.
Combine to build plant
seek better marketing positions in 1884, some farmers cleared land near the Town
of Luck in Polk County and built a dairy plant which was to become one of the
first cooperative efforts in America.
Their leader was Nels Lawson who asked Dean W. A. Henry of the Wisconsin College of Agriculture to come and tell farmers of practical details connected with starting a cooperative creamery. Henry predicted the enterprise would find success. Within a few years, more and more farmers joined to take advantage of cooperative ventures and cut shipping costs.
In a few years, by 1906, Clark County had 28 creameries and 30 cheese factories. Plants also grew in other counties of the region. Cows were numbered in the 100,000s in this part of the state, but it would take several decades before the great milk-producing hers of the large farms would be fully developed.
Among pioneer creameries, in Clark County, for instance, was the plant built by John Wuethrich. He started his factory at Greenwood. By this time a number of farmers throughout the region were taking milt to central plants were butter was churned and cheese made.
and persons with knowledge in these fields replaced the housewife and product
quality was such it allowed dairymen of the area to compete nationally.
Early plants, such as Wuethrich's were relatively small frame buildings with a minimum of simple equipment.
Farmers hauled milk to cheese factories and creameries in wagons pulled by teams and in later years in pickup trucks. This all gave way to the modern method of having a bulk truck pump milk from the farm storage tank and haul it to a receiving plant.
Only abandoned ones remain
as the cheese factory and creamery replaced the farmer's wife, the large central
plant replaced most small cheese factories. In 1976, there are hundreds left
abandoned or converted to some other use.
Milk and related products, which were once taken only a few miles to a local merchant and traded for groceries are now transported hundreds of miles before being processed.
But these changes did not come overnight.
The state government worked hand in hand with the dairy industry and through its extension division and publications, the College of Agriculture became the single major agency among farmers in promoting dairying and carrying on experiments. There were a number of inventions that solved some problems, among them Stephen Moulton Babcock's milk tester which helped develop a suitable method of marketing milk under the factory system.
Dairy herd diseases controlled
1893, Professor H. H. Russell, later dean of the College of Agriculture,
introduced bacteriological tests for purification of herds from infectious
diseases, especially tuberculosis, and his practical method of pasteurizing milk
were only second in importance to the Babcock test in influence on scientific
As early as 1885, the College of Agriculture sponsored an institute titles "Grain Farming vs. Dairy Farming" at Hudson. Later institutes pushed the advantage of purebred cattle as compared with scrubs and the relative merits of various breeds.
Farmers also raised potatoes and in some areas tobacco as another example of diversification of agriculture.
In other areas other specialty crops were raised. For instance, a 1930 report said:
"Farmers around Cumberland have just finished harvesting the biggest crop of rutabagas they have ever raised and are getting good prices.
"The yield ran from 400 to 1,000 bushels to the acre and the farmers sold at an average of 40 cents a bushel.
"Thousands of bushels of rutabagas are raised around Cumberland every year, and they are then brought by the merchants and shipped in carload lots to the cities."
Raising chickens and turkeys throughout the area is still another diversification. There are several million grown in the area. Large processing plants are located from Arcadia near the south end of the region to Barron in the north.
And throughout the years, the dairy farmer learned he cannot make it alone as in the days of the farm wife doing her making.
Much of his success has been through efforts involving cooperatives and farm organizations. Many of the first cheese factories were started as co-ops. From such actions came the Grange, Farm Bureau, Farmer's Union, National Farmers Organization and other associations.
In all, dairying has come a long way since the day the cow replaced the plow.
- Arnie Hoffman
Extracted from the Eau
Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.