Beef Industry

From Encyclopedia of Wisconsin Environmental History
Jump to: navigation, search

The beef industry in Wisconsin is becoming ever more prevalent. In the past, Wisconsin has been much more of a dairy state than a beef state. However, more recently it has been contributing more and more beef as there continues to be an increase in the number of beef farms.

Wisconsin's Early Agricultural History

Early on, Wisconsin became successful in farming wheat which allowed the state to progress agriculturally faster than other states. Unfortunately, wheat was hard on the soil, and it soon became apparent that feed crops were much more suitable to Wisconsin's climate and soil than cash crops such as wheat. With feed crops being the leading crops grown in Wisconsin, and many immigrants from places such as New York and Switzerland who brought their business of dairy farming with them, it makes a lot of sense that Wisconsin became very successful in the cattle industry. [1]

Hiram Smith and Chester Hazen

The first people to have success in the dairy farming industry in Wisconsin were Hiram Smith and Chester Hazen. The first, Hiram Smith, moved from New York to Sheboygan and decided to join his brothers J.A. and John Smith in the dairy farming business in the 1850s. Having trouble selling their cheese, the brothers decided to go to Chicago with fifty-eight barrels of cheese to sell. They found the same thing in Chicago that people would only buy and sell cheese that came from New York. They ended up finding a man that would pay eight cents per barrel, however, he also told them that he was only interested in cheese from New York. Realizing how hard the process of selling the cheese would be, John Smith decided to quit the dairy farming business and so Hiram teamed up with Ira Strong. Hiram and Ira thought it would be a good idea to collect milk instead of curd so they would be in more control of the process than before.

Chester Hazen moved from New York to Fond du Lac in 1844 and in 1864 built a dairy factory near Ladoga, roughly twelve miles from Fond du Lac. This quickly became the largest dairy factory in the state that included over one-hundred cows. Hazen shipped cheese to New York and eventually won the 1876 gold medal for cheese at the Philadelphia Centennial that same year. [2]

Rise of Cattle in Wisconsin's History

Now that grain was being grown very widely in Wisconsin, it set a strong foundation for the cattle industry. By 1899, 90 percent of farms in Wisconsin raised dairy cows. As stated previously, many people coming to Wisconsin in the 1840s and 50s were from New York, which was, at that time, the nation’s leading dairy state. These people brought with them all the means and knowledge to begin dairy cattle farming. [3] In 1851 the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society was formed in which farmers from Wisconsin and across the country, along with guest speakers, would meet together to share ideas and tips with each other on how they farm. This was an annual fair that included a cow show and would move around the state to other cities such as Milwaukee and Madison. This fair would become a major agricultural event in the country. In 1859 President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the fair about how great it is that people are willing to share their successes with each other to benefit everyone. In 1897, the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society became the State Board of Agriculture which would go on to change its name again, this time to the State Department of Agriculture.

In 1900 the State Superintendent of Schools L.D. Harvey came up with the idea of constructing small colleges dedicated to teaching everything about farming. In 1901 legislation was passed to establish such schools for agriculture. The first county school for agriculture was built in Menomonie of Dunn County.

Around the same time some farmers started to “cheat” the system by watering down the milk in order to increase profits. Some farmers also would use skim milk and add stale butter to make up for the lack of butterfat in the milk. This was known as “filled cheese” which was hard to detect but didn’t age well at all. One time when shipping dairy products to England, many of the products were produced this way and were spoiled by the time they reached their destination. In order to stop the corruption, the Dairy and Food Commissioner took severe actions by fining farmers and also making sure tests were done to the milk and cheese at every farm. This saved Wisconsin’s reputation of producing and selling high quality cheese. [4]

Contributions of William D. Hoard

William Hoard is considered the father of modern dairy farming. William Hoard was born in New York in 1836 and grew up on his family farm. He moved to Wisconsin in 1857 hoping to begin a dairy farm of his own. The only problem with this is that wheat was the king crop of Wisconsin at the time and that people wouldn’t listen to what he had to say about dairy farming. He went through a multitude of jobs that included chopping wood, teaching, serving in the Civil War, selling washing machines and musical instruments, and growing hops, until people finally started to listen to him about his dairy farming ideas and techniques. While writing for the newspaper, “Watertown Republican”, Hoard had the idea to start a paper with his son Arthur and titled it, “Hoard’s Dairyman”, which became the official newspaper of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association. [5] Hoard was the 16th governor of Wisconsin. He urged them to used cylindrical silos for storing feed through the winter. He also discovered that Alfalfa is a crop that grows well in Wisconsin and he knew it was good for cows. Nobody believed him that it would grow well for many consecutive years, so he bought a small farm and began growing it, proving that it could be grown year after year. Farmers soon followed his example, making Wisconsin one of the leading growers of alfalfa in the country. Perhaps his greatest contribution to dairy farming was making the cut and clear point that dairy cattle should be strictly for dairy, and beef cattle for beef. He gave this clever metaphor to get his point across to a wide audience of farmers: “There isn't a single boy in the state who would go hunting foxes with a bird dog or would hunt birds with a fox hound. Not a boy in the state would do it! You can't fool a boy, but you can fool his daddy! There are a whole lot of dairy farmers in this state who are hunting butter fat with a beef animal.” [6]

Current Dairy Industry in Wisconsin

In the early 2000’s, dairy cow numbers were on the decline mainly because many farmers were working at 70% capacity due to the lack of all of the necessary materials to hold all of their cows and the milk that they produce. Dan Carter, who was working with University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Dairy Research received a one million dollar grant in which he created the Dairy Business Innovation Center in 2004. With this money he has used it to help over two-hundred dairy farmers with facility issues, packaging, marketing, and much more. One of the main challenges with running a large dairy farm is getting the necessary labor to take of the large herds.

Today the largest dairy farm operation in Wisconsin is Milk Source who has four locations: Rosendale with 8,400 cows, Kaukauna with 6,800 cows, Omro with 2,700 cows, and Grand Marsh with 8,400 cows. [7]

Current Beef Industry in Wisconsin

Although Wisconsin is known as the dairy state due to its very important precedents which laid down a framework for the beef industry, it has about 500 more beef cattle producers than it does dairy cattle producers. Despite there being more beef farms than dairy, these farms are generally much smaller with an average of 28 head per farm. However, Wisconsin is still the third largest beef producer in the nation with 14,800 beef cattle operations. Wisconsin accounts for 5% of all cattle harvested in the US and provides 18% of the United States’ ground beef supply. There are roughly 1.2 million dairy cows in Wisconsin and 245,000 beef cattle as of 2005 (this number had grown by about 10 percent in the previous five years[8] .) This means that nearly 17 percent of all cattle in Wisconsin are beef cattle. This number is not staggering, but it is by no means insignificant and should not be overlooked. [9]


Wisconsin is generally thought to be the dairy state, with good reason. However, recently there has been an increase in the number of beef cattle operations. With numbers continuing to grow, maybe Wisconsin will become known as the beef state rather than the dairy state.


  1. The Rise of Dairy Farming (Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin 2015), accessed December 1st, 2015,
  2. Apps, Jerry. Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Wisconsin Historical Society, 2015. Accessed May 2nd, 2017.
  3. The Rise of Dairy Farming (Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin 2015), accessed December 1st, 2015,
  4. Apps, Jerry. Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Wisconsin Historical Society, 2015. Accessed May 2nd, 2017.
  5. Apps, Jerry. Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Wisconsin Historical Society, 2015. Accessed May 2nd, 2017.
  6. M. G. Henderson, E. D. Speerschneider, and H. L. Ferslev, "The Father of Dairying" (It Happened Here) Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1949. 208-210. accessed December 8, 2015
  7. Apps, Jerry. Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Wisconsin Historical Society, 2015. Accessed May 2nd, 2017.
  8. The Rise of Dairy Farming (Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin 2015), accessed December 1st, 2015,
  9. "Where's the Beef? In Wisconsin!" (University of Wisconsin - Extension, WBIC, September 2011)

Additional Resources for Further Research

Article History

Format: [[Zach A]] (15-12-8); [[username2]] (YY-MM-DD); [[username3]] (YY-MM-DD)