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Saline County Century Farm: Early to rise: Life on the Davis family dairy farm

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Joseph Burris Davis Sr. and Ollie M. (Adams) Davis and their eight children moved to a home south of Marshall which was built in 1911. Their farm has recently been named a Saline County Century Farm for being in the same family for 100 years or more.
(Contributed photo)
For approximately 40 years, Gertrude Davis and her late husband, G. William Davis, rose each day at 3:30 a.m.

After eating a breakfast prepared by his wife, William would head to their dairy barn to milk cows. On days he didn't have enough help, Gertrude, would go with him.

"By starting that early, he would start milking a little earlier in the afternoon," explained Gertrude Davis, who will turn 90 years old in February. "Our supper was late like most farmers, but we were able to eat together in the evening. Otherwise, he would never get to eat with the children."

"It worked that way for him. He was willing and able to do it," she added.

Last November, 120 acres of the Davis Farm, which includes a house built in 1911, was recognized as a Saline County Century Farm for being in the same family for 100 years or more.

Joseph Burris Davis Sr. (center) is pictured with his children and grandchildren on the family farm south of Marshall. In the center, back are G. William and Gertrude Davis, who moved into the house in 1950, to help care for him. He passed away in 1952.
(Contributed photo)
Records show the farm was in the Davis family since at least since 1903, when J. Preston Adams passed away. He placed his son-in-law, Joseph Burris Davis Sr., and daughter, Ollie M. Adams Davis, on the farm. They were William's parents.

Later, the family added more acreage to the farm. G. William retired from the dairy business in 1972 and passed away in 2006 at age 95.

Today, the land is farmed by the couple's youngest son, Charles.

The main home and another built in 1940 are still in use, even after surviving tornado damage in 2006.

William, who had six living siblings, first attended Missouri Valley College before returning to the farm.

"He had ambitions of doing other things," Davis said, adding it was during the depression. "His sisters were having to work outside and work in the field and he couldn't take that, so he came on home."

In the early 1930s, William started milking cows, quickly adding to his herd, eventually owning 100 head or more.

When he and Gertrude were married in 1940, he was milking in partnership with his father, single sister Annis, as well as two brothers, Joseph and Smith.

They had a gasoline-powered milker, because there wasn't electricity until 1939. Eventually, the two brothers bought their own farms, taking their milk cows with them, but William continued to build up his herd, in partnership with Annis.

In 1956, they purchased a pipeline milker, which Davis said was a "real boon."

"The pipeline was just a dream. I could do that (milk cows) by myself," she said. "I didn't like to, but I could do it."

At the same time, they switched from Jersey cows to Holsteins.

"We had Jerseys until we got the pipeline milker and he went to Wisconsin and bought a mess of Holsteins," Davis explained. "He gradually went to all Holsteins because they gave a good deal more milk than the Jerseys did, though we had some good Jerseys."

After the pipeline milker was installed, their milk was picked up in bulk and sold to a processor in Concordia.

Prior to that, though, keeping the milk cool and marketing it was much more complicated.

The milk was stored in 10-gallon milk cans and put in cooler tanks of ice-cold water until they were loaded onto a pickup and taken to a processor. Before electricity the water was cooled with ice.

"It was a process," Davis said. "It was a lot of work -- hard work."

They hauled the milk to processors in Alma and later Boonville, before the Duggins family opened up a dairy processing plant in Marshall.

The Davis home was built in 1911. This early photo shows the home sometime before G. William and Gertrude Davis moved there in the 1950s. Since that time, the family has done extensive remodeling, including stripping all the woodwork. After a tornado hit the home in 2006, new siding and a new front porch were added.
(Contributed photo)
Then their oldest son, Billy (Gervas William Jr.), dropped off the milk cans before heading to school each day.

They sold Grade A milk, although rules for keeping the status were stringent and changed often.

"He never did have any trouble keeping up with his grade," she said.

Not only did the cows need special care, but the barn had to be spic and span.

"I told William one time the barn was cleaner than the house," Davis laughed. "You had to paint that barn everytime you turned around."

Although now they raise corn and soybeans on the farm, at that time the crops they grew were kept on the farm to feed the dairy cows.

They planted with a team of horses and a walking plow and cut hay and silage with a hand-held scythe.

"When they started filling the silo there was a time when they cut it by hand, but they then got where there were other ensilage cutters so you could cut it in the field, which made a lot of difference," Davis said.

The Davis house as it appears now.
(Contributed photo)
She said the Davis family had an iron-wheeled tractor even before she was married. In 1942, they purchased a Ford tractor, although they still used the horses for some of the field work. Acquiring more machinery took a long time.

"We went right out of the depression right into the war and you didn't acquire these things overnight, because you had to wait along time if you wanted to buy a piece of machinery or buy anything else," Davis said. "You had to wait in line for those things."

They used teams to work ground to plant oats, alfalfa and sudangrass -- all crops used for pasture, hay or silage to feed the cows. In later years they planted corn for silage.

During the earlier years they planted sorgo, a type of sorghum, which was put up for silage.

"He planted that for the ensilage," Davis said. "At that time they just had one silo. He later on put in more."

Eventually, they put an unloader in the silo, which saved them from hand scooping. But they also used a trench silo.

"You scooped that," she explained. "There wasn't another way to get that out."

Like most farm wives, Davis helped with a variety of chores, including milking, because good help was hard to find and keep.

"I did a lot of everything there was to do on the farm, but I never did plow and I never did bale hay," she said. "I did drive tractors, I raked hay, I hauled the ensilage in when they were cutting corn or sorgo."

Their youngest son, Charles, joined the farm in 1967. Today, he and his wife Joyce, live just down the road from the original home.

"He wanted to farm, but he wanted to do grain farming more than anything else," she said. Before they quit the dairy business Charles did the main part of the outside work.

"He fed, and he did a lot of that kind of stuff, more than the actual milking, though he did help milk some," Davis said.

When they sold the dairy cows, William retired.

"He wasn't in good health," she said, adding he later had two heart attacks and heart surgery.

"He helped Charles, though. He could run the tractor and he did quite a lot of field work for a few years," she said.

Running the dairy was a busy life and hard work. However, Davis said, the confinement of milking cows was probably the toughest part of running a dairy.

"We never did have what we could call a vacation but one time," she said. That was in 1958.

Although the products grown on the farm have changed through the years, Davis is happy they have been able to keep the farm in the family for more than 100 years.

"I think it's a real joy to me to think they were able to hang on to it, with the struggles there have been in the length of time its been owned by the family," she said. "All the ups and downs in the economy and the happenings during these years, I think its a wonderful thing."

She is also glad their daughter Caroline Jiles, who recently moved back to farm from Indiana, got the application together for the Century Farm.

Their oldest son, Bill, is a retired teacher living in Grand Rapids, Minn.

"They love the place, but Billy wanted another vocation," she said.

In addition to three children, Davis has five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The family farm holds a special place for all of them.

"They look at this as something so great, which makes me feel all the better, because it is something they love so much," she said. "I've been very, very blessed to be a part of it."

Contact Marcia Gorrell at mgorrell@marshallnews.com

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Remember this dairy very fondly as I went to work

for them when I turned 16 and bought a car from a neighbor up on the hill from the dairy for $50.00 and paid in 3 payment. Also remember Duggins dairy

as I was the drivers helper delivering milk and

milk products.

Had all the chocolate milk I could drink and it was good.


-- Posted by ejs1933 on Tue, Jan 8, 2013, at 6:09 PM

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