PAT NEAL WILDLIFE COLUMN: The last dairy farms

IT SEEMS THESE days, people don’t know where their food comes from.

That was not a problem growing up on a cattle ranch.

OK, maybe it wasn’t a ranch. We only had the one bull.

Soupbone had all the makings of a champion rodeo-bucking bovine.

I was out standing in my field. Soupbone was resting in the shade, chewing his cud and swatting flies with his tail.

I snuck up and hopped on his back — and rediscovered why people don’t ride bulls much.

Soupbone shot up in the air like a big hairy rocket.

After landing, I got some static from the parental guidance committee about how I had to stop riding that bull before it got so tough you couldn’t get a fork in the gravy.

That was life on the farm: Just when you got one barnyard buddy trained, they’d disappear, and you had to get another one.

We went to a dairy farm for our milk. The dairy had a pen full of calves.

We chose two, Frisky and Petunia. The farmer gave us a kitten from a litter of barn cats and a couple of gallons of milk.

That dairy is gone now, along with most of the others.

There used to be 9,000 cows grazing within five miles of Sequim.

The first dairy cows were dumped off a sailing scow by Elliot Cline — for whom Cline Spit is named — back in 1861.

Dairy farms sprang up at Dungeness, but the Sequim Prairie was dry enough to grow a cactus.

There were plagues of grasshoppers that ate everything, including nettles and moss right down to the fence rails.

In 1895, some farmers got together and dug a ditch from the Dungeness River to the Sequim Prairie.

They had a picnic to celebrate.

This became the Irrigation Festival, the oldest community celebration in the state.

Once the Sequim Prairie was watered, it became a dairy center that held the world’s herd record in butterfat production per cow.

In 1916, Donald McInnes Sr. built what was then the largest dairy barn in Washington. It’s still standing just west of Jamestown.

The barn measures 180 feet long and 45 feet high at the peak of the roof. It had stanchions to milk 104 cows.

In the 1950s, there were said to be 300 dairies around Sequim.

By 1966, there were 90. Sequim became a retirement community.

By the 1970s, there were only a couple of dozen surviving dairies.

The farms became housing developments. The irrigation ditches were run into plastic pipes.

There are only two dairies left in the Dungeness Valley. There could soon be only one.

Clallam County declared the Dungeness Valley Creamery habitat for the endangered bull trout, a fish that is neither endangered nor a trout.

The county plans to move the flood control dike, buy property from willing sellers and plant native vegetation for the bull trout.

Jeff Brown planned to pass the dairy along to his children.

If the dike that protects his farm from the Dungeness River is moved, he could become a willing seller.

Recently, Brown, a lifelong dairy farmer, joked about his farm’s fourth anniversary of battling the myriad hostile governmental agencies that he has had to deal with since starting the Dungeness Valley Creamery.

“I should give up on the dairy and grow marijuana,” Brown said, referring to what is now the largest cash crop in Washington.

“I’d probably get less hassle from the government than trying to be a natural food producer in Clallam County.”

It makes you wonder where your food is going to come from.

________

Pat Neal is an Olympic Peninsula fishing guide, humorist and author.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or e-mail at patnealwildlife @yahoo.com.

His column appears on Wednesdays.

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