A touch of history by Gary Mohr

Dairy cows have been in Minnesota since 1820, since Jean Baptiste Faribault, a French pioneer trader drove a herd of dairy cattle to Ft. Snelling to improve the diet and health of soldiers during those early pioneer days.  50 years later, in 1870, Minnesota had 121,000 milk cows, and a start on factory dairying, with two small cheese factories in Owatonna and Cannon Falls.  In the 1880’s, there were 170 small independent cheese and butter factories operating in the state, but two thirds of the 48 million pounds of butter produced in 1890 was made on the farm.  By the 1890’s, many creameries were established to buy milk and use mechanical centrifugal cream separators to separate the milk and make butter out of the cream, but this required whole milk to be brought in to the centrally located “skim stations” to separate the whole milk and haul the cream to creameries.  There were logistical problems with this system, as well as sanitary concerns and quality control problems.  Cream was sold on a quantity, not a quality basis.  Many farmers kept their cream until it soured, because it made it test better according to the crude methods to test it.  The result was poor butter and poor prices. 

A simple test developed in 1890 by Dr. Stephen Babcock allowed for easily and quickly testing to determine the butterfat content of milk.  This allowed an accurate test to determine the quality of milk from each farmer, and the value of each cow’s production.  (What gets measured, gets managed.)  This opened the door for applying technology to the improvement of quality and production, but it did not easily get accepted and adopted.  Individual farmers would be making their own butter and selling it for 10 – 12 cents per pound, but the Clarks Grove Cooperative Creamery was using better quality milk and making butter so good that they were getting 22 cents per pound for butter.  In 1890 there were only two or three cooperative creameries in Minnesota, but by 1899, there were 438 cooperative butter factories.  Each one was formed and operated separately, so there was a huge variance in methods and quality of the product they produced.

To be Continued……