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Dairying In Williamson County

A story by Dub Ramsel



Photographs of Dub Ramsel and his involvement with dairy farming in Texas are available on the Williamson County Historical Commission web site. At first, dairying consisted of farmers with cows, producing enough milk to supply the family needs. They drank it and then skimmed it for butter. Some made cheese such as cheddar, but mostly by letting the clabbered milk drain from porous bags until the whey was drained. This was called "Pot" cheese. Most of this pot cheese was consumed by the family, but some was fed to chickens. The hogs always got the whey. At times of the year the cows would produce more milk than the family could use. In these times some would be sold to neighbors and local grocery stores. This turned out to be profitable enough to encourage the farmers to get more cows and sell milk and butter on a year around basis. There has always been a need to get more money besides what could come from farming. Thus the dairy business began. The city folks were getting tired of milking their own cows and liked the convenience of having it delivered to their door step. In some cases the delivery man would enter the kitchens and put the bottles in the ice boxes. The first milk deliverymen had horse drawn wagons with covers to protect the milk and also carry ice to keep it cool. As the population grew and farmers began producing more milk, creameries sprung up in centrally located places. These creameries would buy cream from the farmers in ten gallon cans. The method was to leave the can of cream on the platforms of the local train depots, to be picked up by the next train and then delivered to the creameries. Butter was the finished product. Then cheese plants sprung up. This consisted of the creamer, adding cheese making to their plant. Then lastly, fresh milk followed and was bottled there and delivered to customers and stores. By this time, the local health departments got in the act and made changes to help guard the health of the consumers from getting sick from diseases that might be transmitted through milk. Milk is a highly perishable commodity and is a natural media for carrying pathogenic organisms. Eventually, all market milk had to be pasteurized by exposing the milk to heat for a period of time and then cooled immediately. Two methods of pasteurizing one was the holding method. This was to bring the milk to 143 degrees F and held for 30 minutes. The second method was flash pasteurizing, whereby the milk is quickly brought to 160 degrees F. and held for sixty seconds. This method is now used entirely for fluid milk because it eliminates the cooked flavor that the holding method causes and secondly, is more adapted to fast processing and can be continuous. The holding method is still used by many for preparing butter milk and ice-cream mixes. Round Rock got its first cheese plant in 1925. Thomas E. Nelson and R.G. Lundelious acquired funds from the Government Assistance Program and built the plant. I do not know who actually operated it at this time. I do know from reading Clara Scarborough's Book entitled Land of Pure Water that the plant had twenty patrons to begin with. They brought in approx. 800 pounds of milk per day. This grew up to three hundred patrons by 1935 and 22,000 pounds of milk daily. This meant an extra $35.00 per week income to each patron - assuming they all brought in the same amount of milk. Elmer Cotrell was a man of sterling character as well as a fine cheese maker. I made frequent visits to his plant just to watch him work and listen to his words of wisdom. He knew how to handle his business, but also to talk to the public. I think I would have liked the dairy processing business if I could have had a cheese plant instead of a fluid milk and ice-cream plant with Borden Co. in El Paso, Texas. Cheese making gives a little more time for ones self. Not as much machinery to break down. My visits were also rewarded by leaving with a horn of cheese of Elmers finest aged and at a fair price of 35 cents per pound. I like it well-aged or fresh out of the vat, and I could get both there. By the mid fifties most of the Grade "C" producers were dwindled down to very few. Most of the milk was coming from surplus milk of the grade "A class from Superior Dairies in Austin, Texas. This made for a better quality cheese, but it meant less money for the Grade "A" producers. Then the Mid Tex. Milk Producers assn. went into action. They made the Armour and Company a proposition to buy the cheese plant for the purpose of using the surplus milk so that the producers would not have to take a cut in price. It seems that Armour and Company was ready and willing since the plant was losing its source of raw material which was un-graded milk. This happened and Elmer was kept on loan from the Armour and Company to continue operating it as usual. At this point I will try to explain why un-graded milk (grade "C") began to slow down. The Health Dept put restrictions on the producers and the expense of making the necessary changes caused many to drop out. Milk being graded as it was then also meant that unless one was grade "A" he could not sell to the plants as fresh fluid milk for more money. A few Grade "C" producers remained in business for awhile, but they soon faded out. The biggest expense was refrigeration for immediate cooling of the milk. Then stain-less steel holding tanks was the next expense. Milking parlors were not really necessary, but they became fashionable and most milk producers got them like all other farmers they wanted to keep up with their neighbors. At this point in time, there were about fifty grade "A" producers in the county. Overall there were over two hundred producers in the Mid Tex producing area. Most milk was going to Superior Dairies in Austin, and some milk was being diverted to the cheese plant The Round Rock Cheese Plant was turning out the best quality cheese in the country. Fresh Grade "A" milk makes better cheese they where un-graded milk is being used. Most of the un-graded milk had to be neutralized because the acidity has gone beyond the desired limit. In other words it had gone "sour". But like all food things, it soon came to a screeching halt. The population increases by leaps and bounds and soon there was no surplus milk to keep the cheese plant going. Mr Cotrell was ready to retire anyway, and so he did and got into politics. He was elected Mayor of Round Rock and made a good one too. Elmer Cotrell and his wife Viola and children were permanent fixtures in Round Rock and this is where he and Viola stayed. The Palm Valley Lutheran Church has benefited by their having been around since 1948. I am gifted by having his lovely daughter Arleen Miles and husband Jerry living across the street from me in Georgetown, Texas. Glen Bishop and James Davidson were the first dairymen I became acquainted with when I came to Williamson County as associate County Agent for the agriculture Extension Service. They both agreed to be my Cooperators to help me hold my job, and they both did a good job of it. Some time in the interim, the Armour and Company bought the plant and then ran it under the auspicious of their company. at some point Mr. Await H. Kauffman was transported for another Armour Plant to manage the Round Rock Plant. He was still there in 1947 then the Dairy Manufacturing students from Texas A&M College went there for a field trip to observe the cheese making proccess. I happened to be on of these students. Later on after returning to Williamson County in 1952, I visited the Round Rock Cheese Plant and found Mr. Elmer Cotrell operating and managing the Round Rock Cheese plant. Mr. Cotrell was transferred from an Armour plant in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He was from Marysville Kansas, but had lived in Texas in Wheeler County for some time. It seems that he graduated from High School in Wheeler County, Texas. Glen was a veteran of WW2 and when he returned from the Service, along with his, wife, Arleen, started his dairy on land that had been in the family for a couple of generations north of Georgetown on I.H 35, Part of the land is wooded and the rest is good land for farming. Glen started on a shoe string, one might say. But he was hard working and persistent. He and Arleen had two daughters, Mary and Ginger. Sometimes Glen had to work out doing carpentry work to meet the expenses. I admired him for his stamina and determination. He knew what he wanted to do and he never steered from his course. He built up to about fifty head of Holsteins. Built a milking parlor and managed to stick it out for forty five years. Sometime in the eighties he got the notion to quit dairying and put in an R.V. Park. Being on the access road about four miles from town looked like a good place. He sold his cows and started putting all his energies into this new venture. First he had to operate without an approved waste disposal system. He went ahead and used a "honey" cart to haul off the sewage from the trailers. Many of his customers became permanent residents. He finally got approved after spending a lot of money and it was clear sailing from them on. Now he is sorry he did not get into the new business earlier. Glen's wife Arleen is from Iowa and knows how to talk to the Yankees who come down to stay in their "Live Oak Park". The old house they have lived in for all those years has a medallion on the front door. On oak tree in the front yard has a three foot trunk and is covered with vines. Both are past eighty now and still putting in full days working to keep things going, A new highway is cutting into their place of business, but they just moved over and built more pads for trailers and motor homes. They love it, and their customers love them. James Davidson was also a veteran of WW2 and when he got home from the Navy, he used his Texas Veteran Land Loan to buy about a hundred acres of land with an old two story house. There was a barn and well and a few other out buildings. The farm was what was known as a worn out cotton farm. There was some pasture land with lots of underbrush and trees. The amount of the loan was $7,500.00 and had a forty year pay out on or before, at 3% interest. As soon as Mr. Davidson got his dairy going he purchased a manure spreader. Every scoop of poop went back on the land. Even the pasture was treated with manure after he got the underbrush cleared out. In fifty years of returning the manure to the land, it became highly productive. They built silos and fed green chop feed to the cows along with ensilage. Betty was in charge of the raising of baby calves for replacements. First they kept herd bulls, but soon learned that they could get access to semen from performance and proven sires through artificial insemination. There were several service companies in the county, but Warren Swendall provided his companies services to the Davidson farm was notified when a cow came in heat and he would bring his frozen semen and breed the particular cow that was ready. The Davidson had three children. First there were the twins Pamala and Dennis. Then an other son names James who was known as Buster". They grew up on the dairy farm and soon had their jobs to do and still had time for extra curricular activities. They all turned out fine. The boys are still involved in the management of the farm after the cows were sold and the dairy shut down. They are now involved in pre-conditioning beef calves for feed lots. They raise a lot of feed and rent other land for farming. They are among the few full time farmers. Most of the farmers do other things to bring in money besides farming. Besides the Bishops and Davidsons, Hartwin Holmstrom had a Holstein dairy north of Jonah, Texas. He and his wife Jean along with three boys, Johnny, Bert and Carl took care of the dairy and did farming on the side. This lasted for perhaps ten years. Their dairy was situated on top of a hill with farm land on three sides. It looked like an ideal place to do dairying since the land drained well. When the boys became older, they began bugging their folks to get out of the dairy business and go into ranching. Hartwin was easily convinced since he liked to ride horses and play cowboy. So, when they heard about a large ranch coming up for sale west of the interstate 35 they managed to buy Mr. Otto Grumbles out. That was the end of their dairying venture. The county lost a good dairyman, but I doubt that they gained a good rancher. That proved to be true later on. Earl Tubbs was a cattle trader and ran a dairy on the side south of the river at Jonah. He had farm hands doing the work and it was probably on the way down, when Earl had a massive heart attack and died instantly. His one son Lavoy was not too much interested in milking cows even though Imy, his mother, kept encouraging him to get with it. They soon sold the farm and Imy moved to town in Georgetown where she outlived her husband - and son by many years. The farm is now covered by expensive homes. Ed Lawhon tried dairying in the black land near Hutto after fighting the mud for several years he gave up and begun installing air conditioners. Jack Madson did dairying on the side and sold milk to the cheese plant. H is project cratered after a few short years. Jack Parker ran a Grade "A" Dairy on the old admiral Mann farm between the two Berry Creeks north east of Georgetown. I t was short lives also. Walter Lehman operated a dairy farm east of Georgetown on the road to Weir. He began late in life and soon had to sell out and move to town. Cecil Honeycutt did some dairying in the Round Rock area during the fifties for a short time. He had health problems and also dies of a heart attack like his brother in law Earl Tubbs. Cecil Perry ran a dairy in the Liberty Hill area during the fifties. I do not know any more about how long or anything else about his venture. P.J Rhodes did some dairying south of Georgetown off 1460. He was either on the Cleo Rogers farm or the place next to it. Cleo died shortly after I arrived at a very early age he also did some dairying. Bernice Williams was doing dairy farming on Berry Creek north of Georgetown when I arrived .His land and an artesian well on it and he was able to raise alfalfa and appeared to be doing great. But for some reason he and his wife decided to split the blanket and he moved to Arkansa. A.G. Braun and his son Curtis operated the farm as a dairy for several years. Curtis was not really interested in dairying and A.G. was too old so it was closed down. Weldon Petty operated the south Western University Dairy for several years. He then bought their cows and moved north to his land off Co Rd I50. Weldon was a graduate dairyman from the college at Kingsville. He stuck with it longer than most. The Stromberg Dairy was the largest dairy in the county. However it could no be considered a family size operation. Mr. Stronberg was a business man and had hired hands doing the work.. I do not know how long it remained in operation, but I assume since the cheese plant came into Round Rock. It was finally closed down and the land was sold for development. There is only one dairy remaining in Williamson County and it is by a man of German decent., Robert Kruger. I mention this since most of the people involved in the dairy business either the production end or the processing have Swedish names. The Swedes seem to have the stamina for hard detail work that requires a repeat of everything from day to day plus anything that might come up in between. It is confining and hard. I don't, believe I ever heard of a Hobby Dairyman. Just because all the dairies have shot down there is no reason to worry. Plenty of milk and dairy products are trucked in each day to supply everyone. Milk cows do better in cooler climates anyway. Old Prof. Darnell from Texas A&M said that the ideal temp a milk cow is 50 degrees. PS - The expression "coming in on the milk train" came from the trains making frequent stops early in the mornings to pick up milk to be delivered to the creameries, probably an annoyance to travelers who were in a hurry to get somewhere. Comment: At one time - before butter fat was determined to be bad for some people’s diet, milk was purchased strictly on its butterfat contents. Some breeds of cows have higher butterfat than other breeds. The highest volume producers is the Holstein which has a 3.25 percent butterfat as compared to Jersey's with a 5.0 percent fat. With this in mind, the Department of agriculture in the late 1800's decided to import some water buffalo to cross with the Holstein cow to increase the fat content. I never learned how far they got along, but I do know that a lot of money was appropriated to ship in a load or two. Some scientist from one of the Agriculture Schools in the country - either Texas A&M or Cornell - told the powers at be that they were wasting their time since the two animals were of different species and would not cross breed. A lot of red faces was the outcome of the proposed venture. Even though the water Buffalo has a 17 percent butterfat, it just would not work. A cow has a gestation period of nine months and water Buffalo has eleven.

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 butter fat,dairying,farmers,Government Assistance Program,pot cheese,processing


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