Dairy Cows and Ice Cream: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

People have been milking cows since almost the beginning of time and in Faulkner County, it was a necessary daily activity for most of the people who came here. In the 1920s, though, milk became an industry for the county. Faulkner County would become a leader in the Arkansas milk industry after World War II.

In 1920, several dairy farmers formed the Faulkner County Cream Station near St. Joseph Catholic Church. Two years later, they purchased creamery equipment from the Terry Dairy of Little Rock which had opened in Conway in 1921. In 1924, the cooperative began to sell public shares of stock and the name changed to Faulkner County Dairy Company.

Using a separator, the dairy would separate the cream from the milk. The sweet cream was sold to Hillcrest Ice Cream in Little Rock. Brinkley H. Hawk, the first employee hired, would take the cream to Little Rock and then return to pick up the ice cream that would be sold at Greeson’s Drug Store. The skim milk was used to feed the animals.

In 1926, the dairy company built a new plant on Harkrider Street. It added two pasteurizers and a cold storage room. There the dairy produced its first cultured buttermilk and pasteurized milk. Later a churn was added and the dairy sold butter. The company later moved to a new and bigger building on Court Street which allowed it to add cheddar and cottage cheese to its offerings. The dairy became a bulk milk supplier and ran its own routes, supplying milk to the entire city of Conway and eventually beyond.

Ice cream machinery was also added. The company specialized in hand-molded ice cream. There were molds for every occasion and were the size of a single serving. Each ice cream mold would be placed on a piece of cake and would be served at all types of parties and receptions.

Swift and Company bought the Faulkner Dairy Company in 1936 and in turn Dean Milk of Chicago purchased Swift in 1952. It was Dean Milk that delivered all the dairy products to my house on Nutter’s Chapel. Mr. Neidith Nooner came to deliver milk three times a week. Dean Milk started operations with nine employees and $1,074,000 in sales. In 1972, the company had 71 employees and $9,960,807 in sales through Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma.

One of the reasons that the company could do this is that there was a huge increase in the number of Faulkner County dairy farms after World War II. Many quit farming cotton and turn to dairy production. It is estimated that there were some 500 small dairy operations at this time. Each operation had 20-55 head of dairy cattle that were milked daily.

There were four dairy operations on West Pleasant Valley Road. In an interview in 1999, Bob Harkrider, one of the dairy farmers in Pleasant Valley, said he got into the dairy business after the war. He milked the cows by hand and then would put the milk in 10-gallon cans which stayed in the cooler until he took it to Dean Milk. Later Central Arkansas Milk Producers came and picked up the milk and took it to the processing plant.

Dairy farmers later switched to mechanical milkers and then pipeline milkers which doubled the production per cow. Dean Milk would invest in a 761-acre research farm near Springhill to research methods that would enable dairy farmers to produce the highest quality with the smallest amount of labor and feeding costs.

New regulations and a fall in the price of milk would eventually decrease the number of dairy farms in the county. Dean Food closed its Conway operation in 1982.