Carson Valley no longer the land of milk

Editor's Note: The list of Nevada dairies is public record and located on the Nevada Dairy Commission's Web site. As of Oct. 8, 2008, no Carson Valley dairy is listed on the site.

First, Happy New Year. Then, I have to admit I have no permission to tell their story. Didn't ask for it knowing they likely would not give it. They are private individuals, good people. Like all of us, assuming they can go into history taking their personal information with them, thinking their lives are none of the public's business. I respect that; respect them and their privacy. Yet the significance of what happened, if you think about it, requires recording, acknowledgement somewhere. This fact cannot slip quietly into the night; right now, this year there are no more commercial dairies in Carson Valley.

My husband, who gives no references, says he remembers there being about 26 dairies in Carson Valley during the last half of the 1900s. Said it was a good way to sell grass, a commodity regularly grown here. Feed cows grass. Milk from cows is drunk by families and/or fed to the hogs; everybody had a few hogs then. Or salt the milk as butter and ship it distances to populations like San Francisco's.

But over time fewer families around here raised hogs, cows, sheep, chickens or grew their own fruits or preserved produce from their large family gardens. People moved to town, found other opportunities. Farmers and ranchers specialized.

My husband's family consolidated from farming and ranching to ranching to now mostly renting out cattle pasture. Out here, before my time, they had beef cattle and a milk cow, pigs, sheep, horses, draft and riding, rabbits and chickens. Not free range chickens though because coyotes, skunks and hawks range better than chickens. These chickens had a wire-fenced yard to scratch in by day and a coop to sleep in at night.

By the time I got here this place was growing mostly grass and alfalfa mixed hay for feeding to their own beef cattle and selling to local customers.

There were no more numbers of pigs or chickens and the sheep didn't last long once the kids got older. The garden grew mostly roses.

We were so busy working cattle between our day jobs to preserve produce anyway.

Over time the slaughterhouse at the edge of town closed down. Now it is a drive to Fallon or Reno if you want to process (don't say kill) an animal. Semen salesmen don't stop as often with limited customers to service. Same with the hoof trimmer and the refrigerated milk tanker. Feed supplements get pricey to ship in because of raising transportation costs.

Reservoir and pumping maintenance is expensive; water becomes an issue to worry about. Milk prices fall, beef prices bounce around but mostly not up. Busy roads cut up pastures. Neighbors don't like the smell or the dust from an ag operation. There are more dogs.

All this could add up to making it difficult for a family to keep the last dairy operation going in this Valley. Anybody can understand that. Knowing it does not change anything. But you were here when it happened and that is something to think about.

n Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.


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