Payette Valley Dairies

Payette County was originally supposed to attract fruit farmers, and they came in droves.  However, frosts, market and weather conditions, made raising only fruit very speculative.  Changing weather patters also  became an ever bigger factor. Therefore, in addition to other crops, Payette Valley farmers “hedged their bets” with dairying.  Dairy, while not as profitable as good fruit crops, were very steady, non-speculative income.  Milk sent to the Farmers Cooperative Creamery in Payette each morning via a “milkman” and his truck, in ten gallon milk cans, brought a paycheck every two weeks — very steady.  It was a “velvet trap” for farmers. Accept a much smaller income, but a much steadier one.

These dairies were manned by farm families, men, women, and children. Truly a family cooperative enterprise. Often much of the milking fell to the women and children freeing up the man’s time and allowing him to do other farming or work off the farm for others.

These dairies were called “Class B” dairies where the milk is much less sterile than Class A dairies, and the bulk of it went into butter (Challenger brand with the Payette Elk symbol on it), or to cheese.

Milking by hand, like this photo, or via milking machine, gave endless possibilities for bacteria to enter the milk stream.  This milk could either be run thru a “separator,” a spinning machine that separated the milk from its cream with centrifugal force, or could be just bulk. That cream could then be shipped to Portland, leaving the non-fat milk to be fed to hogs.

Or the whole milk could be shipped — and it would be made into butter or into cheese.  Farmers were paid on the butterfat content of their milk. So basically farmers were giving away most of the milk’s real assets.  Whey useage for soft cheeses like velvita, etc., would not be discovered until the end of the 30s when Kraft began to realize that 50% of the value of milk was being wasted, and they began to market it.

Class B dairies eventually and inevitably fell victim to growing gov’t regulations — which forced them out of business in 60s and 70s.

Class A milk, eventually, via gov’t regulations, became the only milk useable for human consumption. Class A dairies kept the milk completely within a sterile piping, directly to a cooler, storage, then bulk shipping via truck.  Nowhere in the chain between the cow and consumer allowed to be out of this enclosed sterile piping. However Class A meant much more capital investment is required, higher training and operations, and eventually meant that such producers became many times much bigger than the small farmer who might have 2-30 cows. The big dairies, instead would have hundreds, and eventually thousands of cows and become, in effect, an industrial production rather than a small farmer.

Dairies have evolved in Payette county, then from a single cow to thousand cow herds.

This evolution, of course, mirrored every other aspect of farm life in Payette Valley, resulting in succeeding very different farms and farmers.  Gone are the small farms.  Either become big farmers, or much more technical farms and product.  This is an evolutionary pathway that is forever changing as conditions change. It happens in every walk of life — farming is no exception.

Once you could drive down any country road and see the average farm of 40 acres farmed by a farmer and his family — the size determined on how much a man, his family, and a team of horses could farm. You could see on such a road, most every farm had a home, outbuildings, all with its own copse of trees and garden. As farms have grown in size and reduced in workers, the old homesteads have been erased, land leveled, fence rows and tree lines gone. Bit, flat, leveled fields are now the norm. Eventually, these will continue to coalesce becoming ever larger.  Unless the land is put to a more intensive use.

Other farms have taken a different course, they have become smaller and smaller, cut up for residence value rather than farming.  The value for an acre with a house on it is much higher than an acre without a house.  As villages become cities, that then become even more metropolitan, then the farmland is lost to production.

EU does not do this.  Instead, they farm their land from their residence in town, driving tractors to and from villages to the farm.  So small villages stay small villages. Big cities grow. However, I knew a Swiss man who said in Switzerland when a city reaches a limit, then they came and bought his family’s large farm and began a new village/city, not allowing creep to over take the land.

Leave a Reply