Texas museum has 'dairy' good exhibits

Friday, June 10, 2011
This "Texas-size" Jersey cow was donated to the Southwest Dairy Museum in 1997 by the Texas Jersey Cattle Club. The Jersey cow is recognized for the richness of her milk.

Sulphur Springs, Texas, is the home of a unique attraction, the Southwest Dairy Museum You can't miss it as you drive down Houston Street -huge statues of cows, a Jersey and a Holstein, are standing at the roadside. The building itself is a typical dairy-farm style barn, complete with silo. Inside are all kinds of exhibits, as well as an old-fashioned ice cream parlor where ice cream cones, milk shakes and malted milks are served.

Many people contributed their collections to the museum, everything from ice cream molds to milk bottles and gadgets for imprinting a design on pats of butter. Some of the items given to the museum have been used to construct a series of historical vignettes that show the life of a dairy farm family before electricity came to rural America.

One of my favorites shows a farm house kitchen, with the mother cooking on a wood stove, while the daughter churned butter with one hand, held her schoolbook with the other, and rocked the baby's cradle with her foot. Another showed a general store, which was also a cream-buying station, where farmers sold their surplus cream. Usually the cream was sour by the time it got to the store, so it produced rather sour butter that was prepared with lots of salt. Quite different from the "unsalted sweet cream butter" on sale today.

One of the museum's goals is to educate the public about everything dairy, and so even the casual visitor learns it takes two and a half gallons (21 pounds) of milk to make one pound of butter, and 12 pounds of milk to make a gallon of ice cream. Who knew that Alaska was the top ice-cream eating state in the nation?

Almost as soon as people started milking cows, they started trying to make milking easier and the processing of milk quicker and more efficient. A variety of milking machines were invented, tried and rejected. Today, visitors to the museum can put their finger into a simulation of a modern milking machine and feel what a cow feels as she's milked: a sort of gentle pulsation, not at all forceful or painful.

The task of separating cream from milk also prompted many labor saving inventions. One on display at the museum is a treadmill, to be powered by a dog or a goat, that causes a drum to rotate, separating the cream by centrifugal force.

The Southwest Dairy Farmers is an alliance of dairy farmers from Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. In 1982, several key figures in the dairy industry got together with the idea of creating a dairy museum for the preservation of artifacts and historical documents. The objective of the Museum was to preserve the history of the Southwestern dairy industry for the enjoyment and education of generations to come. These producers have pooled their resources to provide consumer education in nutrition, to promote dairy product use, and provide dairy product information. The Southwest Dairy Museum and Education Center serves as the headquarters for the many activities sponsored by the Southwest Dairy Farmers, including a mobile dairy classroom, complete with traveling cow.