Calumet County's 400 sale a precedent setter

Ray Mueller

What started in Chilton on Nov. 13 in 1943 as a sale of 23 young Holstein bulls and two heifers for an average price of $241 per head turned into a precedent-setter for dairy breed groups around Wisconsin and beyond in the years and decades that followed.

By 1972, the Wisconsin Holstein Association reported there were 13 consignment sales scheduled, 10 of them sponsored by county associations.

The Calumet County Holstein-Friesian Breeders “400 Sale” was termed “the grand-daddy of them all” in the Milwaukee Sentinel by writer Gene Divine, who was based in neighboring Sheboygan County, when the sale of 64 head was being planned for the 30th annual sale on Sept. 5, 1972.

Origin in Calumet County

Credited for starting Calumet County's event which offered dairy farmers a foundation of genetics for their herds in the form of offspring from dams with a proven production of at least 400 pounds of butterfat in a single lactation of about 300 days are Holstein Association fieldman Bob Geiger, cow tester Alfred Fyksen of the then all-Holstein Dairy Herd Improvement Association in Calumet County, and Roland “Chick” Tesch of the Knauf and Tesch Kaytee farm north of Chilton.

Helping to promote the first sale was Carl Neitzke, the county's then recently appointed Extension Service agriculture agent. He followed previous agriculture agent Abraham Lincoln McMahon, who had begun to promote the new event. The auctioneer for the sale was Col. A.J. (Andy) Thiel, the ancestor of today's auction and real estate family that is still prominent in the area.

For the 2nd year's sale staged at the county's highway garage, the consignments were 16 bulls and 10 females. The sales catalog heralded the showing of 96 Holsteins two months earlier at the 1944 county fair.

Sales growth

By 1946, the sale had gained so much attention that a dairyman from Mexico came to buy 10 young bulls to improve the genetics of a large herd 100 miles south of Mexico City. In both 1949 and 1950, the consignments reached 49 head.

In 1948, consignments were accepted for the first time from breeders from outside of Calumet County. Eventually, a majority of the consignments came from outside of the county. Among the sellers and buyers at the time were county hospital farms still operating at the time and the Green Bay Reformatory (prison) herd, which had a consignment as late as 1967 before its herd was dispersed.

Venue and date changes

Accompanied by a major early season surprise snowstorm, the last sale at the highway garage was held on November 1, 1958. It then moved less than a mile away to the Arena building on the county fairgrounds in Chilton. In 1960 the sale date was moved up to September — either the first or second Saturday.

The “400 Sale” had reached a total of 751 head sold by 1960. As the years passed, the consignments had gravitated to springing heifers and young cows because the use of herd bulls on farms had given way to artificial insemination in most cases.

During the early 1960s, the total value of the cattle being sold held remarkably stable. With 58 head consigned in both 1962 and 1965, the sales totaled $22,805 and $22,730 respectively. Up to that time, the highest price paid was $1,105 for a cow and her young calf in 1959.

For the silver anniversary sale in 1967, the consignments consisted of 57 heifers and only one bull. By that time, the highest average sale price per head had been $522 in 1966. The 1972 sale had a consignment of 64 head, for which writer Divine predicted a crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 potential buyers and observers.

Sale manager roster

In addition to Tesch, the sales managers throughout the years were Paul Christoph, Leonard Seybold (18 years), Donald Steege and Orrin Meyer, who was the county's agriculture agent from 1945 to 1973. Seybold managed his last sale in 1967, when 58 females and only one bull were consigned. Seybold died on Nov. 13, 1967.

In 1968, the Wisconsin Holstein Service, which was Steege's business, began to manage the sale. During an interview with Gene Divine about the 1972 sale, for which Steege was in his 5th year as manager, he also credited the “Kloehn clan” of the Hilbert area and Ed Seybold for the long-term success of the sale.

A major portion of the funds that the Holstein Breeders earned from those sales was invested in the construction of new buildings or the upgrade of other facilities at the county fairgrounds and for supporting 4-H club dairy project members and junior members of the Holstein Association.

Classic to Mardi Gras

By then retitled as the “Calumet Classic,” the county's sale continued until 1993, being held at the Great Northern Sales Arena near Fond du Lac in its final years. Then its fund-raising phase was rolled into an auction sale of donated items held at the end of the county's annual Mardi Gras dinner and awards program on the evening before Ash Wednesday.

That auction began in 1994 and has been held every year since then. As was the case with 400 Sale, the auction proceeds are distributed to the county fair and to support youth exhibiting dairy cattle.

The Mardi Gras event, at which the Holstein Association has been earning more than $4,000 in recent years with its auction, is co-sponsored by several other organizations. It is modeled on the Farm/City Night previously held by the county's Farm Bureau chapter, which is among the groups sponsoring the Mardi Gras evening.

One activity which the county Holstein Breeders continue at the Mardi Gras is a recognition of one or more outstanding Holstein youth of the year.