Making milking modern: agriculture science and the American dairy, 1890-1940
Rueber, Micah Aaron
AdvisorMarcus, I Alan
Giesen, C. James
In the late nineteenth century most dairy farmers went about their work in much same manner as had their predecessors centuries earlier. However, by 1940 most farmers practiced recognizably modern dairying techniques. Use of mechanical milking machines was widespread and growing, farmers compounded rations by combining feeds that blended precise proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins, and breeders, eager to maximize the influence of productive bloodlines, evaluated their animals with the use of scientific scorecards and employed intense breeding plans that relied on various forms of inbreeding in order to fix the desirable aspects of prized cattle. Yet the majority of these changes were instigated not by the dairy farmers who actually performed the tasks but by agricultural scientists working in the laboratories of the nation’s agricultural colleges and experiment stations. Agricultural science emerged in Germany in the 1840’s; Americans pursuing advanced degrees in Europe brought these ideas to the United States War and received an official imprimatur with the passage of the Hatch Act in 1892, which dedicated federal funds to the establishment and maintenance of agricultural experiment stations. The focus of this study is the work performed by these scientists in shaping the development of American dairy farms between 1890 and 1940. Researchers not only made scientific advances, such as the discovery of vitamins, that led to new methods of feeding and breeding dairy cattle but also invented and evaluated technological advances such as the Babcock Milk-fat test and mechanical milking machines that would revolutionize American dairying. This work contributes to our understanding of the emergence of the modern dairy farm by demonstrating that it was agricultural scientists, more so than farmers, who established the outlines of the modern dairy. They did so not only by adopting common techniques and methodologies that fostered communication and cooperation between and among researchers but by employing a number of rhetorical devices that broke down the barriers between laboratory and farm. While farmers enjoyed the benefits of scientific advances, they did so at the cost of their autonomy as scientists increasingly dictated what constituted modern dairying.