Calumet Holstein Association a leader in innovation

Ray Mueller

When the owners of Holstein-Friesian cows in Calumet County formed a breeders association during a meeting on Saturday, Sept. 29, 1917 at the former Opera House building in Chilton, they did so for multiple reasons.

A document recalling that event cited a couple of reasons that are as relevant today as they were then — “to promote good fellowship among breeders and to promote the general interests of the Holstein-Friesian breed of cattle.” This included breeding and promoting high grade and purebred Holsteins and helping members buy, use, and sell them.

As the 100th anniversary of its founding approaches, the Calumet County association is preparing to host the 2017 Wisconsin Holstein Convention on February 24 and 25 at the Paper Valley Hotel and Convention Center in Appleton.

First meeting resume

The official minutes of the breeders' first meeting, which are the first entry of handwritten accounts of all annual membership and board of director meetings in a ledger that covers 1917 to 1967, indicate that this meeting was called to order by J.J. Garland, who was the county's emergency demonstration agriculture agent (a term associated with World War I).

A special guest at the organizational meeting was Wisconsin Holstein Breeders Association Vice President S.H. Bird. He cited the experience of Holstein breeders in neighboring Fond du Lac County who placed ads for their cattle and were so overwhelmed with orders within two weeks that they withdrew the ads and began to consider the construction of a sales pavilion.

The Calumet association signed 18 charter member farmers who owned a total of more than 200 head of Holsteins. There were also two honorary members — veterinarian Royal Klofanda, who was the first secretary for the group and who would soon be the county's Extension Service agriculture agent, and William M. Knauf, whose family owned and operated four area feed mills.

By the time of the next meeting on Dec. 1, 1917, the membership had already grown to 38. The annual dues payment for membership was $1.

Specific concerns

Particular concerns of the Holstein breeders a century ago were to seek favorable legislation, equitable freight rates, and uniform classification at fairs. They also intended to “raise the standards of excellence of the breed” by discussing the best methods of breeding and rearing cattle, and through exhibiting and other activities, to acquaint the public with “the good qualities and exceptional merit of the breed.”

At the time, Holsteins were not the most popular breed of dairy cattle in Calumet County. Guernseys were most numerous at the time. It wasn't until 25 years later that one census of dairy cattle credited Holsteins with 51.7 percent of the more than 25,000 dairy cows in the county by the early 1940s.

Milk mottoes

Although there is no specific reference to the fact in the meeting minutes, it was also in 1917 that Royal Klofanda coined the phrase proclaiming the county as “The Milk Vein of the World” — a motto the county used to promote itself for next six decades or more — at least into the early 1980s.

That Klofanda, who served as the agriculture agent until 1921, remained closely affiliated with the county's Holstein-Friesian Breeders Association, is indicated in a report for 1923-24, when the group had 125 members and a motto of “We breed Holsteins that pay.”

Klofanda was the president at the time with Anton Molg of Chilton as the vice-president. Other officers were treasurer John Seybold and secretary Leonard Seybold of the Forest Junction area and directors A. T. Hipke of New Holstein and Frank Kloehn of Hilbert. Leonard Seybold became the secretary in 1923 and served in that position until Leonard Mirsberger took over in early 1949.

Milk testing organizations

Even before the county's Holstein association was formed, some dairy farmers began to have their milk tested for butterfat and to record milk production, according to a resume titled “Dairying in Calumet County” that was written in about 1970 by Orrin Meyer, who was the county's agriculture agent from 1945 to 1973.

Meyer credited Roy Harris and H.C. Searles of the Wisconsin College of Agriculture at Madison with selecting Oscar Kossman, who was a Farm Short Course student, to introduce milk production testing in Calumet County during 1915. Kossman was a native of Sheboygan who was working on a Jefferson County dairy farm before attending the Short Course.

Kossman organized the Chilton Cow Testing Association for members who paid $1 per cow per year. He was paid $30 a month and was given one benefit – hay and oats for his horse. Most herds had 15 to 25 cows at the time. Kossman then stayed in Calumet County to become a dairy farmer by 1924 with Holstein and Guernsey cows

Meyer indicated that Calumet County once had six local cow testing associations but that all but one of them were disbanded when their fieldmen answered a call to serve in World War II. He noted that the testing fieldmen such as Kossman typically “lived in” with the association patrons and often helped with farm and household chores, including babysitting. Only four of the farms on Kossman's early route had a mechanical milking machine (before the arrival of electric power).

The Chilton testing association also had a few members with New Holstein and Hilbert post office addresses. According to its annual reports, it had a high point of 29 members with 562 cows on test — 109 registered and 453 grades representing several dairy breeds.

CTA's annual reports

CTA's first annual report, for 1923-24, was in a pocketbook format. It noted that the association's motto was “Not more but better cows.” Willard Riehl, who was CTA's tester at the time, described Calumet County as “The Garden Spot of Wisconsin” — an appellation also made in the premium book for the 1919 Calumet County Fair.

The CTA also inserted a bit of humor in its annual reports. After listing the highest producing cows and their owners, it had a bottom line entry giving an owner's name of “Unprofitable” for a herd average of 4,789 pounds of milk per cow and 167 pounds of butterfat.

By 1928-29, the CTA had renamed itself as the Chilton DHIA and had a motto of “Better Cows – Larger Profits.” But the CTA ran into difficulty maintaining testers – having made four hires in a period of less than two years before hiring Rudy Rosenau, who was its tester during 1929-30.

The organization did, however, collect and report lots of data from its members. Of the 28 members for the 1929 report, 10 had a milkhouse on the farm and six had a milk machine (the remainder milked by hand). Rolling herd averages for the year were 7,711 pounds of milk and 311 pounds of butterfat (milk testing for protein was many decades away).

No later records are available on the fate of the Chilton DHIA.

Unique All-Holstein venture

It was in March of 1935 that the county's Holstein Breeders took a bold step. It was the formation of what was the first and perhaps the only all-Holstein dairy herd improvement association in Wisconsin or anywhere.

Addressing an apparent testing void, the association filled it during a March 19, 1935 meeting when members were signed up during five hours of solicitation. That's according to a reminiscences report written in early 1944 by Alfred C. Fyksen, who served as the all-Holstein DHIA's supervisor for all of its nine years.

The minutes of that March 19, 1935 meeting indicated that the same team of officers would oversee both the county's Holstein association and its new All-Holstein DHIA. Testing equipment was purchased for $10.20. At a meeting on March 12, 1936, which drew an attendance of 28, Fyksen was instructed to provide publicity only to Holsteins in his annual report on the DHIA.

Annual reports

In its first written report, which covered the years 1935 to 1940, the county's all-Holstein DHIA used such promotional phrases as Big Black and White Cow, Holstein Milk Vitality, Holsom Holstein Milk and Foster Mother of the Human Race in referring to the breed.

The organization's final report, which covered 1940 to 1944, noted that 56 percent of the Holsteins it was testing in 1941-42 were registered, that 51.7 percent of the dairy cows in Calumet County were Holsteins, and that Holsteins were the top breed for providing vitamin A in their milk.

By 1943, the all-Holstein DHIA was testing 360 registered Holsteins and 221 grades. That report also noted that association still had 21 of its original members (a number not given but probably in the high 20s).

Registry procedures

At the beginning of 1944, there were 11 DHIA herds employing artificial insemination. Ten Holstein breeders were enrolled in the Herd Improvement Registry program, which was the forerunner of the whole herd Dairy Herd Improvement Registry.

Two Holstein breeders in Calumet County were participating in a more expensive Advanced Registry program through which individual cows were tested monthly under the direct supervision of a land grant college, agricultural experiment station, or DHI affiliate tester. This preceded the setting of the 305-day standard was set for reporting production during one lactation. Production records of the cows on AR testing were eligible for dairy breed herd books and the later listing of pedigrees.

Nine-year achievements

In his “Final Report” for the all-Holstein DHIA, covering the years 1940-44, Fyksen also cited numerous activities other than milk testing, many of them innovative and precedent-setting, that were carried out by the county's association during the previous nine years. During what he considered to be “a short time, we have accomplished much,” he stated.

Fyksen's report credited the Calumet County Holstein Breeders with organizing the first community event which became known later as the “Black and White Shows,” holding a state Holstein picnic in conjunction with one of them, starting a tri-county Black and White Show which became a model for the state, sending a group of cattle to a major show sponsored by the Wisconsin Dairymen's Association in Appleton, and having a twilight barn meeting.

The county's Holstein breeders also sponsored a 4-H club for boys and girls who had Holstein calves as dairy projects, organized a 4-H calf rodeo at the county fair, promoted the sale of 4-H bull calves at the fair, and set up an educational booth at the fair, Fyksen's report indicated.

Later in 1943, the county Holstein breeders conducted their first “400 Sale," an event that continued through 1993 with a name of Calumet Classic in its final years. Starting mainly with young bulls, its premise was to sell cattle that were the progeny of cows with a history of single lactation productions of at least 400 pounds of butterfat, which had been the criterion for comparisons of dairy cattle production for several preceding decades.

County DHIA history

With the shutdown of the all-Holstein DHIA in early 1944, the Calumet Cooperative DHIA was organized at a meeting on May 17, 1944, which had 110 attendees.

Officers of the new DHIA were president Theodore Christoph, vice-president Otto Moehrke, and secretary-treasurer Carl Neitzke, who was the county's agriculture agent from 1943 to 1945. Wenzel Wenig, Ed Seybold and F. W. Behnke were the additional directors. Ted Habel and Bernard Te Vrucht were the fieldmen. Hilda Custer (or Kuster) and Jean Nachtwey were the laboratory technicians.

Initial testing fees for a herd of 15 cows for one year were $36 for standard testing, $21 for owner-sampler testing and $28.50 for a combination. A 5 percent discount was offered for payments a year in advance.

By the spring of 1945, the Calumet County DHIA had nearly 200 members. The county ranked 5th in Wisconsin with 20 percent of its dairy cows on production testing. The largest herds in the county on test had 33 to 35 cows. In its 1945 report, the county DHIA proclaimed “we are what we are to udders.”

For the testing year concluding in the spring of 1945, a 5 year-old cow in the Leonard Mirsberger herd at St. John had the top milk production lactation of 18,528 pounds along with 621 pounds of butterfat. Taking the butterfat honors, with 726 pounds, along with 18,047 pounds of milk, was a 10 year-old cow in Ed Seybold's herd near Forest Junction. Joe Keuler Jr.'s herd of 17 cows at Kiel posted the year's top averages of 13,924 pounds of milk and 477 pounds of butterfat.

Testing laboratory moves

The testing laboratory was in the basement of the building which is still the Chilton post office today. Orrin Meyer credited himself with “skillful maneuvering” to keep the testing laboratory there until July 1 of 1967.

During the previous week, the Calumet DHIA was merged into the Agricultural Records Cooperative (ARC). Milk samples were then taken to ARC's laboratory at Bonduel and then to a laboratory at Berlin, which was equipped with a new Milko-Tester.

On Aug. 14, 1969, testing returned to Calumet County with the opening of a laboratory in the leased and refurbished former bank building in Hilbert, which was also equipped with a Milko-Tester, Meyer's report concluded.

Today, most of the milk testing in Calumet County is conducted through AgSource (a successor of ARC) or with North Star Select Sires, an artificial insemination cooperative. Both organizations offer have techniques which can test milk not only for butterfat and protein but also for somatic cell count (a check for mastitis), nitrogen use efficiency, pregnancy status of the cow and some bovine diseases.

In 2014, more than 18,000 of the just over 44,000 licensed dairy herds in the United States were on a DHIA testing program. This accounted for about 4.35 million cows or 47 percent of the nation's total.

Member longevity

The county's cooperative DHIA report for 1976 recognized five members who had been members since its inception in 1944. They were Holstein breeders Victor Geiser, who served several years as the cooperative's president, Gregory Geiser, Clemens Geiser and Herbert Bastian along with Guernsey breeders Theodore and Elmer Federwitz.

In its comprehensive report for 1935 to 1940, the all-Holstein DHIA stated that it was dedicated to “The Man in Overalls...who besides being a master in the art of dairying is one who has grasped the fundamentals of a business which is a science and an art — that of producing the most necessary of all foods: MILK.”