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Notes from the Paynesville Historical Society. . .

Dairy cattle came to the area with the early settlers

By Dolores Hislop

Dairy cattle are included in a group of animals that are world-wide, domesticated, and largely used for food and labor. Among the wild cattle are the bison of America and Europe, the buffalo of Asia and Africa, and the yak of central Asia. The beef breeds include the Shorthorn, Hereford, Aberdeen, Angus, and Galloway; some of the dairy breeds are the Jersey, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Holstein-Friesian. The dual purpose breeds include Red Polled and Brown Swiss which are used as both beef and as dairy cattle.

Dairy cattle were brought to the Paynesville area by the early settlers to provide the needed milk and butter. There was not an abundance of cows and farmers raised wheat which was a good source of income. However, during the 1880s to 1890s, the farmers began raising livestock and milking more cows. During this time, the state of Minnesota became one of the leading dairy states.

Theophilus L. Haecker was involved with the University of Minnesota School of Agriculture and interested in the dairy industry. He brought scientific methods to cattle management. He studied dairy cattle and developed an effective diet for a milk cow and judging standards which aided in the selection and breeding of cows which improved the dairy market. Mr. Haecker decided that the Holstein was the best milking cow for Minnesota farms. The Holstein produces the most milk of all the breeds of cattle and was the breed of cow that most farmers chose for dairy production.

There were changes taking place as farmers increased the number of cows in their herd. At first, one or two cows produced enough milk for everyday use and also to make butter. When power machinery came into the area, farmers could plant and harvest easier and more feed became available so farmers added more cows to be milked. At this time, the farmer took the milk to a creamery which separated the milk and the cream for him. Then a machine which separated the milk was invented called the separator, which enabled the farmer to do the separation process at the farm.

In the 1880s, the dairy industry saw other improvements, along with the cream separator, such as the use of a silo, and the Babcock milk fat test. The Babcock test provided an easy way to measure the richness of milk. A settling can had been used previously which was a way to measure the cream content of milk. Milk was poured into the can and allowed to cool. The cream would rise and a window on the side of the can showed the amount of cream in the can. Milk was drained out from a bottom spigot. The Babcock milk fat test used a spinning type of device called a centrifuge. Sulphuric acid was added to a milk sample which broke down the fat globules, the milk was placed in a test bottle and spun in the centrifuge. The fat gathered in the neck of the test tube which was then measured. The Babcock test was an easy way to accurately determine the amount of butterfat in the milk and creameries and the farmer could easily decide how much would be paid for their product.

The dairy industry continued to change with improved methods and more sanitary conditions on the farms. Milking machines and the bulk tank system have replaced hand milking, farmers have more cows, use various milking procedures, and take an active role in marketing their product. The milk products such as butter, cheese, and ice cream are important to our diet and we can thank the dairy farmer and the dairy industry for providing us with this nutritious food.

The Paynesville Historical Museum has several items on display in the Dairy Exhibit that were mentioned in this article. Cream separators, milking machines, butter churns, a Babcock Test Centrifuge, and other dairy-related items. We would be happy to show these and the other displays to you when you come to visit and we look forward to seeing you.

(Author's Note: Information for this article came from The Modern Encyclopedia by William E. Lass and from information at the Paynesville Historical Museum.