My father, Gordon Raddatz of Oshkosh, was involved in the dairy business for more than 70 years. Dad has passed away, but a few years ago we talked about his memories of his adventures in America’s Dairyland and I wrote down some of his comments and recollections.
Dad, what is your first recollection of your dairy farm?
The earliest single event in my life that I can recall was the delivery of my father’s first tractor in 1922, an International 8-16. It had a 4-cylinder engine with the radiator at the rear of the engine and it used kerosene for fuel. It had external roller chains as the final drive to the steel wheels with angled lugs.
Another memory is when I was 9 years old and it was my task to get the cows from the pasture for milking time. My favorite cow would let me sit on her back in the barn which I found was also the case in the pasture. She even let me ride her to the barn bringing the other cows with us. It wasn’t long before she wouldn’t even come to the barn for milking unless I rode her there, so I was stuck with my pasture job for quite a while. There were several cows and heifers that let me ride them.
What do you remember about milking when you were young?
It was very tedious work. A farm’s milk sales volume was determined by the number of family members that could help milk by hand. Five to 15 cows was the size of most dairy herds back then and our herd was at the top end of the scale. Our cows were put out on pasture for the primary feed source in the summer. In winter they were fed hay and corn silage with a small amount of grain.
My earliest recollection of the milking equipment we used is several eight-gallon milk cans, soldered tin pails and a strainer. The filter was a piece of cloth large enough to fit across the strainer. There was a rack holding the cans and milk pails a few feet from the outdoor hand water pump. This served for washing and storing the milking utensils between milkings. Of course, one must not forget the one and three-legged stools we sat on while milking.
You mentioned feeding corn silage. When was the farm’s first silo built?
In 1918, the year I was born, my father built one of the early silos in the community. It was a 12’ diameter by 30’ tall glazed tile silo that was a very long-lived investment, as we used it until the late sixties. It remained standing solidly until it was razed in 1992. The farm’s second silo, a 12’ x 40’ concrete stave silo, I built in 1950 when I expanded the herd to 24 cows.
How did you cool the milk in those days?
On our farm there was a milk can cooling tank in a shed near the barn. Well water was pumped into the tank after milking. The overflow went into the livestock watering tank outside. A milk stirring rod was occasionally used to stir the milk in the cans until it cooled down. The goal in those days was to get the milk temperature down to 50 degrees (about as low as you could normally get it with well water). In winter, cooling the milk was much less of a problem. In extremely cold weather, the problem was running enough water into the stock tank fast enough to keep it from freezing into a solid block of ice.
The big advance in dairy equipment on our farm was when my father purchased a milking machine in about 1930. We purchased the Fords brand of milking machines (no connection with the auto manufacturer). It was a portable vacuum pump with the milk receiving pail placed between two cows. Both these cows were milked and then the unit was moved to the next set of cows.
You were a teenager during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. What do you remember about farming in that era?
Low prices of one dollar per hundred pounds of milk (that’s about 11.5 gallons) spawned militant groups like the Wisconsin Milk Pool to call a milk strike. This resulted in the Governor of Wisconsin declaring a moratorium on milk marketing for several days. No deliveries were legal except to hospitals and people with small children. Picketers halted milk trucks, forcing them to dump their loads. Such tactics pitted neighbor against neighbor and friend against friend. Barns were burned and cheese factories’ equipment mysteriously became contaminated with kerosene. A lot of milk marketing cooperatives were formed helping farmers deal with the harsh realities of the free market system.
During the Depression, farmers living near urban areas delivered milk directly to consumers in order to enhance their income but we weren’t one of those. Fierce competition and other economic factors forced the price of a quart of milk to a low point of five cents. At one time 50 farms were delivering milk into Oshkosh. This is when regulation and inspection first began to creep into the distribution system. Reports listing the bacteria count and butterfat content of each dealer’s milk were published monthly. Random samples were picked up for testing as the dealer made his deliveries.
What about when you were in high school?
At that time many high school vocational ag departments were encouraging students to start testing their home herds for milk and butterfat production and developing their own herd improvement programs. I became involved in such a herd testing program and was the first student in the Oshkosh High School agriculture department to prove a bull. I didn’t receive or want credit for it, though, because the bull’s proof was bad, that is his daughters were producing less milk than their dams (mothers) instead of more. It was a learning experience, though, and I found out the importance of knowing each cow’s production in order to improve the herd.
When the war began I was already operating the farm with my father and had enough production units to merit a farm deferment from the military draft. War-time shortages made times tough for everyone, and new trucks or tractors were not available except for the defense industry’s use, so we had to keep the equipment we had going as best we could.
In 1944 an opportunity arose for me to purchase a truck and route hauling milk to the White House Milk Company in Winneconne which supplied condensed milk for the A&P food stores nationwide. I acquired the 1939 Dodge truck from the previous owner after it had been hit by a train. Because of the war, parts were hard to find and I had to run it with a cracked engine block ‘patched’ with a piece of flat steel bolted over the crack for nearly a year before a new motor block assembly became available and was installed. I sold the route in 1950 when I decided to expand the number of milking cows on the farm to 24 and upgrade to Grade A production standards to ship milk into the Chicago market.
It sounds like selling the milk route started some major changes?
Selling milk in cans became obsolete within a 10-year period. I expanded the dairy herd from 24 to 45 cows during 1956-57. A new milk house and wash room was built in 1956. A 300-gallon bulk milk storage tank was also installed at this time. In 1957 the barn was lengthened and a mechanical barn cleaner was installed. After several years in the Chicago market we switched to shipping milk to the Guernsey Dairy Co. (Oshkosh fluid milk market). We continued shipping to GDC until the company was sold to Morning Glory Farms about 1980.
Our herd’s production levels advanced dramatically after artificial insemination became part of my farming practices in the early 1950s. The dairy herd bull was a dangerous animal that was a necessary part of maintaining the herd. A bull has an unreliable temperament and many farmers were killed or injured while handling or moving them about the barn or farmstead. Fortunately, I don’t remember any really close calls.
Thanks Dad, that’s where my memories of growing up on the farm begin.
Wes is the District 7 Coordinator for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. He works county Farm Bureaus in northeastern Wisconsin to enhance programs, encourage grass roots involvement, and promote membership. Wes grew up on a dairy farm near Oshkosh. Wes, and his wife Cindi, live in Suamico, near Green Bay.