Dehorning a Cow

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, March 8, 1912:  I think I came out fairly in General History today. I remembered all of my speech, but as my custom is I never get enough pauses and proper way of speaking in the thing. This time it was too fast. Are going to have them again next Friday. They ought to be pretty well digested by that time.

Mollie was shorn of her horns today. Poor thing, I hope she won’t kick the bucket. But I don’t think she will.

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Mollie was Grandma’s cow. Based on previous diary entries it seems as if each of the Muffly girls owned one the family’s cows.

Mollie had her first calf the previous August, so probably was about 2 1/2 years old when this diary entry was written.

I’m surprised that Mollie’s horns were removed when she was so old. I think that typically horns would either be removed when the cow was younger than this—or the cow would never be dehorned. My gut feeling is that Mollie was acting aggressively toward other cows with her horns—and that as a result ended up being dehorned.

The horns would have been cut off with a tool designed for that purpose. Mollie probably bled quite a bit afterwards—and there would have been the risk of infection.

Dehorning would have been very painful for a few days—though I doubt that there was much chance that the dehorning might actually cause a cow to die (kick the bucket).

The Tennessee Extension Service has a publication that explains how cattle are dehorned. See page 6 for a description of how older cattle are de-horned. I don’t think that the process has changed much in the last hundred years.

Churning Butter a Hundred Years Ago

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, December 26, 1911: Am beginning to get rather tired of this seemingly long vacation. When you don’t have anything interesting to do and you don’t go many places it is not very hard to get lonesome. Jimmie and I are turning into regular fight cats, so Ma thinks. I churned this morning, and then set things in order, but don’t suppose they’ll stay that way very long.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma sounds bored—and it seems like she and her six-year-old brother Jimmie were getting into fights to make things a little livelier.

When I was a child if I said that I was bored, my parents used to say that I must not be working hard enough and give me a chore. I wonder if Grandma’s mother had the same philosophy. Maybe her mother decided that churning butter would relieve the boredom.

This is the first time that Grandma’s mentioned churning in the diary. I assume that the family just made a little butter for their own use—though many farmers a hundred years ago sold butter.

There are drawings of “modern” butter-making equipment in a book published in 1908 called The Dairy Farm by H.B. Gurler.

The practice of printing butter has grown remarkably during the past fifteen years and now (1908) most of the butter that is retailed is put up in one pound prints which are wrapped in parchment paper, which carries the name of the farm or maker.

Saving Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Tuesday, October 31, 1911: Can hardly believe it is really Halloween. It is so very quiet here. No racket whatever. Just a year ago tonight I was having a grand time at a masquerade, but I have not such fun as that tonight. There is a masquerade up at McEwensville tonight. I wasn’t invited and would hardly have gone as it is awful muddy. Feel rather doleful over the mark I made in Algebra: 68. 68, you I hate.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma should have studied more for her Algebra test. I guess that she must have never quite figured out L.C.M.  (lowest common multiples) and H.C.F. (highest common factors).

I wonder if Grandma and her little brother Jimmie carved a jack-o-lantern for Halloween. If they did, I bet they saved some of the seeds for planting the next year. 

Both pumpkin and winter squash seeds are easy to save, and have always germinated well when I’ve planted them.

To have the best results, save seeds from the specimens with the most desirable characteristics (size, color, vigor, taste, resistance to plant diseases, etc.)

After pulling off any excess pulp, place the seeds on a piece of waxed paper.  (Do not wash the seeds).  Let dry for about 2 weeks. Then place in a labeled envelope and store in a cool dry place until spring. I store my seed envelopes in our attached garage.

Husking Corn in 1911

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, October 28, 1911: Had to pick corn all day and didn’t get anything done hardly that I wanted to get done. Besse was out today. Ahem.

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Picking corn was hard work in the days before corn pickers and combines. I can see why Grandma was really happy that her married sister Besse came out to the farm to help.  I bet they were exhausted by the end of the day.

Corn ears needed to be broken off the stalks one ear at a time and then thrown into a nearby wagon that was pulled by horses. A team of several people were needed to complete this process—one person to drive the horses, and one or more people to pick the corn.

According to the Farm Collector website, 80 bushels was about the maximum amount of corn one person could husk in a day–though the goal often was 100 bushels per person per day.

Click here to see an awesome video of people husking corn the old-fashioned way at the 2007 Nebraska State Hand Corn Huskers competition.

Milking Cows: 1911 and 2011

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Thursday, October 20, 1911:Got out of school early this afternoon. I gathered some walnuts after I got home. Mollie gave me a kick in the back while milking another cow this evening. I’ve named Ruth’s twin calves, one Brutus and the other Caesar, but I can’t tell which is which.

1911: Probability of being kicked = high (photo source: Kimball's Dairy Farmer Magazine, December 15, 1911)

2011: Robot milker--Probability of being kicked = almost zero

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Ouch! It sounds like the kick hurt. Grandma’s cow Mollie had her first calf in August. And, Grandma had been pleased with how well Mollie adjusted to being milked, For example on September 27 she wrote:

“Was in doubts and fears as to how Mollie would act when I commenced to milk her. Pop milked her last night, but I had to do it after that, so I got up early this morning, resolving to come off conquering and I did. Hurrah. She didn’t kick.”

But apparently something upset Mollie while Grandma was milking the next cow—and she gave Grandma a kick.

There have been huge changes in how cows are milked over the last hundred years. In 1911 most farmers had just a few cows that were milked by hand. Today most cows are milked by machines in milking parlors (and some are even milked by robots.)

U.S. Crop Yields and Production, 1911 and 2011

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, October 15, 1911: Was so busy all day. Had to help Daddy pick corn and husked pop corn between loads. Both of these jobs aren’t finished yet either.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Whew, it sounds like a lot of work. There weren’t combines (or even mechanical corn pickers) a hundred years ago. Horses would have been used and much of the labor would have been by hand.

This entry made me curious about how crop production and yields have changed over the last 100 years.

Crop Production

Corn production has mushroomed. In 1911, approximately 2,475 million bushels of corn were produced in the US. In 2011, about 12,447 million bushels were produced.

So few soybeans were produced in 1911 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture did not even track it.  In 1931, 17 million bushels of soybeans were produced in the U.S. –and by 2011 approximately 3,329 million bushels were produced.

Barley and oats production decreased substantially between 1911 and 2011—probably due at least in part to the reduced number of horses that needed to be fed in the US. Wheat production increased a little over the years.

Crop Yields

Crop yields increased significantly for all the major cops between 1911 and 2011.

Corn yields increased the most. For example, in 1911, about 24 bushels per acre were produced. This increased to approximately 148 bushels per acre in 2011. Yields increased substantially between the 1930’s and 1950’s due to the widespread shift from open pollinated corn to hybrid corn. The increased use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides in the later part of the last century also increased yields.  In recent years the use of genetically modified seed has led to major yield  increases.

Another factor that has increased the average yield per acre over the past 100 years, is that some of the less productive land in the US has been taken out of production.

Data Source: US Department of Agriculture. For some crops 2011 data are not yet available. If not available, 2010 data were used to construct the figures.

Hulling Black Walnuts

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, October 7, 1911: Hulled some walnuts this afternoon. Tried to be careful of my hands, but they got stained somewhat.

Black Walnuts

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Black walnuts grow semi-wild in Pennsylvania–and across much of the US.

The hull is the outer  husk. It must be removed to prevent spoilage. The nuts are then dried. After they are dried they can be cracked.

Crack hulls with feet. Then use hands to remove.

Last week-end my husband and I gathered some black walnuts at a park. We took them home and hulled them. We put the nuts in an old net onion bag and hung them in the garage to dry. They’ll be ready to crack and eat by December.

Walnut stains on my hands. This is one powerful stain. Three days later my hands are still brown, and everyone at work is teasing me about being an auto mechanic. (Bottom line: Wear gloves when hulling walnuts.)

Oct. 15 Addendum: I mentioned putting the walnuts in a net onion bag to my father. He was horrified and said that they would mold. He said they should be spread out on newspapers in a cool dry place (an attic is ideal).  So I checked my walnuts and noticed that two of them had a spot of mold of them. I discarded those walnuts–and spread the rest out on newspapers to dry.  Stay tuned . . .

Nov. 9 Addendum: I’ve now successfully cracked some black walnuts. Click here for today’s post on How to Crack Black Walnuts.


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