Oliver Farm Equipment in Mower County, Minnesota (Part I):
Suffolk Sheep Raising
Brian Wayne Wells
Mower County, Minnesota is located on the southern border of the State of Minnesota, adjacent to the State of Iowa. In 1941, Mower County was a predominately rural county. Topographically, Mower County is located in a transition area. Starting in western Mower County and extending into Freeborn County to the west the land becomes very flat. However the land in eastern Mower County and extending east into Fillmore County the land becomes increasingly more hilly. Additionally, the soil itself in the eastern part of Mower County is sandy and is not as rich as the darker humus soil in the western part of the county.
Located in the extreme southwest corner of Mower County was Lyle Township. Immediately, to the east of Lyle Township was Nevada Township. In 1941, on one particular farm in Nevada Township, lived a man and his wife and two adult sons. Our Nevada Township farmer had lived on this farm all his life. Indeed, his parents had owned and operated this same farm before him. As he had come of age on the farm, he had gradually taken over more responsibility for the farming operation from his parents. In 1919, he had married his wife and together they had moved into the same large house with his parents. In 1920, when his wife had become pregnant with their eldest son, his parents had decided to officially retire and move into Austin, the county seat of Mower County. Austin (1940 pop. 18,307) was located in the middle of Austin Township, northwest of Nevada Township and straight north of Lyle Township.
Like many farms in the Midwestern United States, the 160-acre farm on which our Nevada Township farmer and his family lived was “diversified farm.” Diversified farming operations were those farming operations that raised a variety of crops and animals rather than specializing in only one crop or one type of livestock. Faced with the typical market fluctuations for the various farm commodities, our Nevada Township farmer, like other diversified farmers sought to avoid “putting all his eggs in one basket.” Rather than growing only one cash crop or raising only one type of livestock on the farm, our Nevada Township farmer raised corn, oats and hay. And he milked dairy cows raised pigs, and had about 200 laying hens in his chicken house. In this way, he hoped that if there was a “softness” or decline in the price of one of these commodity markets, the other commodities would help him maintain a near stable cash income for the year.
Traditionally, corn was the main “cash crop” of the farming operation. However, not all of the corn could be sold for cash. Some of the corn had to be retained on the farm for animal feed. First there were the cattle. In late August, while the corn was still green, a portion of the corn would be chopped and blown into the silo to be fed as “ensilage” to the dairy cows during the winter time. The rest of the corn was allowed to ripen and the ears of the corn were harvested in October or November each year.
Currently, there was a neighbor that did custom corn picking for many farmers in the neighborhood. This neighbor had recently purchased a Wood Brothers Company one-row pull-type corn picker which he used to do the “custom picking in the neighborhood. Our Nevada Township farmer hired this neighbor each year to pick the corn on his farm. (Years later another family living in Nevada Township, the Greg and Anita Ferrell family, might have been neighbors of our Nevada Township farmer. Greg Ferrell is the proprietor of a business dealing in antique tractor parts. With an inventory consisting of a large number of International Harvester and Farmall tractor parts, Greg Ferrell has attracted the attention of a number of collectors of Farmall tractor collectors including the present author, who has purchased a number of parts from Greg for the Wells family’s growing collection of antique tractors in the years since 2016 after meeting Greg at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Swap Meet held on April 22, 23 & 24th of 2016 .)
Once the corn was harvested, the ear corn was placed in the corn crib where it was allowed to dry all winter in the cold dry air. In February or March following the harvest the dried most of the ear corn was shelled. A portion of the ear corn retained on the farm and was ground in the feed grinder—cob and all—to become feed for the milking cows. The cobs in the cow feed provided a certain amount of roughage for the cattle. Our Nevada Township farmer provided an additional scoopful of this ground corn to each lactating cow at each milk time. This small amount of ground corn fed to the lactating cows twice a day allowed the extra calories that the cows needed to continue supplying milk. Furthermore, since most of the cows were also pregnant, the additional calories in the ear corn also supported the growing unborn calf the cow was carrying.
Part of the ear corn that was shelled each February or March would be stored in the granary to be used as animal feed on the farm. A portion of the shelled corn would be ground in a feed grinder and fed to the feeder pigs. Grinding the shelled corn in a feed grinder allowed the pigs to digest the corn easier and more efficiently. The concentrated calories in corn quickly brought the feeder pigs up to market weight. Another portion of the corn retained on the farm each year would be fed to the chickens along with some oats. The calories in corn and the protein in oats would provide a balanced diet for the chickens and kept their egg laying at a maximum. Because chickens have gizzards, which can digest very coarse food, both the shelled corn and the oats could be fed to the chickens without grinding or other processing.
Our Nevada Township farmer would blend in some oats when grinding the cow feed. Oats contained less calories and more protein than corn. Accordingly, the cow feed was not as rich in calories as was the pig feed. Our Nevada Township farmer did not want the dairy cattle to become fat—like beef cattle. He wanted a balanced diet. The milking cows needed more roughage and protein than they needed concentrated calories. They did not need to put on a great deal of weight like pigs or beef cattle.
Even after sufficient corn had been retained on the farm for all these animals, a large amount of shelled corn remained. All of this remaining corn would be sold to the Hunting Company grain elevator in the small village of Lyle, Minnesota (1940 pop. 513), located about 9 miles to the southwest of the farm in neighboring Lyle Township. This corn supplied a large part of the cash income for his farming operation each year.
When our Nevada Township farmer had taken over control of the farming operation from his parents in 1920, horses provided the power for field operations, exclusively. Accordingly, in addition to feeding the cows, pigs and chickens on his farm, a great portion of the oats and hay, he raised on the farm fed the horses he used on the farm. Accordingly, one field on the farm had been set aside for raising hay for the horses and the dairy herd. Although the horses were used primarily only in the summer, they had to be fed all year long. Additionally, another field had to be set aside each year for the raising oats for feed for the horses, cattle, pigs and chickens on the farm.
He had been aware, for some time, that he could increase the efficiency of his farming operation by mechanizing the power source on his farm. Subsequently in 1940, Our Nevada Township farmer obtained a used 1937 Oliver/Hart-Parr Model 28-44 tractor. This tractor was also called the “3-5 plow tractor.” The tractor was a “used” tractor, but was only three (3) years old. The Model 28-44 certainly was a great improvement to his farming operation. The tractor performed all the heavy duty field work such as plowing and discing much more quickly than with horses. Previously, these heavy duty field tasks had required the use of four or six horses harnessed together. As time went by, our Nevada Township farmer even began using the Model 28-44 for lighter duty field work. He had shortened the tongue on his Oliver/Superior horse-drawn two-row corn planter so that he could use the tractor to pull the planter across the field in the spring. Our Nevada Township farmer found that he was able to reduce the number of work horses he kept on the farm. Soon the only field task, which he not able to perform with his Model 28-44 tractor was the cultivation of corn. As a “standard” or “four-wheeled” tractor, the Model 28-44 was not configured to be fit with a cultivator. Accordingly, our Nevada Township farmer had to retain some of his horses for this single field task—the cultivation of corn.