TURN OF THE CENTURY 1900 (Agribusiness): Milking cows was an art in early days

The amount of milk reportedly processed by the Janzen-Ebel creamery in Hillsboro around the turn of the 20th century suggests area farmers milked some 1,600 cows each morning and evening?based on the estimate that the average cow of that era produced about three gallons of milk per day.

The size of the creamery may have been somewhat inflated since it would take some 300 dairymen with herds of six to 10 cows to produce that quantity of milk.

Milking was done by hand in those days, usually with the help of children and teenagers in the family.

Small-time dairymen usually had four cows producing at one time; larger operations had eight or more.

A good milk cow would have its first calf at the age of 3 and produce milk annually for six or seven years. Good stock produced for about seven months of the year; poor stock for only four months.

Progressive dairy farmers began installing stanchions about 1910, when cream separators became more efficient. Before then, most small farmers simply tied one end of a rope or leather belt around the cow?s neck and the other end to the mangers of the horse stalls or to the wooden walls of the cow shed.

A good milker trained his cows to stand at the same spot at milking time. The cow ate oats or corn while they were being milked.

Milking a cow by hand was no simple job. The process took five to 15 minutes per cow?the shorter the time, the better the cow?and required strong hand and finger muscles on the part of the milker. Fingernails were cleaned and trimmed to keep from injuring the cow?s delicate utter.

Proper milking techniques were somewhat of an art form that paid benefits; a relaxed and contented cow would yield more milk than a nervous and excited one.

Adapted from Hillsboro: City on the Prairie by Raymond F. Wiebe.

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