As with produce, the profitability of livestock depends upon market forces and the quality of land available. Early farmers had few livestock, mostly for personal consumption. The canals and railroads of the mid-19th century made it worthwhile for farmers to breed and raise cattle. Cheese factories, which purchased unprocessed milk from local dairy farms, began to spring up along the canal by the late 1840s. This caused the value of milk produced in the valley to skyrocket-nearly tripling between 1870 and 1910. As the dairy business became more profitable, farmers invested more time, money, and energy into their livestock. Farmers purchased breeds of cattle known for higher yields, fed their cows specialized grains, and kept them in barns during the winter to increase milk production. Although the cheese factories in the valley diminished, dairy farms continued to operate throughout the 20th century.
Click to learn more about the Point Farm dairy operation in Everett.
Preparing the Milk for Pickup
Willis Meyers describes how the family prepared the milk.
“You had the milk cans and you had a number on them cans. It was painted on them and of course they knowed by that number who it was for. Of course it was weighed, and I think we got a dollar and a half a hundred at that time, and that would be twelve gallon. We'd get a dollar and a half for twelve gallon of milk.”
Willis Meyers describes a local milk hauler who transported milk between farms and factories.
“And we had a milk hauler who picked it up. He picked it up with horses and wagon for a long time. And all the roads, you know, they was all dirt roads, it was no improved roads nowhere. And the mud would be axel-deep on the wagon for him to pick the milk up . . . Oh it all went to Akron. It went to Falls for a little while. Lawson Milk Company in the Falls, they bought it for a while and then they was, oh, probably four or five milk companies in Akron. Whoever needed the milk the worst, why, that's where the milk hauler would take it.”
In addition to dairy cattle, Cuyahoga Valley farmers have raised beef cattle, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, llamas, and turkeys. Most raised only a few livestock to support their family's needs. Whereas the bottomlands were often used for crops, farmers used the highlands to graze their sheep, cattle, and other livestock. In the 1940s and 50s, most farms had chickens, a few geese, and ducks. Larger-scale farmers tried to keep around 60 beef cattle and about 20 pigs. As farms started to slowly fade from the Cuyahoga Valley, fewer families raised large herds of livestock. Listen below as farmers talk about the reasons why they started raising different types of livestock.
“I had horses at the time, and then I decided to start a backyard beef project. I was thinking of getting Herefords, and brother Jack had been in the second world war and when he was stationed in Scotland, waiting to go in on it with the 101st Airborne on D-Day, he rode a bicycle around and he talked with some of the farmers that had the Highland cattle, so he was all interested in 'em. And my dad, being from the Eastern states, he saw the DuPont's had a herd of 'em, so they talked me into . . . well they were trying to talk me into it, and just then I got a National Geographic and on the front page of it was a red Highland cow looking over a stone, so I says, ‘Well, we gotta find these things.’ We found some down at Wapakoneta, Ohio, and brought a couple old cows and a bull home. And then they went out to Illinois, and picked up four more and then they went out to Colorado and got a few more. So we had a nice little herd of 'em going.”
Crooked River Herb Farm owner Kathleen Varga describes how llamas protected her sheep from coyotes.
“So I found a llama farm about, geez what is it, about three miles away from me, up on Northampton Road. And I got the llamas, I got one initially, and they're like potato chips . . . you just can't have one. And we never had a problem with coyotes again. And I mean the coyotes were coming in as close as we are to that wall, and nabbing a chicken in front of me. There's just, I mean, absolutely no fear. Llamas hate canines. I had to socialize them with our dogs so that they'd be safe if they came into the pastures with me. But they have an alarm call, and so they will alarm first and then go after whatever it is. And once I had the flock of sheep and goats, it was very interesting to watch them because, if there were coyotes on the property, they would alarm, they'd get into almost a triangular position, the three of them, the goats and the sheep would be in a circle inside, with the lambs on the inside of the circle. It was poetry, it was beautifully done, and all I had to do is watch."
Dan Emmett, who owns and operates his farm in Richfield, talks about the difficulties of raising sheep.
“We had 200 ewes at one time. My son started us in the sheep business with three and it got out of hand, greatly. We had sheep there, lots of 'em, until about eight to ten years ago. I just . . . I couldn't do it anymore. When you have babies, when you're lambing in the spring, someone has to be in the barn every two hours. And my wife was a champ at it when I was at school. I had it fixed up so if she got in trouble I could go home and then come back to school, but I'm glad I'm not doing it today because I can't stay awake through a baseball game.” ~laughs~