Farming 1870 to 1930

Farming changed quickly in the years after our Borreson ancestors came to Pigeon Falls in Trempealeau County.

In the decade before they arrived, lumbering was still booming in the state. Black River Falls, where Bertinus Estensen arrived in 1875, was one of 13 sawmill centers that were growing four times as fast as the rest of the state.  By 1897 the last log drive had gone down the Black River. Emil had worked as a cook in a lumber camp near Winona, MN as a young man. By 1900 when Emil and Gina had been married a year, lumbering in Wisconsin still ranked first in the nation, but 20 years later, it had fallen to 13th. I wonder if the Estensen or Borresons sold any lumber off their farms in those early years.

In the mid-1800s and on, wheat was king in the state until it depleted the land, and gradually a diversified farming and especially dairying took its place in Wisconsin agriculture.  When we read in Clara’s history of Estensens raising chickens, pigs, and milk cows – and Borresons the same – this was typical of what was happening in the whole state.

The movement toward Wisconsin as America’s Dairyland was slow in the early years but steady. In the 1870s, Wisconsin butter was so poor in quality much of it was known as “wagon grease.” W.D. Hoard, who established a premier dairy magazine still going today and later became governor, was instrumental in getting Wisconsin farmers into quality dairying. By 1890 Wisconsin had three-quarters of a million milk cows and was producing 11 times more cheese than 20 years earlier. (We’ve been cheeseheads for a long time!) By 1929, more than half of Wisconsin farm income came from dairying. Emil himself had made improvements on the farm that indicated he was part of this. Holsteins became the most popular dairy cow in the state (below), but I’m not sure what breed Emil’s herd was.

In 1885 a Swede named Carl de Laval perfected the centrifugal cream separator which became available to individual farmers. I’ll bet Emil had a separator at some point, marketing the cream and feeding the whey to his pigs. I saw a stat that in 1930 90% of the whey from milk was fed to pigs. In the 1890s creameries for butter-making flourished throughout the state, and the quality of farm products improved. In 1895-1896, farm prices hit all time lows, but farmers were diversified so they could endure – and dairying was on the upswing.

In 1870 there were 270,000 cows and 2-year-old heifers kept for milk; fifty years later by 1920, that number had mushroomed to 2,043,000.

I also found that in 1929, tobacco was 9th on the list of Wisconsin crops, less than a tenth the value of hay, the leading crop as feed for cattle. Remember that cousin David mentioned that Emil had spoken to him about tobacco harvesting, so we know that this was a Borreson farm product for some years.

Well, I’ll have more on the Borreson farm later, but this gives some background.

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