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44—Setting Off Down the Cow Path

By the end of June 1999, I was swept up in learning about cows. Never once did it even occur to me that the infatuation sparked by that first roadside encounter with the Holstein ladies had crossed the border into obsession. 

The first two farm tours had hinted at the fact that I might be entering a world of shadows. But that was part of the excitement. I was going to write something that would reinvigorate an understanding of the sacred and delightful nature of the cow. I went racing down the cow path into a fascinating array of facts from About Cows by Sara Rath (citation at end):
1874   The ice cream soda  was created by Robert M. Green for the semi-centennial celebration of Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute.

1881   The ice cream sundae was created when a guy named George asked for chocolate sauce on his ice cream. Prior to this, chocolate sauce was reserved for ice cream sodas. Served only on Sundays, the new treat cost five cents.

1883  Cream cheese was first made.

1884  The glass milk bottle was invented.

1885  Dr. De Laval invented the steam-turbine separator making it possible to pay producers according to the richness of butterfat in their milk or cream.

1890  Dr. S. M. Babcock’s test for measuring the fat content of milk eliminated the possibility of adulterating the milk with water and became the foundation for the rapid development of the dairy industry in America.

1893  Russian scientist M. F. Ivanov performed the first artificial insemination of cattle.

1894  Dr. De Laval patented the first mechanically operated milking machine.    

1904   The ice cream cone was first served at the St. Louis World’s Fair when an ice cream vendor ran out of dishes and a Syrian vendor stepped in with a sugar waffle, which he rolled into a cone.

1911  The first rotary-type milk bottle filler was perfected.

1914  The California Central Creamery was among the first to transport milk in a tank on a truck.

1919  Chocolate milk was introduced. Homogenized milk was first sold in Connecticut.

1924  Adda Howie was the first woman added to the Wisconsin Agricultural Hall of Fame. Each week she cleaned her stables with soap and boiling water. Her barn had windows with screens and curtains, and milkers washed their hands before moving from one cow to the other.

1925 Delivery trucks replaced horse-drawn milk wagons.

1932  Milk with Vitamin D was first available in Detroit.

1933  Four hundred farmers were arrested in a protest against falling milk prices.
1945  Cows with permanent openings in their stomachs were common. These openings called “windowpanes” were used to observe the cow’s digestive practice in agricultural experimental stations around the U. S.

1946  The vacuum pasteurization process was perfected.

1948  Paper milk cartons with plastic coating were first manufactured.

1950  Milk vending machines became available for commercial distribution.

1964  Plastic milk containers were introduced.

1969  Dairy Research, Inc. was created.

1971  The United Dairy Industry Association was formed.

1974  Nutritional labeling of milk began.

1976  Dr. Robert Rowe perfected the first non-surgical embryo transplant.

1981  The first cloning of cattle occurred in England.

1984  The National Dairy Promotion Board was appointed.

1985  U. S. dairy farmers experienced serious financial losses from a dairy-herd buy-out due to a surplus of dairy products. Also 14,000 farmers had to dispose of 1.5 million cows.

1986  Research was progression on BGH, a bovine growth hormone that could boost a cow’s milk production from ten to forty percent. Better feeding and management had already increased the milk production of cows from 4,100 pounds in 1924 to 13,000 pounds in 1985. 

1987  The Milwaukee County Zoo featured a dairy barn with cows, one of which was milked every hour as a demonstration for visitors.


These cow facts led me into more random reading about corporate dairy farms where thousands of cows were confined to grassless feed lots, fed hormones to boost their milk production, milked to capacity in two years, then sent to slaughter. 

I’d seen a picture of one huge barn, clean and bright like a factory, that was just one of many identical barns on this factory farm. Except it was nothing like a farm, for the cows were confined to their stalls, each one hooked up to her own milking machine so that the animal herself functioned as nothing more than a machine. 

Standing in the milking parlor on my third tour of a local farm, I asked our hostess about how difficult it was becoming for the family farms to compete with the corporate producers. She spoke about how the fifty-cow farm of her grandfather’s day was no longer possible. Producers needed more cows to make ends meet. With more cows, there were more environmental issues in coping with the waste run-off into streams, more work to keep the barns clean. More laws and restrictions about everything. More pressures on farmers to be accountants. More need for farmers to be chemists as they figured out what to feed their cows, as milk production had gone beyond simple grazing to enhance and maximize the quality of milk and the health of the cow under the pressures to produce.

There was a weariness to the woman, not in her enthusiasm for cows or dairy farming. As she spoke I looked down the line of more than a hundred cows, muddy and loved and crowding through the parlor. And suddenly, I had the idea I’d been looking for in my quest to write a book that would shed some new light on the problems in our schools. It was also at this moment that I set foot on a path for which nothing had prepared me.

Cow facts taken from Rath, Sara. About Cows. (Wisconsin: NorthWord Press, Inc., 1987) pp. 98-105

Coming soon: "Sacred Cows" and "Pitching Calf Pens" 

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