When Iowa State University was established in 1858 it was as the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm. The name alone sent a clear message that the school’s founders wanted the students who attended Iowa State to have a strong understanding of and practical education in farming. Of course, the students didn’t all want to be farmers, but that’s a different story.
In the early years, the male students were required to spend several hours each day helping out on the school’s farm and in the shops, while the female students were assigned to help with domestic chores in the kitchens and laundry. There was no tuition at Iowa State at the time, so perhaps it seemed like a fair trade. Within 20 years, the practice of requiring students to work on campus became impractical due to the complexities of organizing and supervising a workforce of hundreds of students.
By the early 20th century, the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm had become the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and had grown to become a highly respected agricultural and engineering school. Students in agriculture still gained practical experience working with livestock, understanding how to maximize crop yields, and learning the business principles of farming. However, faculty still felt that the experience of the agriculture students could still be improved.
In 1938, Dr. William Murray, professor of economics, identified that his students had no real experience in actually managing a farm. He set out to change this. Murray convinced the college administration to purchase a farm and to provide a budget for the first year of farm operations. He argued that the cost of operation should not be high—if the students apply what they learned in class then the farm should be profitable.
The college administration agreed to the proposal and purchased a 187-acre farm just south of campus in the fall of 1942. The first formal Agriculture 450 class was offered in January 1943 with Murray as instructor. In March, the farm was turned over to the management of the students with the only limitation being that each expenditure and sale be approved in advance by the instructor. The farm has been in the care of students ever since.
Students in the AgEds 450 course (as it is now called) are responsible for every major decision that happens on the farm. As of 2018, the students farm around 1400 acres of land, some of which is rented or custom farmed. They are responsible for determining which crops to plant, caring for the livestock, purchasing equipment, and marketing the animals and grain that they raise. According to the Ag 450 Farm website this farm remains “…the ONLY completely student managed farm at a land grant university in the United States.”
If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of the Ag 450 Farm, feel free to visit Special Collections and University Archives. The Ag 450 Farm records contain account books, photographs, scrapbooks, clippings, and more documenting the history of the Ag 450 course and the farm itself. Stop in and take a look!
Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) “collects, preserves, and shares documentation of the experiences, achievements, and memories of people and organizations reflecting the university’s major research areas, with a special commitment to documenting the history of the university” (SCUA’s mission statement). The bulk of our collections are from within the state of Iowa. However, sometimes we’re treated to collections that document other parts of the world. The J . Stuart Russell Papers (MS 12) is one of those collections.
J. Stuart Russell was a Grinnell College graduate (1913) and Iowa farmer until he joined the U.S. Army in 1918. While serving, he operated a weekly newspaper in Sac City from 1920-1925. In 1925, he became Farm Editor of the Des Moines Register and Tribune and held this position until his death in 1960. From 1925-1960, Russell was affiliated with numerous farm oriented organizations. He also traveled abroad several times to report on food and agricultural conditions in other country.
Drop by to learn more about this collection or any of our collections. We’re open Monday – Friday from 9-5.
My fellow former 4-Hers and FFAers who showed cattle may appreciate this one. Over the years, the preferred traits of show cattle have changed quite a bit, as this photo illustrates. This photo shows examples of preferences in show steers (castrated male cattle) from 1878, 1900, and 1930. Of course, these preferences have changed since then. I remember looking at my father’s photos from his cattle showing days in the 1960s and noticing how short and stocky the steers were compared to those that I showed in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
If you look closely and read the signs in the background, you’ll notice that in 1878, the winning type was 5 years old (far older than today’s steers) and weighed 2600 lbs. In 1900, the winning type was 3 years old and weighed what I think is 2100 lbs (it’s difficult to read). 1930 was much closer to today’s standards with 1 year, 7 months old and 1170 lbs.
For additional photos of show animals and much, much more, stop in sometime!
There is so much I love about his photo: the angle, the light and dark contrast, the windmill, the depiction of farm work in the early-to-mid 20th century. It also looks a bit like a storm is building, but that may just be blue sky that looks extra dark with the overall dark tone of the photo. This is one of several photos taken at farmsteads around Iowa by the Extension Service.
Stop in sometime to see more photos depicting rural life in Iowa!
“6/16/79 At the Fish farm, Earl showed visitors the greenhouse and the solar dryer. He said, ‘You’ll have a hard time convincing Earl Fish that you can’t dry grain without propane.’” This comes from records of the Small Farm Energy Project, a research and demonstration project of the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) to show the impact of energy conservation innovations on small farmers.
ISU Special Collections and University Archives holds the records of the Center for Rural Affairs, a Nebraska-based non-profit organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to improving the lives and opportunities of small farmers and rural communities. Among their many projects to improve the welfare of rural Americans, the CFRA has developed projects related to global warming and agriculture, in addition to this and other work in clean energy, which is why I’m highlighting them in honor of Earth Day, which was April 22.
For the Small Farm Energy Project, CFRA targeted low-income farmers with net incomes within 125 percent of the poverty level. Farmers applied to be part of the study. Of fifty total participants, 25 formed a control group that made no changes, but kept detailed records of their energy usage. The other 25 were the innovators, who were exposed to a variety of alternative energy technologies through a series of workshops. Individual farmers chose which technologies to implement based on their individual situations.
Earl Fish was one of the farm innovators, and his success using a solar grain dryer attracted the interest of other farmers in the area. The Small Farm Energy Project Newsletter for December 1977 reads, “Fish, cooperating farmer of the Small Farm Energy Project, used solar energy to dry grain in his 6000 bu. bin equipped with stirrator. Propane had been used in previous years for drying, but not in 1977. …Fish was particularly impressed with the quality of the dried grain using the low temperature process of solar drying compared to higher temperature drying. Another advantage of the system cited by Fish is the fan housing which lowers fan noise levels considerably.”
The Preliminary Report for the project estimates that a “solar grain dryer has the potential to save a farmer $260 a year over a 10-year period when used as a substitute for more energy-intensive batch drying. More than half the farms that could install a solar grain dryer did so” (p. 30, box 106, folder 21).
Check out the Center for Rural Affairs Records (MS 413) to learn more about the Small Farm Energy Project, including construction guidelines to build your own solar grain dryer (see box 106, folder 18)!
Happy Earth Day!
Farm Interview: Earl Fish. Box 104, Folder 36.
“Innovations Continue as Project Extended.” Small Farm Energy Project Newsletter. Issue 9. December, 1977. Box 104, Folder 22.
Small Farm Energy Project, Center for Rural Affairs. “Preliminary Report January, 1977, through December, 1978 for the Impact of Various Energy Innovations on Energy Consumption and Net Income for 48 Small Farms.” July 1979. Box 106, Folder 21.
Yesterday my colleague Amy Bishop & I attended the Silos & Smokestacks Annual Partner Site Meeting & Legislative Showcase in Des Moines. There are 115 partner sites that constitute Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA) and all of the partner sites preserve and tell the story of American agriculture in some way. National Heritage Areas are places designated by Congress where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to tell a story that celebrates our nation’s diverse heritage. Special Collections & University Archives are a partner site for SSNHA.
We attended educational sessions in the morning and in the afternoon we put on a tabletop exhibit about a website created during a summer internship, Reflections on ISU Extension, that was funded by an SSNHA grant in 2014. The intern developed a digital collection and contributed to the design of its accompanying website. The collection offers a look into the early work of the Extension Service, its role in the education of farmers, and the impact it had on agricultural advancement and production. It is composed of documents, photographs, and select media.
One of the neatest things I learned from browsing through this digital collection was about the educational trains. The university (known then as Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm) sent instructors on trains throughout the state to teach classes on seed corn and other agriculture related topics of interest to Iowa’s farmers such as crops, livestock, and home economics.
Thirty years ago, rural America was in the midst of a farm crisis, one so significant that it’s often simply referred to as “The Farm Crisis.” During this time, things were so bad that many farmers left their profession and sold their farms. For some, the whole situation was more than they could handle. Those that stuck it out endured a long, hard struggle, one that is far from forgotten in the rural Midwest. The Center for Rural Affairs Records, MS 413, now available for research, contains subject files on the farm crisis and illustrates the work that the Center did to help those affected by the crisis.
How did it all start? It seems there were many causes, not the least of which was a “boom and bust” economic cycle. In the early 1970s, an economic boom in agriculture occurred, and by late in the decade signs of a bust became evident. Loan interest rates skyrocketed, less demand from foreign markets helped drive crop prices down, and as a result many farmers couldn’t pay back the loans they were able to take out so cheaply in the ’70s. The impact on the agricultural community was huge, with farms being sold or abandoned and many people moving to urban areas to make a living. The stress on farmers and their families was horrific. It was the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, but only the agricultural community bore the brunt this time.
The Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) was established in 1973 as a non-profit organization to advocate for rural interests in politics and to improve the welfare of rural Americans. Naturally, the farm crisis fit right in to their work (and provided new challenges). CFRA conducted research on how to help farmers get through these tough times and worked hard to change policies that had led to the bust, such as those regarding tax subsidies and cheap credit. Not everyone followed the organization’s recommendations on how to get through the crisis, but CFRA labored to guide farmers and policy makers through it nonetheless. While all of this was occurring, CFRA was working on various other projects, which you can read about in the previous link as well as here. CFRA has kept quite busy over the years with various agricultural issues, and their passion is evident throughout their manuscript collection.
More information on the work that CFRA has done can be found in the collection, along with more information on the farm crisis and many other matters pertaining to agriculture and rural America. Special Collections and University Archives has many other resources on the farm crisis, which can be found in this collections guide. In addition, we have a copy of Iowa Public Television’s 2013 documentary “The Farm Crisis,” also available for viewing here. Stop in and have a look at our resources!
Thanksgiving day is over, but a weekend full of leftovers is ahead! While you’re trying to figure out what to do with all of that leftover turkey, why not learn a little about how that bulky bird was raised? Or, rather, how that bird would have been raised a couple of generations ago.
While commercially-produced turkeys today are Broad Breasted Whites, 70 years ago Bronze was the breed (and color) of choice. In fact, my grandfather started out raising Bronze turkeys, but both my father and my brother raise Broad Breasted White. Of course, some smaller operations today raise heritage turkeys, including the White Holland (an ancestor of today’s widely raised Broad Breasted White), Narragansett, and Bourbon Red.
Let’s say you want to be an old-fashioned turkey farmer. Well, there are few things you need to know: sanitation and disease prevention, equipment, how to care for baby turkeys, and how to feed them until market age.
Sanitation and Disease Prevention
Sanitation and disease prevention were just as important in the old days as it is today. The USDA Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1409: Turkey Raising, 1940, provides some guidelines and common practices regarding this issue. It was incredibly important that farms had some sort of sanitation system in place. These included making sure the range had clean soil, feeding birds from feeders that couldn’t be contaminated by their droppings, and always keeping the buildings sanitary. When it came to feed, sanitation of containers was especially important when milk was used (yes, turkeys used to be fed milk). Of utmost importance was keeping turkeys separate from chickens and any other poultry – diseases are easily spread from poultry species to poultry species (this includes pet birds)!
Swift’s Turkey Feeding and Management Guide, undated but from the pre-Broad Breasted White era, provides some additional guidelines. These include availability of fresh, clean water at all times, cleaning and disinfecting brooder houses before new poults arrive, regular disinfecting of equipment, and not allowing visitors to enter turkey buildings or walk on the range, as diseases are easily spread between flocks. These practices are generally still in place today.
Now that you know how to keep your birds healthy, you need to know what equipment is needed.
Swift’s Turkey Feeding and Management Guide recommends equipment to be used to raise 1,000 turkeys – a number that pales in comparison to today’s 10,000+ on turkey farms. Poults (the proper term for baby turkeys, not “chicks” like this guide calls them) were commonly raised both in brooder houses – and still are today, although the buildings are much larger – and on the range (outdoors).
Equipment suggested in the guide include 4-foot long feeders, so that poults always have access to feed, 3-gallon poult-sized fountains for water, larger 6-foot long feeders for when the turkeys get a little bigger, 4 stoves designed for 500 poults each; these were used to keep the turkeys warm. Stoves are still used today, suspended in the air so they hover above the poults, like a low-hanging, warm roof. Brooder houses at the time were recommended to be 10×12 feet or so, with equal size sun porches for fresh air. For the range, 6-foot long feeders were recommended and 4-foot long watering troughs, rather than fountains. Also needed on range were shelters, fencing to keep turkeys contained, and shade.
With all of these set in place, you are now ready to add turkeys to your old-fashioned turkey farm!
At this point the question is, how do you raise baby turkeys on a 1940s farm? The USDA Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1409: Turkey Raising tells us how to get started. First of all, the litter (stuff that’s put on the ground in turkey buildings) was supposed to be sand or gravel for the first two or three weeks, and then switched over to straw or hay. Today, sawdust is used throughout the turkeys’ lifespans.
Knowing when to start feeding your poults is also important on your 1940s turkey farm, since they have probably hatched on your farm. In 1940, leaving poults in a darkened incubator for 12-24 hours and feeding them as soon as they were moved to the brooder house was becoming the general practice. It also thought to be better than waiting for up to 72 hours, which was sometimes done.
I know you’re thinking, “Great, but when it comes time to feed them, what do I actually feed them?” Let’s take a look, shall we?
The USDA Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1409: Turkey Raising comes to the rescue again, providing guidelines and recipes on feeding your turkeys. First and foremost, feed was to be available to turkeys at all times, from hatching to market.
The first feed poults were given was to be made up of green feed (finely chopped, tender) and dry starting mash (recipes to follow). Ground or crumbled hard-boiled eggs could be added to the mixture, and milk – “if not too high priced” – could be kept in front of them in easily cleaned containers, such as crockery, tin, wooden or granite.
For the first six to eight weeks, a well-balanced, all-mash ration was considered the simplest and most practical way to go. Commercial mashes were available, but they could be made at home as well. The following is one of two mashes that could be prepared, and the one the USDA recommended and fed without liquid milk:
Starting Mash No. 1:
Ground yellow corn (17 parts by weight*),
pulvarized whole oats (15),
50-55% protein meat scrap (12),
Wheat bran (12),
wheat middlings or shorts (12),
dried milk (10),
alfalfa leaf meal (10),
60% protein fish meal (10),
cod-liver oil (1.5),
fine sifted salt (.5)
* parts by weight add up to 100
After those six to eight weeks, up until market, the feed changed. It could included mash and whole grain or liquid milk and whole grain supplemented with insects and green feed. However, it was better to supply sufficient protein and minerals in the mash, as that would help with regular growth. The USDA guide provides four different growing mash recipes, but the main differences from the starting mash listed above include the omission of cod-liver oil, different amounts of each ingredient, and in some cases the addition of steamed bonemeal and ground oystershell or limestone.
With all this information (and much more thorough research conducted by yourself), you should be ready to run your own 1940s-era turkey farm! Or, maybe you just know a bit more about the history of turkey farming. That’s fine too.
For more information on raising turkeys and other poultry-related information – including how turkeys were prepared for market and how they were selected for breeding, see the Iowa Poultry Association Records, MS 67. We also have a book on the farm struggles of one man in the 1930s, including entries on turkey farming: Years of Struggle: The Farm Diary of Elmer G. Powers. Want to know how your turkey is raised today? Read this blog post (full disclosure: written by my sister-in-law) that provides a farmer’s perspective. The Iowa Turkey Federation is also a great resource – plus, they have lots of turkey recipes on their website, in case you haven’t figured out how to deal with all those leftovers yet.
Today marks the first full day of autumn – the equinox actually occurred last night. Some may be sad to see summer go, but I for one am more than ready for fall weather and all of the wonderful things that go along with it (pumpkin everything comes to mind). One of autumn’s most notable sights here in Iowa is that of combines plowing through golden fields of corn and soybeans.
Harvest is a busy time for farmers, full of long days and short nights. It’s also dangerous, with lots of large machinery and massive amounts of grain to work with. As it happens, this first week of autumn is also National Farm Safety and Health Week! Farm safety is an important issue to farmers and their families, and we farm kids had it instilled in us at a young age. Below is a great example of a child doing something he shouldn’t.
Planting season is in full swing, although things are done a bit differently than they were when this photo was taken (for which I think most farmers are grateful). Whether this Cooperative Extension Service photo is post-harvest or pre-planting, I’m not sure, but either way, technology has clearly advanced and farmers use tractors rather than horses for their plowing and tilling. This May marks the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which established cooperative extension services throughout the United States. In Iowa, an early form of Extension had already existed for about 10 years when the federal act came to be in 1914. This and other Extension-related photos can be found on our Flickr site. For more information on Extension and its history, see these collections and, of course, the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website. Also of interest may be College of Agriculture and Life Sciences collections, and any of our agriculture-related manuscript collections. Come in and see us!