A little history and info on cows

Published 6:39 pm Saturday, December 1, 2018

By Terry Rector

I remember when every newspaper had a category of “farm animals” in the classified ads.

City readers weren’t scanning the classifieds for a freezer pig, Dominecker rooster or garden mule, but some readers outside town were.

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As a kid I was confused by farm ads for a milch cow.  I eventually came to the conclusion the milch word had to be some old timer, country slang for “milk” as in a milk cow.  By the time I got to ag college even the “milk cow” terminology was out dated and we only studied “dairy cows.”

Thanks to easy modern research of long ago words I find I was sort of right about “milch” but not entirely. The term was once in common use by old timers alright — 500 years ago. But it was not slang, merely proper English at the time.

Both “milk” and “milch” evolved from and through Old English and migrated here with people and their cows. And “milch” was pronounced just like it’s spelled, different from “milk.” Some word historians picky about meanings say “milch” refers to verbs like yielding, producing or taking.  So a milch cow gives milk.

Back in the days of milch cow ads many rural families kept one cow for milk. But there were thousands of small family dairy farms in the South that depended on milk sales as the family income then.

Those sharing my mother’s roots who stayed put were mostly her brothers and cousins and neighbors with thirty-five or so head of dairy cows each. I just visited and helped milk now and then, so the twice-a-day milking didn’t dictate life for me like it did for them.

The most popular dairy breed for that one family cow was the Jersey for good reasons. The Jersey is the smallest breed, meaning less feed to grow or buy.

And while the term “butterfat” might not sound positive in today’s healthy eating nomenclature, it was and is the measure of milk quality. Jersey milk is the highest in butterfat and that certainly mattered when folks churned their own butter.

The Holstein breed accounts for the most cows on modern dairy farms because Holsteins produce the largest volume of milk by far.

Like most every other agriculture commodity, milk production has become bigger business in some areas and nearly no business in others.

Among the states, California’s dairies now produce 20 percent of the U.S. milk. Among counties, the top six dairy counties in the nation are in California.

Wisconsin is a respectable second among states, accounting for 16 percent of milk annually, followed by Idaho, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In the neighborhood here, Louisiana and Mississippi rank 40th and 41st, respectively, each state accounting for less than 1 percent of American milk.

Last year, one of Alaska’s two dairy farms went out of business. Officially, Alaska is now credited with zero percent of the country’s milk since the remaining farm’s output is below one one-hundredth of one percent of the national total.

Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.