A review of well over 90 years of minutes from the annual and board of director meetings of the Calumet County Holstein Breeders reveals some interesting patterns, descriptions of many precedent-setting policies and activities, evidence of less-than-cordial relations with other dairy breed organizations and hints about and accounts of some problems.
There are also mentions of members or officers who were sick at the time of a meeting along with an enduring attention to eating with indications that no Holstein breeder ever consumed anything but a “delicious meal” and certainly was never served a bad meal.
The minutes of those meetings, which are contained in two well-preserved ledgers, were written in longhand from the start in 1917 until 1988, when printed minutes started. They were taken by about 20 different organization secretaries (all men until very recently) with Leonard Seybold (1923 to 1948), his successor Leonard Mirsberger (1948 to 1955), Reuben Keuler (1960 to 1965), Edward Mirsberger (1967 to 1973) and James Coffeen (1979 to 1985) handling that duty for one-half of those years.
Dairy breed tensions
One of the early signs of tension with farmers owning different cattle breeds occurred at the Holstein breeders meeting on May 11, 1918 – less than 8 months after the organization was formed. A motion to arrange a joint summer picnic with the county's Guernsey breeders (the top dairy breed in the county at the time) failed. The Guernsey breeders were already holding a picnic.
Members of the Holstein-Friesian group then held their own picnic on June 15 at the Julius Bowe and son farm near Chilton. Music was to be provided by the Sibel band from Sherwood and George C. Humphrey, an animal husbandry professor at the Wisconsin College of Agriculture in Madison, was invited to speak.
Later in 1918, however, a meeting was held with representatives of the county's Guernsey Breeders association to plan testing for tuberculosis in dairy herds. There was an agreement to do this but the project did not proceed because of the inability to hire a licensed veterinarian.
During a March 12, 1936 meeting, shortly after the county's unique All-Holstein Dairy Herd Improvement Association was formed and was operating, the group's milk tester Alfred Fyksen was instructed to mention only Holstein cattle in his annual reports. A census of dairy cattle in the county indicated by the early 1940s Holsteins accounted for a slight majority of the dairy cows in Calumet County.
The tension or competition with other dairy breeds wasn't mentioned again until the minutes of the 1966 annual meeting, which noted that prominent Guernsey breeder Earl Lintner of Chilton had made a practice of attending the Holstein Breeders annual meetings and complimented him for doing so. Secretary Norman Nennig's minutes included a wish that there would be “more faithful breeders like Mr. Lintner.”
Within a year of its formation, the Calumet County association began to hold activities designed to make itself grow and to serve its members and other owners of Holstein cattle. One of these was a planned sale (probably of young sires) on October 18 in 1918 in conjunction with a Junior School Fair (no other information is provided on that).
In 1919, a summer picnic was hosted by Walter. H. Steffensen in the town of Harrison near Appleton. At the time, Steffensen owned a cow which claimed a world record for a production of 145.66 pounds of butter in 30 days.
That was also when the association approved spending $50 to purchase a purple banner to recognize the top production of butter in 7 days by a cow owned by one of its members. There was also an authorization to obtain “a large oil sign” carrying the name of the organization for display at meetings, picnics, farm gatherings, and on auto trips.
Based on the number of changes over the years, it was apparent that membership dues were a popular topic of discussion at annual meetings. Those dues started at $1 per year but by 1926 they were up to $5 per member.
The member dues were cut back to $2.50 in 1928 and then to $1 again in 1930. By 1941, the county membership dues were at $3. The next mention of dues in the minutes was in 1942 with $2.50 going to the state association and $1 to the county. County dues went up to $2 in 1948.
Array of activities
In addition to establishing its own DHIA milk testing program in 1935, the county's Holstein association introduced several other activities which served as models for other counties and states. In 1936, this included holding a Black and White Day on June 12, organizing a calf rodeo at the county fair, and asking for more classes in cattle judging at the fair.
With its 50 members in 1938, the county association extended invitations for a state breeders picnic at the county fairgrounds. It began to sponsor a 4-H club for dairy projects in 1939 and held a picnic in conjunction with neighboring Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties on the Wegner family farm near Kiel on June 15, 1939.
An apparent outgrowth of the tri-county picnic was a motion at the 1941 annual meeting to hold a tri-county Black and White Day. In 1943, the association agreed to pay for subscriptions to the Holstein-Friesian World magazine for the five high schools in the county and the county agriculture agent.
Having an annual banquet meeting in addition to the annual business meeting was also in place by the late 1930s. In most years, a mention of meals and who would prepare them appeared at least once in either the minutes for an annual or a board of directors meeting.
On-farm twilight meetings with a lunch began in 1943. For the 1950 picnic on the Walter Vollmer farm, the minutes indicated a 25-cent charge for the meal.
In 1943, the association asked the state legislature not to repeal the tax on oleomargarine sales. A later resolution called for a ban on the sale of oleomargarine in Calumet County.
The annual Holstein banquet meeting was discontinued in 1953 but then re-instated in 1957. For the twilight meeting in 1958, a decision was made that coffee would not be served because milk should be consumed instead. The fee for the twilight meeting lunch in 1960 was still at 25 cents.
Origins of 400 Sale
Having a sale in conjunction with the Calumet County Fair on Labor Day weekend surfaced as an idea at the annual meeting in 1940. No action was taken on the proposal at that time.
At the 1943 annual meeting, however, a committee of Holstein Association fieldman Bob Geiger, DHIA tester Alfred Fyksen and Roland Tesch was assigned to organize a sale of bulls from dams with a lactation record of producing at least 400 pounds of butterfat. The first “400 Sale” was held on November 13 of that year at the county highway garage in Chilton.
Refinements to the sale began at the 1944 annual meeting with an agreement to sell only bulls that were 9 to 18 months old, heifers that were 9 months old up to springer status, to limit the sale to 35 head, and to hold the sale on the second Saturday of November.
By 1946, the association began to investigate the building of a pavilion for the sale, to accept consignments from breeders living outside the county, and to cooperate with a sale being held by the Fox River Valley Breeders. In 1947, rules were set to limit consignors to one animal per sex or age category.
Starting in 1949 and for several years afterward, the minutes referred to having the 400 Sale on the Saturday before the Blue Ribbon Sale at Waukesha. In 1961, the sale was moved to one day before the Badger Breeders sale being held by the artificial insemination cooperative.
The first 400 Sale in 1943 had 23 bulls and 2 heifers which brought an average sale price of $241 per head. This auction was conducted by Col. A. J. Thiel, whose descendants are still handling auctions and real estate sales in Calumet County.
By 1949, the consignments reached 52 head. At a planning meeting, the minutes indicated there was “a liberal discussion” which led to an agreement to tie cattle to barrels filled with sand and anchored with bolted planks at the county highway shed.
For the sale in 1950, limits were set at 30 springing heifers, 15 open heifers, and 5 “top notch bulls.” But there was also a provision for a sale of 20 to 25 bulls on Friday, Nov. 3, the day before the 400 Sale.
In 1951, the 400 Sale had a limit of 50 heifers and 10 bulls. Consignors would have a 10 percent commission withheld from the sales value. The 1953 sale allowed a cap of 40 springer heifers, 20 open heifers and 10 “outstanding bulls.”
By 1958, calves were allowed as consignments to the 400 Sale. Higher butterfat production requirements were prescribed for consignments, including that any 5-year-old dams needed to have a lactation of at least 500 pounds of butterfat.
For the sale held on Sept. 12, 1960 that totaled $25,207, the dams of the 54 consigned head had an average of 572 pounds of butterfat. Accordingly, there were later calls to rename the sale as the “500 Sale” or to call it the “Original Calumet County 400 Sale” (a logo for it is in the association's record file).
During the first 18 years of the sale, through 1960, the county's 400 Sale total had reached 751 head. The 25th anniversary sale on Sept. 1, 1967, had one bull along with 58 heifers, springers, or young cows while the 30th anniversary sale in 1972 at the county fairgrounds had 64 head consigned.
With the risks involved in the sale of animals, it was inevitable that there would be some fallout in the form of dissatisfaction. For the Calumet Holstein Breeders, the first such incident stemmed from the sale of a bull at the first sale in 1943.
The bull proved to be a non-breeder for its new owner. To satisfy the complaint, the consignor was given the choice of paying the $185 difference between the purchase price and the slaughter sale proceeds for the bull or being banned from county association membership. He paid the $185.
In 1954, a sale buyer was refunded $100 for a heifer that proved not to have a milk channel. Two years later, the association paid one-half of the sales expense on a heifer that was returned by the buyer.
In the wake of the 1959 sale, the directors received a complaint that money was offered by one bidder to another to not bid on a certain animal. The directors did not believe the complaint was justified and advised the complainant to contact the national Holstein Association instead.
For the 1965 sale, a consignor wasn't happy with the price he received for his animal. In another year, several consigned animals were not included in the sale because of physical or medical problems or because they “did not look right.” At another time, a letter was sent to a man asking him to apologize for his conduct at the 400 Sale.
Sale income statistics
Despite some very good years, the 400 Sale never proved to be a steady source of major income for the county Holstein association during a majority of its 51 years. The net profit for the 1960 sale was $564.61.
Some of the most profitable years for the 400 Sale were in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The 1978 sale, which was managed by Donald Steege, the association had a $2,754.19 net profit thanks to the 10.5 percent commission on sales.
The 1979 sale enjoyed a profit of $6,689.50, which was the highest total indicated in the documents. The 1980 sale followed with a profit of $5,348.80 while the 1981 sale brought in an additional $3,077.21. Profits then dropped to $1,596.90 for 1982 and only $600.53 for 1983.
In 1992, when the sale was titled “Calumet Classic,” the net profit was $1,449. This fell to $797.50 in 1993, which proved to be the last year of the sale and at which 34 head were sold for a total of $52,625.
New source of income
Reacting to the downturn in 400 Sale profits, the county Holstein Breeders came up with another innovation. At the suggestion of member Don Mielke, with strong support for the project by Doug Schmitt and Louie Schmidt, the association launched an auction held during the county's Mardi Gras, which is a banquet and awards program sponsored by several organizations that is held on the evening before Ash Wednesday. It usually draws a crowd of 125 to 140.
With items donated by individuals, businesses, and organizations, the auction at the 1994 Mardi Gras brought in $2,166.50. The proceeds for 1995 increased to $2,435. For the 2004 auction, the profit exceeded $3,800. In recent years, the auction receipts have topped $4,000 several times.
Among the 40 or more items in the auction every year are food and beverage baskets, clothing, gift certificates, hand tools, flowers, yard fixtures, sports items, calf feeds, crop seeds, Holstein pieces of art, and many units of semen. Other items have been United States savings bonds and even Holstein and Jersey calves.
A significant portion of the income from the auction is used to cover costs for junior Holstein and 4-H club members to exhibit cattle at the Wisconsin State Fair. Based on the association's minutes, direct support for youth members began in 1939 with the sponsorship of a 4-H Club for cattle project members. The next step, begun in 1941, was the development of a contract for 4-H members to obtain bull calves.
By 1947, the association provided $25 to offset a portion of the expenses for youth showing cattle at the state fair. In 1951, it began to pay the state fair rental and stall fees for exhibiting youth.
A youth program was initiated in 1951 to teach dairy cattle feeding and judging. In 1953, the association approved adding a junior member to its board of directors. An innovation in 1955 was to invite all veterans to become honorary members of the association. By 1965, the association launched a “Good Neighbor Day” that was observed in March.
Starting in the late 1950s and continuing since then, the association has made many donations to the county's fair board for the construction of buildings and the upgrade of equipment used at county fairs, district Black and White Shows and, most recently, the Calumet County Futurity, which was first held in 2015 and for which the county was not a pace-setter on ideas or activities.
The minutes for a board of directors meeting in February of 1966 indicated that the secretary was “sick in bed” at the time. The substitute secretary's notes indicated that the meeting began at 1:15 A.M. Who's to say that no Holstein Breeder business was ever conducted in the early morning hours?