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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  9

Agriculture and Dairying

(-as transcribed from pages 49 - 53)

Since the organization of Eau Claire county, in 1856, when the country was densely covered with a heavy growth of timber, rapid strides have been made in agricultural pursuits. Where once stood the great forests of pine and hard timber, long since brought in contact with the woodman's axe, fine farms and elegant homes now abound. When the first settlers reached Eau Claire county and observed the immensity of the forest some of them little thought that only a few short years would elapse before the county would become one of the leading counties rich in agriculture. Others of the pioneers who came to make a home for themselves and families set to work clearing the land, erecting buildings, and otherwise improving the land, so that now, where the wild beasts once roamed at their leisure the soil is made to blossom like the rose.

The soil for the most part is a rich clay and sandy loam, with here and there in some parts of the county a little sand, which in later years has been made to produce abundant crops. The county is especially favored with a bountiful water supply nearly everywhere, for in most every direction there are creeks and small streams.

It is the writer's firm belief that there is no territory in the country of equal size that has produced more net profit per acre than has the soil of Eau Claire county for the length of time that it has been under cultivation. The products of this county and their aggregate value are increasing with each succeeding decade, as will be shown by the comparative tables which are here submitted. At the time of the first settlers in Eau Claire who engaged in farming wheat was the principal or staple crop grown, the soil being new and containing all of the elements necessary to produce large yields, but as the years went on and the continued cropping of the ground exhausted the greater part of the phosphates, and the nitrogenous compounds that are so abundantly essential to the production of grain. The result was diminished yields. This, combined with low prices, which ruled for a number of years, and the competition of the great wheat belt of the west and northwest, compelled the farmers to adopt different methods of farming. This course they pursued, so that at this time, while there is quite an acreage of wheat sown yearly, the yield is diminishing. Corn, oats, rye and barley yield large crops, while the sugar beet in some localities is raised successfully. Where stock raising, dairying and clover predominates the fertility of the land is sustained and is yearly growing better under the skillful management of the Eau Claire county farmer.

The cultivation of the sugar beet and the manufacture of sugar is receiving considerable attention and is not an experiment, for it was proven as early as 1867 at Fond du Lac and at Black Hawk, Sauk county, in 1870, that the soil and climate of Wisconsin were suited to the successful growth of the sugar beet. The failure of these enterprises was due, however, to lost interest in this particular product by the farmers.

In writing of the dairying interests, and keeping in mind the fact that the state of Wisconsin stands in the front rank in the, production of butter and cheese, it must also be kept in mind that Eau Claire county is on the star list in these commodities; with the nearness to market, the right kind of soil, the best grass and the purest water, they can and do produce butter and cheese that cannot be surpassed by even the most favored localities of Europe. The growth of this branch of agriculture has been rapid, but has never yet exceeded the demand, which is constantly increasing. And not only has this industry been a source of immense revenue, it has completely revolutionized the methods of farming that were in use twenty-five or thirty years ago, when nearly all the land was plowed up in the fall or spring and planted to wheat and other grains. Then in addition to the washing away of the loose soil by the spring rains come years of short crops, low prices and innumerable trials and troubles that arise from depending wholly upon the success of one growth of a certain crop.

The following comparison will be of interest and show the increase or decrease in the yield of the various commodities. The agricultural products for the county in 1890 were as follows:  Wheat, 72,150 bushels; corn, 150,000 bushels; oats, 395,538 bushels; rye, 28,194 bushels; potatoes, 86,563 bushels; flax, 13,040 pounds; tobacco, 354 pounds; cultivated grasses, 10,966 tons. The acreage seeded to grain in 1890 was as follows: Wheat, 7,467; corn, 9,042; oats, 18,850; barley, 1,157; rye, 2,952; that of potatoes was 1,044; cultivated grasses, 15,408.

In 1912 the agricultural products of the county were: Wheat, 52,458 bushels; corn, 441,647 bushels, shelled; oats, 1,129,807 bushels; barley, 196,759 bushels; rye 141,414 bushels; flax, 690 bushels; potatoes, 287,065 bushels; beans, 1,675 bushels; timothy seed, 2,065 bushels; cloverseed, 2,593 bushels; sugar beets, 1,023 tons; tobacco, 12,800 pounds; cabbage, 3,397 tons; hay, 26,170 tons.  The acreage seeded to grain in 1912 was as follows:  Wheat, 2,841; corn, 16,784; oats, 40,982; barley, 8,210; rye, 11,078; flax, 495; potatoes, 2,270; beans, 195; sugar beets, 57; cabbage, 189; tobacco, 8; cultivated grasses, 33,635.


It took a good many years of experience and the efforts of some farmers more progressive than others of the general run to bring to the fore, as a commercial proposition, the dairying industry.  Cattle, almost from the earliest settlement down to within the last fifteen years, were raised for beef, with occasionally a "cheese factory" which would spring up and flourish for a time and then quit business, for the well developed farming of the east could more than successfully compete with the middle west in "cream cheese."  Every farmer who kept cows made more or less dairy butter, usually a department presided over by the good wife, who presided at the churn and had her regular days for turning out butter for the market, but with the development of this section and the steady increase of population of villages came the demand "more butter," and with this demand from the markets developed the raising of better cattle, the establishment of creameries and the application of scientific modern methods to the making and marketing of butter.

Eau Claire county farmers have kept pace with other sections of the state, and this very profitable industry has been pretty well developed in almost all parts of the county; farmers are and have been studying the breeds of dairy cattle; they send their sons to the university, some taking the short course and some the long course in agriculture, and come out fitted to manage stock farms successfully.  There are one or two associations of men who breed a certain kind of dairy cattle, and stock farms with modern sanitary barns and apparatus for handling milk and cream are found in nearly every township, and not only that, but there are numerous creameries, which are generally operated on the co-operative plan by the farmers in its community, where butter fat is turned into cash with scientific regularity, and from this one industry alone has come a great increase in land values all over the county. As late as 1890 there were but 4,104 milch cows in the county. In 1912 this number had been increased to 10,248, valued at $202,312. In this same year there was 6,609 head of other cattle, valued at $67,697. Horses there were 7,723 head, valued at $568,668. Sheep and lambs, 5,116 head, valued at $13,127. This same year there were 5,515 head of swine four months old or over, valued at $30,917. For the year 1912 there were 1,295 silos in the county.

Previous to 1880 there was very little dairying done in Eau Claire county, Farming was practically all wheat, barley and oats, the cattle of the county pasturing in the brush or on the roadside in the summer, and living on the straw stacks in the winter. What little butter was made was made in the summer and all handled by the women folks and put down in the cellar for the winter. The surplus was traded out to the grocery store or kept in the cellar until the fall and then sold for what it would bring, which was not much.

The first creamery in the county was started along early in the eighties, shortly after the first institute was held in Augusta. At that time Ex-Governor W. H. Hoard, Hiram Smith and Dean Henry of the university were out preaching the gospel of the dairy cow as the only salvation of the northern Wisconsin farmer.  The creamery ran all summer and then failed. The next year it went into the hands of the Victory Drug Co., of Augusta, who made a success of it. Shortly after this a creamery was started at Fall Creek. This creamery adopted the plan of gathering hand skimmed cream from the farmers, and followed that plan for a year or two, until the advent of the cream separator. They then established a skimming station as did the Augusta creamery.  This improved the quality of the butter and brought more money to the farmers, making it possible for them to make money out of dairying. Soon after this a cheese factory was started at Russell's Corner, near Augusta, which was later turned into a creamery, and has been very successful.

About 1885 the Augusta Creamery established a skimming station in the town of Ludington. This branch later grew and developed into a creamery. It was sold out to Ludtke Bros., of Ludington, who operated it until about three years ago, when it burned down. The farmers then organized a co-operative creamery, which is now in active operation. In about the year 1886 there was a company organized in the city of Eau Claire to build and operate a creamery. This was built on Water street, but proved a failure, there not being enough cows within easy hauling distance of the creamery to furnish cream for the plant.  The next creamery to be organized in the county was at Cleghorn.  This was along about 1893 or 1894 and is still in operation and doing well.  Along about 1894 there was a creamery started in the town of Drammen.  This never was a success, was closed down about two years ago and sold at auction about one year ago.  Has now been turned into a cheese factory.

Shortly after this Messrs. Hanke and Emmerson built a creamery at Brackett in the town of Washington.  This creamery was very successful for a while, but gradually lost patronage and was sold out several times and finally organized into a co-operative plant and failed, closing down about two years ago.  There was also a creamery organized in the town of Union about four miles from Eau Claire.  This creamery never did very much and finally closed down.

In 1901 the farmers of the town of Washington organized the co-operative creamery and built it about five miles from Eau Claire.  This creamery has been successful from the start and is now doing a good business.  In 1901 they discontinued making cheese at Russel's Corner and built a new creamery, and about the same time the farmers of the town of Bridge Creek in what is known as Diamond Valley organized a co-operative creamery there and are still in successful operation.  In 1906 the Eau Claire Creamery Company was organized and started business in may of that year.  This company has steadily grown until it ranks as one of the largest concerns of this kind in the state.  Since 1880 the county has gradually drifted away from grain raising to dairying and stock raising.  They have a Guernsey Breeders' Association, also a Holstein Breeders' Association, and they working in harmony with Prof. Ingles, the State Agricultural Instructor, have done a vast amount of good in the last two years.  And the day is not far distant when Eau Claire county will rank as one of the best dairy and stock counties of the state.

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