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Skimming the Surface of Manatee County's Dairy Industry

There is a strong force of habit or perhaps a sixth sense that the cows on a dairy farm possess…or maybe it is simply the discomfort of a full udder. But if you have ever visited a dairy farm, it is so interesting to see the “girls” moving toward the milking parlor at the same time each day. If a farm has a schedule of milking twice a day, morning and evening, you can be assured that the cows will make their way to just the right gate at the right time; three times a day – they’ll be there! If there is not a routine established, eventually a cow will not produce any milk. In order to maximize milk production, a successful dairy farm will maintain a consistent milking routine. We had numerous Manatee County dairies in the past that were quite successful, so they must have had happy cows, well-established in routine! But these days seeing “the cows come home” has become a rarity in Manatee County.

Manatee County Dairies cows waiting to be milked c 1975

Manatee County Dairies' cows line up waiting to be milked c. 1975.

Courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historic Digital Collections.

In 1957, an article in the Bradenton Herald mentions 29 dairies operating in Manatee County. Today there are only three dairies left. Many people remember when dairies were prevalent in, when their milk boxes were placed outside for their morning delivery of milk in those iconic glass bottles emblazoned with the dairy name. In those days milk was a staple at practically every meal. Who were these dairy men that worked daily to provide fresh milk for the county?

Hood Dairy processing plant

Hood Dairy processing plant in Bradenton. They processed milk into cartons and glass bottles.

Courtesy of Manatee County Public Library Historic Digital Collections

One of the most successful Manatee County dairymen was Manatee County Hall of Fame inductee was Herman Burnett, a native of Manatee County. He began operating Burnett Brothers Dairy in 1927 located on First Street near current day Astro Skate Center and the Desoto Square Mall. He bought out his brothers and expanded to two 500 acre, 800 milk cows dairies located in Elwood Park. He was the largest independent dairyman on the West Coast of Florida and one of the largest dairymen in the state. The original family property on First Street became the processing, bottling and distribution center for Burnett Dairy until he sold this part of the business in 1954 to Hood Dairy, Inc. for $225,000. He continued with milk production and delivered on average 1400 gallons of milk daily to Hood for several years.

Burnett Dairy Ad in Manatee High School Yearbook c 1949.

Another successful dairyman and Hall of Fame inductee was Cecil Reagan. He moved to Manatee County in 1954, but before World War II, he ran a dairy in St. Petersburg where during wartime he experimented with producing flavored milk when soda was scarce. He sold many popular flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, cherry, and even an unusual, but probably not popular attempt at rootbeer flavored milk. He decided to move to Manatee County after the war and purchased over 1000 acres of land off of Upper Manatee River Road. He named his dairy Milk Way Farms. At the peak of season Reagan and his staff milked over 1,000 cows daily. Although he retired from the dairy business in 1992, when asked why he chose to operate a dairy, he responded that he thought it would be a stable career choice as milk is consumed by most families.

Reagan Dairy cows in the field

Cecil Reagan's 266 cow herd headed to the dairy barn

Courtesy of Manatee County Historic Digital Collections

Today milk may not be the most popular beverage consumed by families because of a variety of factors such as medical and taste preferences including the growing popularity of nut and seed milks on the beverage market. However, the Manatee County Agricultural Museum still seeks to preserve the history of this important part of the agricultural history in Manatee County. Some of the other well known and lesser known dairies for which that we have artifacts or limited information are Baden’s Dairy, Cream Crop Dairy Farms, Sunshine Dairy, Musgrave’s Dairy, Moore’s Dairy, Manatee Dairies, Crestview Dairy, and Hood Dairy to name a few. If you have information, stories, or artifacts you would like to share and help us add to our new Manatee County Agricultural Archives, please contact us. We wish to gather more information to be able to fully share Manatee County’s dairy story.

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