The round barn - a final word

John Oncken

Every era has farms that are remembered long after their demise, after family changes or economic reasons. Think back to the farms that corralled headlines for their innovative farming or livestock management systems. Every community had entrepreneurs who did things a bit differently or things you just couldn’t do at the time but later became routine. 

During the past decade or so the Crave Brothers, Blue Star Dairy, Larson Acres, Wayside Dairy and many others across the state often appear in the farm news for their milk production, farm management and innovative skills. They have led the way to modern farming that others have copied and used. Will they be remembered 40 - 50 years from now? Yes, if they have someone - a family member perhaps - who keeps their stories alive for others to read down the road.

The Round Barn in 2012

The start of the story

The Dougan Dairy at Beloit had an owner, Wesson J. Dougan who was a farm boy who took over management of his home farm at Lowell in Dodge county after his father was injured. The farm was sold in 1887 and Wesson then attended Wayland Academy at Beaver Dam and graduated from the UW-Madison. He then went on to become a Methodist minister serving at Poynette, Juda, Oregon and Mcfarland, all the time while losing his hearing.

Knowing that he could not serve as a minister with his deafness, Dougan took some courses at the UW College of  Agriculture with the idea of producing pure milk in a time when milk was being produced under very impure conditions. This led to his buying of a run down 110 acre farm with few buildings but fertile land in 1906 on Colley Road just east of Beloit. A year later he began a milk route in Beloit followed by new buildings and the building of a round barn in 1911.
That was the beginning of one of Wisconsin’s innovative, productive and successful farms that existed until 1972 and about which Wesson Dougan’s granddaughter Jacqueline Dougan Jackson has written four volumes of “The Round Barn” series of books. I have written about each book as they appeared, summarizing some of the hundreds of stories - all interesting and many which had a lasting  impact on Wisconsin agriculture.   

Jackie Jackson, writer and Robert Walton, former ABS president relish dairy history.

Dairy genetics 

Wesson Dougan's son, Ron, first became interested in proved dairy sires in 1927 from reading a Jersey Journal article by E. Parmalee Prentice about his experiments in breeding cattle that showed that hereditary characteristics are transmitted without regard to so-called purebred lines and the transmitting ability of a bull is determined by comparing production records of daughters and dams.

In those days - now 90 years ago - there were others thinking along the lines of Prentice but Dougan felt that Prentice was the only one to have developed a method of comparing dams and daughters. It was called “The Mount Hope Index.” He proceeded to compare production records on the farm that dated to 1915. Dougan consulted with Prentice and sought and found several progeny proved Guernsey sires that he purchased.

The track attached to the barn ceiling was for the manure carrier that was filled by fork and shovel.

The Mount Hope Index went on to be the basis of the proved sire programs that have been used for decades. E. Parmalee Prentice was the father of Rockefeller Prentice who went on to found American Breeders Service (ABS) that developed the sire proving programs as we know them.  
The Rock County Breeders Co-op began operations in 1936 with Ron as Secretary which ultimately  triggered a meeting with Rock Prentice (Parmalee's son). Amos Grundahl, a Rock county farmer and early practitioner of the art of A. I. plays a leading role in the story as manager of the Rock County Breeders Co-op. 
The books traces the  the development of breeding cooperatives, the American Dairy Cattle Club (registered both purebred and grade animals), Wisconsin Scientific Breeding Institute, a series of seven breeding organizations scattered from coast to coast and the formation of ABS with headquarters in Chicago, later in Madison and then DeForest. Ron Dougan was there at the beginning and helped A.I. become the basis for genetic growth.

The Dougans and ABS grew up together.

Saving labor with efficient machinery  

In 1929, Wesson Dougan began assisting Professor  F.W. “Floyd” Duffee, UW Ag engineering expert on a study to determine “the  most efficient and economical engineering and mechanical practices for typical Wisconsin dairy farms.”

The 440 acre Dougan farm used a 2-row cultivator, a seven foot mower, a Ronning silage harvester, a 10-foot rain drill and a 10-foot PTO binder.  A major point of the project was “how to maintain production with less labor.” Although the research project did not prove itself short term, it led the farm to modern equipment later. 

.A 1929 corn field chopper used at the Dougan farm in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin.


Clair Matthews was the herdsman in 1931 and he spent a lot of time mixing feed on a small burr mill that both he and Ron Dougan felt was inefficient, so he decided to find a roller mill to use on the farm. Rather than buy one, Matthews made one from parts found at a junkyard. After the machine was assembled and run for a few minutes they fed it some corn meal and to everyone's surprise, it came out “puffed,” and tasty for both cows and people. As Jackie says in her volume 1 book, “Korn Kurls were born.”
The idea grew as other grains were flaked and puffed, the process passed on to ever bigger companies and today is owned by Frito-Lay (think Cheetos). Note - Claire Matthews, the inventor of the original machine seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle however, as did the fact that it all started at Dougan Dairy.  

Better corn

Hybrid seed corn entered the Dougan farm picture in 1934 when Ron planted his first hybrids and a year later began raising foundation seed with the University of Wisconsin. Dougan Hybrids were sold until the farm was sold in 1972. 

Slowing down

In 1967, Ron Dougan arrived at age 65 and thinking of retirement. His first move was the sale of the milk bottling/delivery business to Muller-Pinehurst of Rockford. On October 24, 1969, the 115-cow herd was sold at a dispersal sale managed by Piper International Sales with a $343 average and a high of $500. 

The barn in its last days.

The farm was sold to an investment group in 1971 and on March 15, 1972 a farm auction was held. 

Thus ended the 1906 to 1972 life of the Dougan Dairy on Colley Road in Beloit. Unlike most farms where records are temporary, things happen and no one notices and no one writes the story. Those years and days at the Dougan farm are not lost - much of happenings are recorded in “The Round Barn, A Biography of an American Farm,” by Jacqueline Dougan Jackson. 
Go to www. roundbarnstories.com to order any or all of these books and to read more details about the books and author. 
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.