Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Family dairies in 1930s adapt to market needs

It was difficult for dairy farmers to regulate the supply and demand for milk. In a town like Columbia, the autumn influx of students, teachers and workmen at two women’s colleges and the university created a skyrocketing demand for all dairy products. Long Christmas breaks and customers’ whims added to the problem.

In the 1940s the customers wanted creamy milk that was 3.5 to 4 percent fat. Dairymen competed for "a good cream line." Milk was sold in glass bottles, and the yellowish cream rose to the top. The cream line was visible, and a deep section of cream pleased the buyer. Manufacturers made various shaped bottles to make the cream line appear to be farther down. The bulged top bottle, desired by collectors today, came with a metal ladle that could retrieve the thickest cream without much being lost in the nonfat milk below.

Dad delivered the milk directly to the customer’s home, and his business depended on satisfied customers. For decades, women wanted milk with enough cream on top to actually whip some for topping pies and other desserts. Therefore most farmers chose Jersey, Guernsey or Brown Swiss cows, which produced smaller amounts of "richer" creamy milk.

Dad said, "Holsteins are the best dairy cows," and everybody agreed that they gave the larger quantities of milk. Competitors called Holstein milk "blue john" but Dad separated some of the milk in a special device, which whirled the milk and sent nonfat milk out of one spout and cream out of another. Then he added cream to the customer’s whole milk, to make a competitive cream line.

Very few customers were willing to buy the nonfat milk so he discarded most of it. Although he had no intention of being a hog farmer, he bought and sold a few feeder pigs when they were needed to help the chickens, cats and kittens use the extra skim milk. Later he resold them at heavier weights.

Chub and I married in 1937 and became partners in the dairy that Dad had owned for many years. He remained sole owner of the farm and cows, and he sold Chub and me half-interest in the retail dairy operation. It was a profitable enterprise in spite of the low prices of milk. I quote from an old 1938 Tribune advertisement:

"Now, after 27 years’ experience in producing Grade A Raw Milk, Meyers and Gerard are offering Grade A Pasteurized Milk made from the same fine Grade A Raw Milk that we have always used.

This is the only pasteurized milk sold in Columbia that is produced and pasteurized on the same farm. We do all of our own work. Meyers and Gerard is the only dairy in Columbia that makes its Grade A Pasteurized Milk from Grade A Raw Milk. Call us today for a free sample of this superior pasteurized milk. MEYERS AND GERARD DAIRY DIAL 3942."

The prices? Hold your breath! Quart, whole milk, 9 cents; Pint, 5 cents; Gallon, daily, 30 cents; Gallon of skim, 10 cents; Quart of buttermilk, 5 cents; Coffee cream, 9 cents and up; Whipping cream — also called "double cream" — 18 cents up.

During the first Christmas vacation, we lost our feeder hogs because of cholera. The next summer we bought a large, electric, barrel churn and sold butter and buttermilk. To increase the milk supply, Dad sold or gave the baby calves to neighbors keeping the best heifer calves, which would replace cows that were too old for breeding.

The most important way he regulated the supply was by means of calculated breeding so the cows "freshened" shortly before students returned and were "dry" during the summers.

More about that on another Tuesday.


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