Lessons from Historical Agriculture: #3 – On Breeding Livestock

Lessons from Historical Agriculture: #3 – On Breeding Livestock

Pearls of Wisdom from old books on breeding of livestock:

Stock Breeding by Manly Miles, MD. First printed in 1878.

Quote: Interpretation:
“Beauty in the form and proportions of his [Robert Bakewell’s] animals was always made to contribute to the development of useful characters.” What we see as pleasing to the eye is such because balance and function are inherently beautiful. For example, the straight back and strong legs on Bakewell’s Leicester sheep provided a strong foundation for the sheep to thrive.

Other quotes from the book:

“The animal that converts the largest amount of food into animal products of the best quality, with the least possible waste of material, would be the most valuable.”

Image result for robert bakewell leicester sheep

“The principles that guide the breeder of pure-bred stock are likewise applicable to the improvement of the common stock of the farm.

It is not to be expected that all persons will be equally successful in producing animals of extraordinary merit, but it is, nevertheless, true that a careful study of the principles of the art, which are easily understood, will enable the farmer to make improvements in his stock that will add largely to his profits.”

American Dairying by L.B. Arnold, A.M. First printed in 1876.

Quote: Interpretation:
“What breed of cows is best depends on where and what they are wanted for…While adapting the kind of stock to his location, the dairyman should not omit to procure animals whose former habits and fare have been as nearly as possible like those they are to receive at his hands. The less change in habits of milch cows the better.” Different breeds of animals meet different needs.

I need cream, therefore I own Jersey cows!!

Another quote from the book:

“The oft quoted adage, “like produces like,” has a significance beyond visible qualities. It takes in also, constitutional qualities. Two animals unalike in this respect, though alike in all others, will not stamp the same peculiarities upon their progeny. The first appearance of a characteristic does not fix it permanently in the constitution of the individual, or, in other words, in the blood, and not being fixed, it is easily lost when circumstances do not contribute to its continuance.

By continuing it through successive generations it becomes permanent, and the longer and more frequently it is transmitted the better it is established in the blood, and the more difficult is it to be bred out or dropped out by a loss of vigor or prepotency in the parents.”

The Fundamentals of Livestock Judging and Selection by Robert S. Curtis, B.S.A. First printed in 1920.

Quote: Interpretation:
“The purpose of the dairy animal, and therefore the fundamental factors in judging, are strikingly different from any other farm animal. .. As the dairy animal gives off the products of food digestion, absorption and assimilation, daily the natural result would be an animal with the sparse, open conformation such as the dairy animal possesses. The block animals [beef & horses], which accumulate the products of the manufactured food, assume an entirely different form… We have, therefore, the two distinct types, one eliminating from the body through the mammary system and the other accumulating the products in the bone and muscular tissues, the former being represented in the dairy animal and the latter in the block animal.” The shape and appearance of a dairy animal should be judged wholly separate from the shape and appearance of a beef animal.

Likewise, the care and management of dairy cattle should be considered completely new or different and should not be compared to beef cattle.

Wedge vs block animals.jpgAs usual, I’ve learned some new terminology and enjoyed reading other’s perspectives on breeding philosophies, some of which provide me with some “food for thought” as our farm continues to breed animals. Though these books were written a century or so ago, therein still contains insight and acknowledgement of continual need for improvement!

It never gets old…another heifer calves!

It never gets old…another heifer calves!

I always love the anticipation of watching a new heifer prepare to calve. Will she have a good udder? Will she have a safe calving? Will she milk well and have a clean udder?

Spoiler alert All goes well – Prancer is a “dream cow”🙂

Aug 25:

Sept 13th:

October 5th:

October 14th:

October 17th, practicing in the parlor:

October 19th:

The night before the event, we came home from an anniversary trip to Spokane. I grabbed my camera and snapped these shots late at night, thinking “Where did all that swelling under her belly come from? It literally showed up during the day!”



Pins look somewhat relaxed, but no where near as loose as heifers often get – maybe she’s a bit too chunky… hehe

October 20th, around 6 am calf is born, we wake up to MOOOWAAHHH sounds out in the barn and run out to find Prancer licking off a little boy (boo hoo, sniffle).


Hanging out in the freestall. Baby Risotto was born at the end of the freestall early in the morning – looked like he popped out while mom was sleeping! We put him at the head of the stall and mom Prancer acted like an old-hat, taking perfect care of the babe then laying down with him to rest.


Sorry for the dark lighting … Click to hear Prancer moo the typical “new mom” moo to her baby



Click to view video on how we milk a fresh cow for the first time – low stress!


Feeding Newborn Calf.PNG

Click to watch calf being fed first colostrum – lots of good tips!



When You Take the Dairy Farmer off the Farm…

When You Take the Dairy Farmer off the Farm…

…He has a lot of fun! With Rosebud recently dried up (not making milk because she’s due to calve in a couple months), we headed across the state to visit family and friends and so Jay could judge some fairs~

We started out on Highway 20, with our first stop at Cinnamon Twisp Bakery for Quiche, Coffee, and a signature “Cinnamon Twisp” – We will definitely be back!

On the top of the scenic highway, we stopped to switch drivers and Jay got his picture taken:

Then we headed to Mount Vernon to shop for used books (found several Grace Livingston Hills at Easton’s Books) and ate at Calico Cupboard, splitting a sandwich:

Fresh roasted turkey grilled with Havarti cheese, cream cheese, cranberries, Dijon mustard and red onion.

We took back roads to LaConner, staying at historic Katy’s Inn . The Indian POW WOW drove us crazy – pounding and chanting until 10 pm. Note to self: Make sure there is no pow wow going on in any town we stay over in!

3 Tomato trellis

A cute tomato trellis idea we saw when walking the streets of LaConner


I’m not sure how we fit it in, but we bought dinner at Seed’s Bistro, a restaurant that promotes local foods. Jay had hand battered Fish and Chips, I had an Asian “Weed” Salad.

Breakfast at the inn with three other couples and the inn owner and her daughter brought about several conversations from Young Life to Education to Modern Dairy Farming. Breakfast lingered til almost 11am with all the conversation, so as we traveled north we were not very hungry … well, until we found ORGANIC BLUEBERRY ICE CREAM made locally by Lopez Island Creamery using Bow Hill Organic Blueberries.

Monday night we checked into a hotel and watched Rio Olympics while eating light snacks.

Tuesday morning saw us headed to Lynden for the Northwest Washington Fair:

First Jay judged 4-H Fitting and Showing –

Second up, FFA Fitting and Showing after a nice lunch and a stop at the Whatcom Dairy Women Ice Cream booth (of course!) –

Wednesday morning before dawn we headed to Moses Lake to the Grant County Fair:

4-H Fitting and Showing –

Then an impromptu Novice Open Class to entice some of the kids watching the show to participate … with the hope that next year they may want to show a dairy animal at the fair!

Thursday morning we traveled again – this time back to Lynden. I know, crazy. But Jay was invited to judge a show – for a 50th anniversary of a dairy club. Here’s the kicker – the participants in the show were all past dairy exhibitors of all ages! Jay judged three classes (Young folks, Middle Age, and the AARP group):

Ferndale FarmsteadWe also squeaked in a quick visit at a new creamery, Ferndale Farmstead. We thought the farm was open to customers but instead found out it was wholesale only. As often happens in life, we just happened to drive in as the owner was driving in and he came over to see what we needed. We ended up getting a tour of the facility and dairy and came home with Italian cheeses to taste!

Before heading home Friday morning we stopped in to see some friends at Pleasant Valley Dairy and brought home several cheeses – It’s so hard to find a good Gouda, so if you’ve got a craving for real Gouda, here’s the place to get it!

We stopped in to visit another (fellow dairy) friend at his work, WoodStone, and got a tour of a factory that makes stoves for pizza restaurants and more. Now we know how to properly cook a pizza!

Because of our delayed timing, Cinnamon Twisp Bakery and the coffee shop were both closed, so we headed on to Omak to eat at the Breadline Café and Bakery for the first time. We ate their food at a catered event (Okanogan Fiber Festival a couple years ago) and really wanted to try the restaurant. It did not fail.

Jay had the “Thanksgiving Anytime” dinner while Michelle tried the Florentine Crepes (with Ginger Carrots and Rosemary Potatoes). The meals also came with access to the “Bread Bar” which offered several freshly baked breads, herb butter (real butter!), and oil/vinegar. We took home a Bread Pudding with Raisins and Cream for dessert.

Just before dark, at the top of the hill past Tonasket on the road to Republic, we got some pictures of the stunning field of Sunflowers:

I’ll admit, I wasn’t overly excited about all the driving, but the trip ended up being tons of fun. We’ll have many fond memories to rehash all winter with anticipation of more dairy shows next year!

Coming down the hill from Republic towards Colville after dark, we nearly struck a Moose casually crossing the road. As often happens – we got our moose sighting! Sweet!

For all the fun, there’s nothing quite so nice as driving in to the ole homestead, seeing our animals and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Now, off to canning flavorful Organic Peaches from Crandall’s Riverview Orchard while drinking some freshly roasted Organic Espresso Blend coffee.🙂

Lessons from Historical Agriculture: #2 – Ice Cream

Lessons from Historical Agriculture: #2 – Ice Cream

While spending mornings gardening in the direct sun we often joke about heading in for a bowl of refreshing ice cream. Many days we do just that, and I realize that those of us wishing to have lived in a bygone era could only do so if our memory of ice cream was erased!

The history of ice cream is a relatively short story – one that mirrors the availability of ice throughout the seasons.

  • Vague historical documents indicate “Ice Cream”, in some form, may have been around for centuries. Due to the expense in creating the product, ice cream was limited to those with a cow and extra cream or the monetarily wealthy. (I’d rather have the Jersey cow with cream!)
  • Early 1600’s & 1700’s references and recipes speak of “cold pudding” & “water ices” & “cream ices.”
  • Europeans (primarily France and England) brought the concept of ice cream to America.
  • In 1784, George Washington acquired a “Cream Machine for Ice” (and while he may have gotten some use out of the machine, likely not as much as he hoped, since his dairy operation ended in disappointment.) Many presidents recorded a fondness for this specific dessert.
  • In 1843, Nancy Johnson patented an ice cream freezer design. Quite the clever 1840’s housewife!Patent Diagram 3,254
  • In the early years of Washington statehood, citizens enjoyed ice cream for holidays and special occasions as long as the ice held”:

Women came in the afternoon bringing cream, eggs, whole milk, sugar, flavorings and cakes. Ice was bought from the butchering shop in gunny sacks…” (Williams, The Way We Ate)

  • By the late 1800’s, electricity and commercial production of ice allowed for large scale production and transportation of iced desserts.
  • In 1906, the increase of ice cream products for sale led to USDA regulations stipulating that products labeled ice cream must contain not less than 14 per cent of milk fat.”
  • Alas, ice cream of the 21st century has gone the way of Margarine. A cheap imitation of what once was an amazing natural product.

For home production of ice cream, many historical references speak of frozen custardessentially ice cream with egg yolk added to provide smoothness and soften the ice cream.

It is …advisable in making ice cream in the home to use a recipe which includes eggs, and to prepare a custard.” (Eckles, Milk and Milk Products)

Below is a recipe adapted from a book on the history of English dairies & ice houses.

Custard ice cream, with the addition of mint leaves, mint essential oil, and chiseled mint dark chocolate chips.

Rich Custard-Based Ice-Cream

  • 1 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • Flavoring:
    • 1/4 cup freshly picked mint leaves, muddled
    • 5 to 10 drops food grade Peppermint EO (mine came from a farm in Oregon)
    • 1/2 bar Mint Dark Chocolate, finely shaved or chopped

Makes about 3 ¼ cup. Tip: Use leftover egg whites for macaroons.

Caution: Do not fill ice cream maker more than half full. Custard ice cream expands greatly – more so than regular ice cream.


Combine milk, half the sugar, and mint leaves in a medium sized sauce pan. Bring to just below boiling point. Remove from heat, cover, steep 15 minutes or more, then strain out leaves.


Meanwhile, in a double boiler, combine the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and beat until mixture is pale and thick enough to hold shape when trailed. Warm up milk mixture, then slowly pour the milk over the egg mixture while whisking. Heat mix to 185 degrees while stirring often.

Once temperature and thickness is achieved, remove pan from heat and place into an ice water bath to cool (mixture will thicken more once cool). Stir occasionally. Cover and refrigerate until ready for use.

When ready to freeze, fold custard and cream together with essential oil, then pour into ice cream freezer. When almost done, pour in chocolate shavings.


~Just looking at this makes me want to run to the freezer and eat more~

If you’ve made ice cream at home before, you have likely learned that most ice cream becomes rock hard when frozen for more than a few hours. Not so with custard!

  • I made a batch of custard ice cream and froze the contents in 8 oz. glass containers.
  • 24 hours later I sampled the product – scoopable!
  • A few days later, I sampled another jar – still just as scoopable! I also noticed that the product did not immediately melt (if eaten fresh, custard ice cream will melt fairly fast like regular home made ice cream, but once frozen longer will hold its shape reliably well and scoops into a nice round curl).

For more detailed instructions, reference “Recipes from the Dairy” – a worthwhile addition to your dairy library!

In the comments section, feel free to write in what your favorite ice cream flavors are – Some of my favorites are Huckleberry Buttermilk, Pistachio, and Lemon Custard.


Eckles, Clarence, Willes Combs, & Harold Macy. Milk and Milk Products. 2nd edt. New York and London:McGraw-Hill, 1936.

Thompson, Mary V. Ice cream. Mount Vernon Estate. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/ice-cream/

U.S. Patent: Artificial Freezer. http://todayinsci.com/Events/Patent/IceCreamFreezer3254.htm

Thomas Jefferson’s Ice Cream Recipe: https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/ice-cream

Williams, Jacqueline B. The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843-1900. Pullman: WSU Press, 1996.

Weir, Robin, Caroline Liddell and Peter Brears. Recipes from the Dairy. London: National Trust, 1998.

New Series: Lessons from Historical Agriculture

New Series: Lessons from Historical Agriculture

I have been looking for a subject to write on that combines my two passions: History and Farming.

The result is the beginning of a new series entitled “Lessons from Historical Agriculture” in which I research wisdom (or folly!) of the past in order to enhance our knowledge and abilities in modern agriculture.

Arthur Young, a correspondent of George Washington’s, “believed that each generation of farmers could benefit from the knowledge and advances of those who preceded them.”

Hopefully this series can help bring to light ideas of the past to stimulate conversation about improving practices in farming today.

Speaking of George … One of the most famous early American examples of using sustainable agriculture practices was George Washington. He grew up being taught the farming mindset that tobacco was the crop of choice to grow, but soon learned that tobacco was not a sustainable or realistic option. In fact, growing tobacco threatened the future of American farming because of the demands tobacco crops put on the soil. After only four years of growth, tobacco might require 20 years of lying fallow or growing wheat before being able to grow tobacco in the same location again.

Realizing this misuse of land was not a good business plan, George Washington bravely changed his farming philosophy from the common mindset of the day and began studying and implementing “new husbandry” with ideas on maximizing soil productivity for business success along with longevity of soil health for future generations. George Washington realized a problem in agriculture that persists today – mismanagement of land.

Nothing in my opinion would contribute more to the welfare of these States, than the proper management of our Lands…” GW remarked.

WAquoteCrop rotation, one of his well-known experiments, involved the use of different crops for harvest while concurrently building soil quality. What George may not have been able to put to scientific words at the time is that different plants take up (and/or return to the soil) particular nutrients. By changing the crops growing in each field year after year, different elements could be added back to the soil or removed at different levels to help maintain a balance of nutrients. Washington purchased several seed varieties, including cabbage, turnip, sainfoin, rye, winter vetch, wheat, field bean, barley, and oats. Crop rotation also included pasturing as a part of the rotation.

A book on the subject of George Washington’s farming practices states that “Washington … considered the proper use of crop rotation to be the most important aspect of good husbandry.”

I am fascinated with the concept that 1700’s science and 1700’s farmers were sharp enough to understand this concept that “modern” science is again confirming to be accurate and effective. Modern studies are now re-realizing the value of crop rotation, cover crops, rotational grazing, and soil improvement as essential tools for maintaining or “fixing” our soils from years of depletion. Our agriculture for many years has focused on mono-cropping, the growth of one crop on the same soil season after season for years with only the addition of a few major nutrients (N-P-K, and perhaps a few more) without the balance of micro-nutrients or measuring of soil health in organic matter and microbial activity.

A recent article in Furrow magazine discusses the benefits of crop rotation, cover crops, and use of livestock for soil health. Some of the listed cover crops include vetch, rye, triticale, crimson clover, radish, and peas – not much different than George Washington’s list! Farmers are using the cover crops as temporary pasture for cattle, where amazing gain and health benefits are being observed – for both cattle and land! NRCS must be convinced these techniques work, as funding is now available for farmers to implement cover crops and other more sustainable practices.

Imagine what our soil could be like if generations before us had all listened to George Washington and his “new husbandry” scientific correspondents.

While we cannot change the past, we can change the future. Each improvement to soil we make will bring benefit to our lives as well as for future generations – perhaps American farming will not be lost to history after all!

Up next in the series: Custard Ice-cream for the modern Ice-house


Our articles on rotational pasturing and improving pastures: https://spiritedrose.wordpress.com/jersey-cattle/2b-feeds/rotational-grazing-pastures/

Quotes and information on George Washington – Fusonie, Alan & Fusonie, Donna Jean. (1998). George Washington: Pioneer Farmer. Mount Vernon, VA: The Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

Furrow Magazine article: Link, Joe D. (June 2016). Building Soil with Livestock. The Furrow, 121, 10-13. (Read online here: http://johndeerefurrow.com/2016/06/03/building-soil-livestock/ )

NRCS – Note, each state has a NRCS and different opportunities. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/climatechange/?cid=stelprdb1077238

Showing Dairy Cattle

Includes detailed information on clipping an animal, preparing for show, show ring etiquette, tips from a dairy judge, and show photos.


How to Clip a Dairy Cow or Heifer – Part One Video:Clip Video 1

How to Clip a Dairy Cow or Heifer – Part Two Video:


Copy of an illustration found online:


Tips on Showmanship from a Dairy Judge (in no particular order):

  • Be in charge – Let both the judge and animal know that you are confident and experienced in what you are doing (even if this is your first time showing!) Many showmen like to be either first or last to “catch” the judges attention. Some will briefly greet the judge, “Good Morning” etc. or at least politely respond to the judge if the judge speaks to them. Keep in mind, though, your primary goal is to present your heifer or cow to the best of her abilities – work at getting the judge’s focus on her rather than on you.
  • Have fun – the judge will often place someone higher if they are smiling the whole time, enjoying themselves, and having a positive attitude.
  • The show person typically wears all white clothing* – a button up white shirt with collar, tucked in to white pants. Cleanliness is more important than type of fabric.  Leather boots and a belt (hard sole, lace up) are ideal. If your hair is long, tie it up out of the way so the judge can clearly see your face. Do not wear a hat! Many dairy shows use a show harness – which is a nylon strap that goes over your white shirt and has plastic slots for your number(s) so the clerk can keep everyone straight. *Note: FFA dress may be different, such as the wearing of a FFA jacket and tie.
  • The animal should have on a leather show halter and lead. The lead can be rolled or looped and held in the hand that does not have primary control of the halter.
  • Know your animal – assume the judge WILL ask you questions. The judge may ask:
    • Breed of animal (If you’re in a class of Holstein yearlings, you better bring a Holstein and know it’s a Holstein.)
    • Age of animal or birthdate
    • Sire of animal
    • What farm the animal came from
    • If a cow –
      • how many calves has she had,
      • when did she calve,
      • is she bred,
      • sire she is bred to
  • Pay attention: Keep equal attention to your animal and the judge. Don’t stare at the judge, your animal may slip out of the halter and run away. Once Jay judged a show where the train ran behind the ring – only two participants continued to watch the judge and their animal while all the rest stared at the train going by. Another example is when the judge motions you to a position when placing the animals, be quick and efficient to move where the judge wants you to go. Moving too slow to get to third place may put you in fourth – and the judge will just leave you there!
  • Sneak a peek: If you are not in the ring, be on the sideline watching the judge – what does the judge prefer? What questions are being asked? Survey your class-mates – if someone else has a heifer in heat or an unruly animal, avoid being in front of or behind them! (Shh, observe but don’t tell these secrets!😉 )
  • Grooming: Study up on what well-groomed animals look like. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make sure the inside of the ears are clean; tail is brushed and fluffed; toes are trimmed, cleaned and polished; proper topline (if necessary); if a milk cow – make sure she looks like a milk cow and has at least some milk in her.
  • Head carriage: Keep the animal’s head up and alert. If the animal is heavy-headed, don’t be afraid to use two hands.
  • Be prepared to switch animals: A judge may ask you to exchange animals with someone in front of or behind you – to see how well you act with a different animal and … to see if YOU can present someone else’s animal better than THEY can!
  • Back up! Be an expert at backing your animal up. Ideally, just using the halter and using the palm of your off-hand to push/lift on the point of the shoulder.
  • Pre-care for the cattle:
    • Let the animals rest as much as possible before the show. Participating in one or a few classes with the same animal is very wearing – you may get to the championship round just to lose because your animal is drooping or laying down.
    • Soaked beet pulp before and during the show season can help provide a shiny coat and also regulate the rumen to avoid constipation/diarrhea from lack of eating/drinking and stress.
    • Many will either bring water from home or a water filter if the show barn has different or bad tasting water – make sure your animals drink regularly or have a auto-waterer hooked up in the stall. Don’t share water tubs with other herds – avoid spreading disease!
    • Bring along a variety of hay – even if the show provides hay, bring something from home to guarantee your animals will eat. Hay and water are also very important for the show ring – the judge wants to see that your animal is “capacious” and has a large belly (therefore, a large rumen – not pot belly, but “hay belly”) capable of consuming a lot of feed, therefore capable of making a lot of milk!
    • Body condition is important too – a perfectly conformationally correct heifer may end up in last place if she’s too fat!
  • Be happy with your placing: Even if you placed 22 out of 22, keep that smile on your face, at least until you’re back to the barn! Then reflect on why you placed last and how you can improve for next time – the true goal of showing is to know both the STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES of your animal and/or yourself in order to build and improve! Be thankful to the judge for their honest opinion and don’t be afraid to walk up to them after the show ends to ask honest questions! They like being asked more questions! If you’re the winner – be gracious to others and know that there’s always room for improvement, even for #1.




A bedded pack is the best to offer a show animal: A one foot layer of shavings/sawdust/shavings/sawdust to provide a cushy resting place for the animals. If you think they don’t need it – try sleeping on concrete for a night yourself! Double ties and a neck chain/strap allow the cow some movement when tied (you’re also going to take her on walks and walk her to the wash stall).




Everyone has their own style!

Setting up feet (for when the animals are stopped):




Additional Resources: