Photos evoke memories of people, places and events

John Oncken

Needless to say, farmers and all of agriculture (and the rest of us too) remain optimistic for the New Year. After a turbulent year of milk prices at unexpected lows, then record highs, a short period of milk dumping (or at least production cutbacks),stable milk pricing is a strong hope.

Production has again risen in recent months and as always there is a threat of too much milk for the demand. However, the governments' continuing involvement on the demand side through its Farmers to Families Food Box program includes dairy purchases as part of the $1.5 billion spent on food for the program may help.

Only a guess

As always, no economist or dairy expert can do much more than guess at future milk prices — the weather, economy and changes in the world health and other unexpected occurrences always hold the upper hand. (Who would have predicted the coronavirus pandemic that has turned most everything we did upside-down?) 

There are still many, many traditional red barns housing cows in Wisconsin.

A search

Recently, while searching for some photos in my vast computer photo library of over 100,000 photos, I noted some that I had sort of forgotten. They were interesting at the time and deserve a bit of a review. 

Traditional red barns — in spite of the ever growing loss of small dairy farms, many of the 100 year old, red, white, sometimes yellow stanchion barns still remain on Wisconsin dairy farms. Most have been remodeled and expanded but they are still there and will remain for a long time as their owners find new ways to manage and market milk.

It was like driving across a lake, a bit scary.

Water, water everywhere

Some years ago while visiting my son and his family in Grand Forks, North Dakota, I as usual, took a drive around the area. There had been some big-time spring rains and the north flowing Red River had again overflowed its banks. Driving south on US 29 I saw the City of Oslo, Minnesota – not unusual I’ve heard – surrounded by water and reachable only by boat. And the four-lane highway on which I was traveling was but two sheets of concrete with nothing but water from curb to curb on each side and in the middle. I had a strange, almost scary feeling traveling those few miles seemingly atop the water.

ABS sire directories for sale, cheap.

ABS Sire Directories

One of my responsibilities as Dairy Advertising manager at ABS was creating the series of sire directories: Holstein, Jersey and Guernsey, Aryshire, Milking Shorthorn and Aryshire. It was a lot of work to gather all the needed information and photos. 

Several years ago while at the annual Rock River Thresheree, I wandered over to the huge “garage sale” type displays where hundreds of tables of stuff was for sale. One of the tables included the dairy sire directories I had published in 1973 at a price of about $2-$3 each. I was a bit deflated and thought that was far too cheap for my creations. Then I realized they were originally made to be given away for free!

The long line of cars taking hungry visitors to a Green County June Breakfast on the farm.

The long, long line

Several years ago, the annual Green County Dairy Breakfast was held on a farm near Brooklyn and I was there as usual. (It is always the first one in the area and always huge in size.) 

For some reason I took a photo of the long stream of cars approaching the farm field parking lot. It’s not a really an important photo but tells the story of the popularity of many dairy breakfasts and people willing to get there at a slow pace.

Jean Luis Shrago sold Red & White dairy genetics worldwide.

The Red & White promoter

Jean Luis Shrago had a long history in the dairy cattle business. The native of Switzerland attended graduate school at the UW-Madison, worked at ABS and promoted Red & White dairy cattle worldwide. Many have said that Shrago and Wisconsin’s Earl Kehrmeyer were almost solely responsible for the growth of the Red & White dairy cows worldwide, that since have gained breed recognition. It’s a story I still must and will write. Shrago died several years ago, but Earl lives in retirement in Fond du Lac. 

From manure to natural gas - an idea that David Albers couldn’t complete. Here is the plastic covered lagoon on his dairy.

A good idea, but...

My first trip to California for ABS was to the Ray Albers dairy in Chino. One of Ray’s sons, David, became an attorney and worked closely with the dairy industry in the central valley. He owned a large dairy at Riverdale and built a huge manure lagoon with a proposed system to turn manure into natural gas. The lagoon, covered by heavy plastic, occasionally made the national news with people and cameras standing on the covered lagoon. 

Unfortunately, the system proposed by Albers never really worked out and his business failed. I’m not sure were Dave ended up but did hear that his “Legendary Holstein Dairy” had been sold and was still active although his home dairy at Chino is long gone.   

Former UW-CALS Deans L-R...Elton Aberle (1998 - 2005): Leo Walsh (1979-1991) and Neal Jorgenson (1997-1998) who recently died.

Former UW-CALS Dean passes away

Neal Jorgenson, an emeritus professor of dairy science who served the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in numerous leadership positions including dean, passed away on December 22, 2020 at age 85.  Neal was a renowned dairy scientist, friend of many farmers and Dean of U-W CALS from 1997-98. He was a great leader and friend.

Those are a few of the stories and photos I remember so well from the past - there may be more to come.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications and can be reached at 608-837-7406 or e-mail him at