“Bluffview” Guernsey

During the “dairy” phase of farming in New Plymouth (1940-1960) , many farmers’ dream was to have registered breeds.  Yes, farmers do have dreams!  To breed-up their herds took patience and lots of years, with the goal of much more milk production from the same number of cows.  Production could vary by double the amount with same food, milking, etc.

There was a learning curve to master.  Registered stock cost sometimes twice or more than the run-of-the-mill cattle did.  To farmers who struggled just to pay their mortgage it was a very uphill battle.  The way to “breed-up” was generally thru acquiring a quality bull and/or quality heifers, and raising better and better heifers, in many iterations each succeeding generation would approach closer and closer to what you aimed at.  Bulls were expensive both to obtain, and to keep, and not really paying their way on the bottom line for years.  A long battle.









Lloyd Johnson had a another battle on his farm.  That battle was with poor soil.  His farm was on the edge of the Plymouth bench.  That meant ground water from higher on the bench — clear to I-84 on far south side, four to six miles away — drained to his area coming out of the ground as artesian springs, or marshy ground.  This resulted in the water, saturated with salts dissolved from up stream, coming out of solution as alkali.  It was exacerbated by evaporation which further concentrated the salts left behind.  All along the edge of the bench farms and ranches, i.e. Kennedys, Kings, Zeigler, Cocono, etc., all had to cope with alkali soils — at first.  Some crops do well in alkali — others cannot be grown at all.  Alfalfa therefore was the crop of choice.  The alfalfa sucks up the alkali, and when the hay is removed from the field, then the salt in it is sent off somewhere else!  Over many years then, the alkali soils along this boundary were eventually leached of all that salt leaving good ground behind.  Over the farmer’s life time, then the farm would begin to be able to grow other crops.  It was a long haul!

There were other things you could do, like set up tiling to carry the high ground water off, flood irrigate with “clean” water to pickup, or dissolve the excess salt, and wash it away into the river.  You could put in concrete ditches to evacuate the water without it seeping into the ground on the way off the property.  But these farmers suffered from everyone else’s salt from above them.

Lloyd devised another way to resolve his problem in addition to raising alfalfa.  He went into the breeding business.  He got high quality bulls, and spread this asset around to other dairymen who had milking herds, via artificial insemination.  Dairy cows are on a one year cycle.  Their milk eventually dries up around 9 months after birth of a calf. Dairymen call this drying up.  They plan on this period to give the cow a rest from high output, and to let the cow’s resources, instead, be used to grow a healthy calf, whose birth will again start the cow’s milking cycle. This is called “freshening.”

To promote his services, he had to educate the locals about artificial insemination,  keep a large number of bulls on hand to supply the semen for many herds, learn the trade, promote the trade, etc.  And, he had to cater “breed-wise” to the area farmers’ dream of acquiring registered herds of the breed that they fancied.  My dad and Lloyd were close friends, and many times either working on Lloyd’s farm baling, etc., or just stopping by to chat, would be shown his bulls, his methods of collections, and hearing how the whole thing was progressing.

Lloyd could serve most of New Plymouth area herds.  The local favorite cow was a Guernsey.  People might generally think that cows are just cows.  However, to farmers cows can be very pretty, or even beautiful.  My dad favored Ayershires, very like Guernseys.  Different types had their champions. Some produced higher butterfat, but smaller quantity. All had advantages and disadvantages.  Pritzls and Dubarko preferred Guernsey.  Everyone was in one camp or another.

Lloyd had to satisfy them all, keeping their preferred kind of bull.  In doing so he developed his Guernsey purebred “Bluffview” Guernsey.  Dubarko had come to New Plymouth in 1904.  He lived only a mile away on our way to New Plymouth.  Our school bus went by his place every day.  So I watched the Dubarko cows as his herd climbed the ladder of better and better.  And they got there using Lloyds “bluffview” bulls insemination.  Aren’t they beautiful?  In the end, no cows  could compete with “corporate cows” — what I call Holstiens.  They simply produce the most milk.  And the trade off, less butterfat, well, their butterfat is “enough” to please the corporate types.  Holstiens now comprise probably 95% of all dairy cows.  To old farmers, like myself, the taste simply is not there.  Just like wine connosuers we can tell by tasting which breed produced the milk.  Holstien milk to me is like reduced or fat free milk.

Leave a Reply