A lot of the information I have found over the years about Bovina farming has come from 19th century census records. I thought I'd share some of the more interesting and telling numbers. Though Bovina is historically known as a dairying community, these numbers reflect that milk and butter were not the only products of Bovina farms. Though Bovina farmers probably wouldn't have used the term back then, diversification was a noted feature of farming - families did what they could to feed themselves and make a living.
The information that was collected over the years varies significantly. New York collected and reported ag data down to the town level in 1821, 1825, 1835, 1845, 1855, 1865, and 1875. The earliest numbers provided for Bovina came in a special 1821 agricultural census. That year, the town had 4,876 acres of improved land (at a time when the potential acreage was around 26,000). By 1865, the improved acreage was almost 20,000.
Bovina had 219 horses in 1821. The number of horses fluctuated, though not dramatically. In 1835, there were 542 horses, but by 1875, that number was down to 329. Bovina used to have a lot of sheep - that number rose then dropped significantly. In 1821, the town had 2,229 sheep. The number of sheep reached a peak in 1845, when there were 6,718. Ten years later, that number was almost halved. Ten years after that, it was halved again and by 1875, Bovina had only 677 sheep. Census records also record that Bovina farmers had some swine or pigs. In 1825, there were 1,653 pigs. The number dropped to half of that in 1840 and by 1875, was down by half again to barely 400. As reported in past blogs, the number of cows was not recorded until 1845, when Bovina had 1,959. The number did not vary dramatically. In 1875, there were 2,304 cows, with about 160 farms. In 1892, the town was reported to have 2,600 cows, owned by 117 farmers.
Census takers started recording farm products in 1840. That year, Bovina farms produced a variety of grain: 207 bushels of barley, 1,642 bushels of buckwheat, 31,245 bushels of oats, 8,179 bushels of rye, 3,907 bushels of wheat and 69 bushels of corn. These numbers varied over the next 30 years. By 1875, wheat production was down to only 96 bushels. Rye also dropped dramatically, down to 355. Oat production, on the other hand, remained very steady, with 31,934 bushels produced in 1875. Barley production varied a bit more but by 1875, it was down to 49, while buckwheat was up to 5,562 bushels.
In 1840, Bovina farms produced 9,570 pounds of wool. The number was up to 13,263 five years later, but ten years after that, it had dropped to 5,966. By 1875, it was down to 2,943, but farmers were getting more wool per sheep (4.3 pounds vs. 2 pounds in 1845). Of course, the big animal product for Bovina came from cows, and the vast bulk of that was butter. From 223,092 pounds in 1845, Bovina farms reached a peak of 380,591 in 1875. That same year, farmers only sold 120 gallons of milk. Butter was easier to transport in the pre-automotive age.
In 1845, farmers produced 44,540 bushels of potatoes. By 1875, that was down to 15,282. Maple sugar production was at 23,301 pounds in 1840 and after a drop in the 1850s, was at 43,708 by 1875. In 1855, 4,500 pounds of beeswax and honey were produced. This was down to 1,315 by 1875. Bovina farms also produced some cider, with 25 gallons in 1855, 170 gallons in 1865 and 63 gallons in 1875.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, Bovina became noted primarily for its dairy products. In the 21st century, as the town strives to maintain its agricultural heritage, diversification is once more the word. Today's Bovina farmers offer a wider range of products, including beef, pork, eggs, and organic vegetables. Mark September 4, 2011 on your calendars for the third annual Bovina Farm Day and see for yourself the variety of what Bovina farmers have to offer.