Cows and Milk
In A History of Agriculture in the State of New York, Ulysses Hedrick gives the genus Bos a mixed review, granting its admirable adaptation to domestication, its docility and submissiveness to man, but faulting it for lack of companionability and intelligence. As he says, "…man does not have the affectionate relations with them he has with the horse, camel, or elephant. A cow," he continues, "is little more than a passive producer of milk, almost devoid of emotions—she lives to eat, drink, and reproduce." Those spotted hefties seen gamboling across a pasture in spring must have discovered unusually seductive grass or water!
The family cow of course supplied domestic needs, if the farm or small-town family was lucky enough to have one. Her largess, even more than a century ago, could be awesome. Consider that of Gerrit Smith Miller's generous "Dowager No. 7," a New York State Holstein-Frisian, who on March 10, 1871, completed a record of 12,681 lbs. and 8 oz. of milk in one year—a half ton of milk per month! It's estimated that a single cow of the time could contribute the makings for about 120 pounds of butter each year, or about twice that much of cheese. But dairying then, as now, was incredibly demanding. A recent survey of New York State dairy farmers found that they work an average of 14 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week, with only 14 days off during an entire year.
Before the convenience of "milk trains" and, later, milk tank trucks, that fragile abundance made its way to distant—and not very distant—markets as butter and cheese, which were somewhat less fragile. Earlier, the Erie Canal was the cheese road, with millions of pounds arriving at Albany each year for Eastern markets. The volume increased from six million pounds in 1834, the year that Rochester was chartered as a city, to 24 million a decade later.
Nineteenth century Rochester was both a gathering and a shipping place for this gift of the cow and human labor, as well as a major regional market. As in other areas, by mid-century Rochester produced only 3% of its own milk, relying instead on its immediately neighboring towns, for butter on a second layer of towns further out, and for cheese on counties farther away.
Rochester's diminishing bovine self-sufficiency had an interesting consequence or two. The University of Rochester benefited from one—the gift in the 1850s of the core of its first campus, where the Memorial Art Gallery is now. The donor is celebrated in a University song:
Azariah Boody's cows were sleek and noble kine