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County Agent Guy

By Staff | Feb 19, 2010

Having heard that hand-written thank you notes are making a comeback, I was rummaging through the drawers in search of some “blank inside” thank you notes. Mutters of “I know they’re around here somewhere!” filled the house.

From the bottom of a dusty filing drawer, I exhumed a drab-looking book that has the word “record” embossed on its cover. Good grebe! I had all but forgotten about that thing!

The book contains all the official meeting records of the Brookings County Dairy Herd Improvement Association, from its humble beginnings in 1970 to its fizzling out in 1997, when it was subsumed by a sinister milk testing syndicate.

A couple of hours were summarily lost while I nosed through the old record book. To the untrained eye its contents may have seemed as humdrum as its cover, but for me the book held a saga of high drama.

The first few pages catalog the association’s original incorporators. Perusing the list, I realized that I knew most of them and also that many have now gone the way of all flesh.

The first official meeting of the DHIA was held on Sept. 30, 1970. A board was elected, after which rates for testing cows was discussed. Key to this discussion was the wages that George Bliss, the DHIA supervisor, or tester, would receive. It was decided that George would be paid $422 per month – minus $20.26 for Social Security.

I don’t recall very much about 1970 prices, but I can’t help but think that George was flirting with poverty.

My association with the BCDHIA began in 1979, when I started milking my own small herd. George was still the tester; the record book indicates that he was receiving much better wages by then.

George was an affable older guy, proficient at his job. My youth and vigor no doubt amused him and prompted him to share a story.

“I remember when I was a young farmer,” said George as I milked and he recorded milk weights. “I had a John Deere A and a 3-bottom plow and thought I had the world by the tail.

“I was plowing one day and wondered, why not tie the lift rope to the clutch lever? That way, if I lost the plow the tractor would stop automatically.

“Well, I hit a rock and lost the plow and the rope yanked the clutch lever alright. But the lever also hit my knee, so I had to get off the tractor and run in circles for a while!”

A casual flip through the pages reveals awards given for high milk production and the elections of new board members. The penmanship abruptly changes whenever a new person assumes the role of secretary.

Somewhere in the mid 80s the word “computer” makes its first appearance. George eventually retires and a new tester is hired and the DHIA finds itself on a twisting road.

The new tester holds the job for a couple of years, then suddenly quits. About a year later there’s an entry regarding a board meeting held at a lawyer’s office to discuss a lawsuit brought by the former tester. She claims to have been injured on the job and thinks that the association should pay.

The book mentions the lawsuit several times over the next two years. The matter is eventually settled for a sum that pretty much wipes out the association’s checking account.

In 1993, some startlingly familiar handwriting appears. Mine! It’s hard to believe, but yes, I was once elected to a position of responsibility.

The DHIA was like any small town governing body: show up at the meetings often enough and they’ll put you on the board.

I did a turn as president, but found that the secretary held all the real power. This is because the secretary recorded the goings-on, so his or her version of events became the official last word.

For instance, I could have written something along the lines of:

“Motion made by Johnson that Jersey herds be charged extra due to the ‘annoying nature’ of that breed. Countermotion made by Anderson that Johnson go soak his head.”


“Loud comment made by Johnson regarding the marital status of Anderson’s parents. Anderson responds vociferously with comment regarding Johnson’s immediate ancestry. Fisticuffs ensue. Disagreement ends when Nelson moves that the meeting be moved to the environs of the Kit Kat Club and that the association should buy the first round. Motion passes unanimously. Clamorous huzzahs are given for Nelson as he is carried to the Kit Kat Club on board members’ shoulders.”

Since the record book doesn’t say otherwise, it would seem that I’m still the secretary of Brookings County DHIA. As such, I move that the above be approved as read.

All in favor say “aye.” Motion passed!

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com

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