Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dairying in Bovina by Thomas Ormiston

This report was published in Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York, Volume 14, 1897, page 385-389, as part of the Fifty-sixth Annual Report of the New York State Agricultural Society for 1896.  It is presented in its entirety.  I found this on Google Books.  Thomas Ormiston is the grandfather of Ed, Dick and Alan Davidson and of Lauren Monroe and Frances Burns, among others. 

Dairying in Bovina
Especially Prepared for the Annual Report, by Mr. Thomas Ormiston, Bovina Centre, Delaware County, N.Y.

As many dairymen throughout the State are interested in this town, on account of the “Cow Census,” taken a few years ago, by Messrs. Powell and Jennings, for the State Dairymen’s Association, perhaps a brief account of the work will be of interest.  We do not presume that we have the best individual herds in the State, but we do believe that there is no township in the State – or perhaps in the U.S. – where the average is so high, or where it would be so hard to find a scrub cow. 

The town is situated on the headwaters of the Little Delaware, which enters the West Branch of the Delaware, at Delhi, and is made up of thirteen little valleys or hollows, divided by small creeks, beside the Moon Valley, which is not large. Being so situated,— at the headwaters,— there is an abundance of good spring water, and, in favorable seasons, there is plenty of sweet, native grasses, on the pastures. For the above reasons, making it a natural home for cows,— the town was named by Gen. Root "Bovina."

The foundation of the present high standard of the Bovina dairy cow was laid by the sturdy characters of the first Scotch and Scotch-Irish settlers, who redeemed the town from the “squatter sovereignty" that prevailed at the beginning of the century. Many of these men and women were born under the same roof with the cow; thus they were early associated with dairying, generally on a small scale. Nevertheless, they knew how to feed and care for a cow so as to get good results, for, in many cases they obtained a good part of their food from her. According to Burns, their bill of fare was:

"The halesome porritch, chief of Scotia's food;
The sowpe their only hawkie does afford,
That 'yont the hallan snugly chaws her cood."

This town was settled almost entirely by that class of people. They began on a small scale, with one cow, generally. If she proved to be a good one, all her offspring were saved, and, before an Ayrshire or a Jersey was brought in, there were some herds that might well have been called Thoroughbreds, as great care had been used in selecting and breeding. When Thoroughbred bulls were brought in and bred on their animals, excellent results were obtained

There has been a tendency on the part of our breeders, recently, since they began breeding registered stock, to give too much attention to color and pedigree, and, in some cases, they have kept animals not up to the standard as producers. But, the past two years of drouth and pestilence have done the town good, in ridding us of nearly all such live-stock, and I'm afraid that some of our western friends who bought animals that went from here during that time, will find some very poor cows among them, but no man who knows his business will buy breeding animals in that way, although there were some first-class cows sold last fall, as most herds had been thoroughly weeded out a year ago.

The breeding of stock, according to the general acceptation of that term, began about 1860. David Coulter and J. G. Ormiston went to Unadilla and bought a Thoroughbred Ayrshire bull from C. I. Hayes. Some years later, Thomas Miller imported two cows and a bull of the same breed, from Scotland. The Ayrshires were beauties and took the eye of a Scotchman, but they could not compete with Alderneys and Jerseys when it came to making butter, and there is none of that blood in town now, except what has been graded up on the Jerseys. A few years later, Robert Livingston, wishing to encourage the farmers, gave a Thoroughbred Holstein bull to David Coulter, to be used by the people of the town; but the farmers did not take to the Hollander.

I am not aware of the causes that led to the enterprise of introducing blooded stock into the town, but there seems to have been a general awaking in the years from 1858 to 1860. About this time, John Hortings* went to Red Falls, Greene County, and bought an Alderney bull of B. G. Morse, paying $100 for him. He was a pedigreed animal, but not registered. His color was yellow and
white — about equally divided — not a beauty, at least in the eyes of the Ayrshire men, as he was very pointed, with thin quarters and very large digestive organs. It is conceded by all, now, that he was the best stock getter that was ever brought into town, and no other bull was used to such an extent, as farmers for miles around drove their best cows to him, and as many as one hundred were served in one year, beside Mr. Hortings' own herd. Every heifer calf was raised, and many of the bulls, for breeding. Mr. Hortings kept him four years, and, during that time, he stamped his individuality on much of the live-stock of the town. He became very cross and was killed one year after Mr. H. let him go.

James E. Horting — a brother of John's — and A. Archibald, bought the next three bulls from Morse; all were kept on the old Hortings Homestead. These were all Alderneys of the same type as the first one; and breeding from these, extended over a period of ten years. Distance may lend enchantment to the view, but most of our dairymen insist that those first crosses have never been equaled as butter producers.

The first Jerseys were introduced in 1879, by a farmer, Duncan Campbell, and J. G. Ormiston. Two bulls and one heifer were bought of Thomas Fitch of New London, Conn. The year following, W. L. Rutherford and Mr. Campbell bought ten heifers and a bull from the same person; and again, the next year, Mr. Rutherford made another purchase of eight or ten heifers of Mr. Fitch. In 1870, James E. Hortings bought a three-year-old heifer, with calf by her side, from W. B. Densinore, of Dutchess County, N. Y. None of the " Fitch stock " or Mr. Hortings' heifer were registered; but all had pedigrees tracing to importations. A few years later, Mr. Rutherford and Mr. Hortings both went to Mr. Densmore's and bought heifers that were registered, and each a registered bull, and began breeding registered stock. Mr. Rutherford, being old, and having no children, sold his entire stock and his farm to Wm. L. Ruff who has, since 1880, carried on the business, introducing new strains of blood from time to time.

J. D. Mitchell was the last to enter the field as a breeder, but he did more than any other man in the county to raise the standard of registered animals. He sold a fine herd of grades and invested $3,000 in cows and heifers at sales in New York city and New Jersey, The venture was not a financial success, but he introduced the best Jerseys ever brought into the town. The herd of 12 cows — while used especially for breeding — when the calves were fed some new milk — made 365 lb. of butter per cow, that was sold. That yield has never been equalled by any registered herd in the town. He sold his entire herd, two years ago, to Mr. Rychmire of Richmondville, N. Y.

There are several other farmers in town who are breeding registered stock, but, as I said before, Bovina's notoriety was not gained through its registered herds, but through careful breeding by nearly all our farmers; and, it is a notable fact, that the largest yields have not been from the registered herds. I do not mention this fact to deprecate the value of breeding, but I think that it does show that there is danger of attaching too much value to pedigree and color. One of the breeders of registered stock admitted, a few days since, that he had kept poor cows for years, because they had good pedigrees and were nice looking, and he felt that he could not sell them to the butcher, where they should go. I doubt not this has been done by other breeders as well.

With the improvement in breeding, began the improvement in feeding and care of live-stock. Formerly, all live-stock was driven out to a stack and there fed, every day during the winter, and, when hay was scarce, they were fed on " browse." No grain was fed, except, perhaps,a little rye bran to a cow that was a little "off." They generally dropped their calves about the time they were turned to grass. One hundred pounds of butter to sell, was considered, a large yield in those days. Now the average yield per cow in town is over 200 lb. in a good year, but not such as the last two have been.

I have no means of knowing just how much feed is brought into the town and fed now, but I know some men who buy a ton per cow. Not all the improvement is due to buying feed, for I know one man having a small herd who made and sold 215 lb. per cow, without buying one pound of feed, and nearly all the grain raised on the farm was fed to the team; but the cows had all the rough feed they wanted. I recall one other case where an old Scotchman kept a few cows in fine condition without feeding any grain.

The butter is all made in private dairies, except six farmers, who sell their milk. Until 1870, the small pans were used, and a few are still in use. The large, shallow pans with water around and below, were just introduced, though some were superseded by the deep-setting process, and, in a few instances, these have been exchanged for the separator. There is another thing in which the town stands ahead, the average high quality of its dairy butter. Rev. W. L. C. Samson has been living here over one year. He made the statement the other day, that he had always used the best “Elgin Creamery" until he came here, but had never eaten such good butter as he found in Bovina.

It is a very difficult task to give any adequate idea of how dairying is carried on in Bovina, in such an article as this. Not all of our farmers have been successful, but those who have, were very careful about the little things, in all the details in every department; in the selection of the cows; their care and feed; and in the care of the milk, cream and butter.

*The reference to John and James Hortings is some kind of typo that got into the publication.  The last name should be Hastings. 

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