2015 Historical Master Breeder Award
When the Master Breeder Awards were established in 2010, there was speculation on how far back in the Brown Swiss history would a Historical honoree come? What would a breeder have to have done to receive votes when few voting would have actually known him?
Our 2015 honoree beat the odds. Perhaps 10-15 people at this year’s convention would personally have known him. But the cows he bred? Few in the room would not recognize their names. And that is the true testament to a Master Breeder.
Orbec Sherry was born on September 26, 1896 in a log cabin on his parent’s farm 3 miles southwest of Viroqua, Wisconsin. His father had immigrated from Norway and built the cabin in the late 1880’s. His mother’s parents were also Norwegian immigrants. Orbec was one of 11 children. He attended school when not needed on the farm, completing 8th grade. Orbec continued to farm with his parents until he left to serve in the army from 1917-1918 during World War I.
Returning to the family farm, Orbec married Hilda Loverud in 1922. (Her maternal grandparents were also immigrants from Norway as was her father.) After they married, Orbec and Hilda purchased the farm from his parents who moved to Viroqua. Orbec and Hilda had two children, Orbec, Jr. born in 1923 and Mary born in 1926. The dairy herd was of mixed breeds, but Orbec voiced the desire to some day own a good registered herd.
R.A. Powers the Viroqua ag teacher, became a good friend and mentor to Orbec. The two visited the Lucas Brown Swiss herd north of Coon Valley. Orbec was impressed with the breed and decided that is what he wanted to own. Mr. Powers, along with a neighboring Guernsey breeder, “advised” him to “grow into” the registered cattle business rather than “to go” into it head over heels.
Following their advice, Brown Swiss purchases began with a few grades in 1923. His first two regIstered purchased animals were a cow, Cyrene L.12308 (born 10/2/20), and a heifer, Inez C.N. 16955 (born 2/8/24), from A. Lilly of La Crescent, Minnesota, a well-respected Swiss breeder for over 35 years. Also that fall, he purchased Butternut Jane 12364 (born 6/4/19) from Fred Reuter of Lone Rock, Wisconsin. Purchased to serve as a herd sire was Janet’s Boy of Elmhurst 9695 (born 10/14/21) from Andrew Martin, West Salem, Wisconsin.
Mr. Powers entered the picture again convincing Orbec that he should put some of his cows on R.O.P. official test. For R.O.P. testing, a farmer could select which cows to put on test. The state would send a tester to the farm and he would stay on the farm for 4 straight milkings at a time.
In 1928, Cyrene L. 12308 made a world’s record of 15,457.9 pounds milk and 701.46 pounds fat a record in the aged cow Farmers Class. Orbec’s first Bulletin cover girl was Inez C.N. In 1931, she finished a record of 18,362.7 pounds milk and 799 pounds fat in 365 days, making her a breed champion. Holding Inez in the picture was Orbec’s daughter, Mary, 5 years old at the time.
Neither Orbec nor anyone else could have envisioned what Butternut Jane would come to mean to the Brown Swiss breed. On February 16, 1928, Butternut Jane dropped a heifer calf sired by Janet’s Boy of Elmhurst that was “nothing special”. Orbec said she looked more like an Airedale. The calf? Jane of Vernon.
Once the hired man came in and reported that young Jane had been seriously cut on a wire and remarked that he was glad it wasn’t one of the good heifers that was injured. She developed a sort of timid nature and stayed around the barn rather than out with the cows. Orbec babied her a bit and gave her the orchards to roam as she liked. Her favorite pastime soon became that of chasing the dog whenever he became bold enough to enter her domain.
By the time Jane was about to drop her first calf she was, however, beginning to attract considerable attention. A well-known Swiss breeder wanted to buy this cow and offered Orbec a good price. However, he felt that if he was going into the registered cattle business, he had better not be selling until he had replaced some of the less valuable grade cows he had.
The interest got Orbec in the “showing” mind. He took Jane of Vernon to the Wisconsin State Fair where she won the two year old class. The next stop on Jane’s show journey was the 1930 Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa where she won the 2 year old class again. In 1931 she returned to Waterloo to win the class as a 3 year old. At the 1932 Cattle Congress Show she won her first Grand Championship and became Orbec’s second Bulletin cover girl in October 1932.
As a 4 year old Jane was put on official test. Proving she was not only a show cow, she made a record of 23,569 pounds milk and 1076 pounds fat (wth the final test done at the 1933 Dairy Cattle Congress) making her the new World Record Cow. She appeared on the November 1933 cover when this was announced.
Orbec and Jane of Vernon were never defeated in class at a show. For 7 years, she won her class at the state fair. As a 3 year old she won grand champion there for the first time. She was Grand Champion at Waterloo in 1932, 33, 34, 35 and 36. While they were not designated as the National Show in 32, 33 and 34, because of the Depression, a National Show was not held. And so the “powers that be” declared Jane as the National Show Grand Champion those 3 years. In 1935, she was named the Supreme Champion over all breeds at Waterloo.
As she was amassing her consecutive wins, Jane’s udder became the talk of the dairy world of all breeds. They studied the square teat placement, fore and rear udder attachment, levelness of the floor and the veination.
In 1936 Orbec and Jane traveled to her first official National Dairy Show held that year at the Texas Centennial World Fair in Dallas, Texas. Jane was named Grand Champion and daughter Jane of Vernon the 2nd won the 3 year old class. Jane of Vernon 3rd was 2nd 2 year old. Following the show, Orbec, ever the showman, milked Jane in the lobby of a prestigious hotel in downtown Dallas.
In the fall of 1936, Orbec sold Jane of Vernon to Judd’s Bridge Farm in New Milford, Connecticut. The farm was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Rowe Metcalf, and Norman E. Magnussen (a previous Historical Master Breeder) was the herdsman. Mr. Magnussen came to the farm to buy Jane along with a few of her granddaughters. He had to promise that Jane would never be milked by machine, only by hand. They fixed up a boxcar with hay, bedding and a tank of water. It took Mr. Magnussen and the cows four days and nights to make the bitter cold November trip to Connecticut.. At Judd’s Bridge, Jane made one more 1000 pound record and when the classification program was initiated in 1943, Jane at 15 years of age was scored “Excellent”. Jane died on May 11, 1945, and was buried under an apple tree at Judd’s Bridge
Jane of Vernon was a show winner, a world production winner and proved to be a great reproducer. While owned by Orbec, she had a son and four daughters. (Her first calf died.) The son, Jane’s Royal of Vernon, was sold to Lee’s Hill, Morristown, New Jersey where he sired 14 females, 10 of them making over 1000 pounds of fat. Highest of these was Royal’s Rapture of Lee’s Hill who had 34,669 pounds of milk and 1465 pounds fat in 365 days. The records were made under the management of Vernon C. Hull (our first Historical Master Breeder in 2010.) The four daughters were Jane of Vernon 2nd, Jane of Vernon 3rd, Jane of Vernon 4th and Jane of Vernon 5th. All were sired by Vernon’s Lucky Strike, also bred by Orbec.
At Judd’s Bridge, Jane had a son, Colonel Harry of J.B., who sold in their dispersal sale and two daughters, Jane of Judd’s Bridge and Jane’s Chloe of J.B.
After Jane of Vernon was sold, the four Janes made up the core of Orbec’s show herd. In 1938, Jane of Vernon 2nd was Grand Champion at Waterloo. In 1939 he took them to the Ohio State Fair and to Dairy Cattle Congress at Waterloo. Following the show, news clippings reported “this is the first time in the history of dairy shows that four sisters have won in all of these three groups.”
From Waterloo, several carloads of show cattle left for Billings, Montana, including Orbec and the 4 Janes. They showed there one day and the following day left for Portland, Oregon, for the Pacific International. After 11 days in Portland, they journeyed on to Oakland, California. The cattle cars were then put on barges to Treasure Island, the site of the World’s Fair and the national dairy show. The group spent 16 days on Treasure Island before returning home. It was a successful trip for Orbec. Jane of Vernon 5th won the 3 year old class; Jane of Vernon 4th was 4th 4 year old; and in the Aged Cow class, Jane of Vernon 2nd was 3rd and Jane of Vernon 3rd was 5th. Since they were all full sisters they could fit in all 6 group classes and won them all; Dairy Herd, Get of Sire, Produce of Dam, Production Get of Sire, 3 Best Udders and 3 Females.
The following year Orbec took the 4 Janes to the New York World’s Fair. Following that show, Lee’s Hill Farm purchased the four full sisters.
Jane of Vernon was Grand one time at a designated National Dairy Show (1936) (3 times declared Grand when no actual national show, 1932, 33, 34), Jane of Vernon 5th was Grand in 1940, 41, 42 and her daughter, Marinda Jane of Lee’s Hill (bred by Orbec) was also grand at a national show in 1947, 51 and 52. This is the only 3 generations to ever accomplish this feat.
The influence of Jane of Vernon through her 2 sons and 6 daughters, especially through Colonel Harry, was phenomenal. There are very few pedigrees that in some way do not trace back to her. Many show and production winners came from Jane of Vernon’s daughters, granddaughters, etc. The moniker put on her years ago is more than deserved “Queen Mother of the Brown Swiss Breed.”
Orbec’s cows were fed mostly home grown feeds. All of the cows were treated like one of the herd including those on R.O.P. test, milked in a stanchion and then turned out to pasture with the rest of the herd. Hilda helped milk and did almost all of it when Orbec was traveling. To quote Hilda, “I did the milking and the hired men did the heavier work.” Through the years, the herd size topped out at around 25 head. The milk went to the local Viroqua Co-op Creamery with Hilda hauling the milk to the dairy most days and Orbec taking it with the team of horses during the winter months. In his autobiography, Orbec noted that they received 60 cents/cwt in 1927.
On April 1, 1945, Orbec and Hilda rented the farm to his cousin’s son and wife, Arnie and Mabel Sherry. The first year all cows were still milked by hand and the next year Arnie brought in a De Laval milking machine. Orbec always farmed with horses, which Arnie did the first year and then the next he bought a tractor.
In the spring of 1948 the Sherrys sold the home farm and moved to the north side of Viroqua where Orbec had purchased the Colonel Butt farm. He and Hilda lived in the big house and Arnie and Mabel in the tenant house. (While today the farm buildings are all gone and taken over by houses, the main house is still there and now open to the public as the Sherry-Butt museum).
With Arnie and Mabel there, Orbec could be away from home more easily and started his second career. After selling Jane of Vernon, Orbec began buying Swiss in the midwest to go to buyers in New England and New York. In 1945 and 1946, UNRA (United Nations Rehabilitation Act) decided to buy Swiss cattle for Greece, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. They sent out contracts which Orbec bid on. He sent several thousand head of Swiss heifers and bulls to be shipped to those countries. In the many years after his export business expanded, he shipped 38 loads of cattle from the upper midwest to Greece. In 1947 animals went to Bogota, Colombia, and were followed the next 30 years plus with countless shipments to Central and South America. In 1951 yearling bulls went to Tehran, Iran. Many of the foreign buyers came to Viroqua and were welcomed into the Sherry home.
Orbec purchased a small farm on the south edge of Viroqua where he kept the cattle and horses that he bought and sold. In addition to his lifetime with dairy cattle, horses were his hobby. He owned, bought, trained, and sold many riding horses and teams of working horses through the years.
In 1953 Orbec judged a show in Bogota. Later that year he judged dairy cattle, horses and mules at the first big show in Managua, Nicaragua. In August of 1953, Orbec was the associate judge for the first All American Futurity.
In 1945, the Jane of Vernon National Sale was held. All 38 head selling carried Jane of Vernon blood. The sale broke records and included the sale of The Laird of Lee’s Hill who sold for $10,500 to the Eastern Stephenson County Breeding Association. Orbec and Hilda considered this event quite an honor, and it was one of his special memories. A Jane of Vernon Anniversary Sale was held in 1978 commemorating Jane’s 50th birthday. It was sponsored by Tri-State Breeders and Brown Swiss Enterprises.
In 1955 at the 75th Annual Meeting, the Brown Swiss breeders honored Jane of Vernon and Orbec Sherry. Breeders donated funds for a marker to be placed on Jane’s grave at Judd’s Bridge Farm. A duplicate was made and presented to Orbec Sherry. When the funds came in so generously a third honor was possible. A life size painting of Jane of Vernon was done to be placed at the National Office. It hangs in the entry way to this day and is definitely worth a visit to the National Office to see.
Orbec and Hilda were very active in the Viroqua community and its activities and events.
Hilda was part of a 4 member group that did a historic play throughout the area. She was known for her dialect readings and was a sought after “program”. She also spent much time working with the area youth and was chairman of the 4-H building at the county fair for 38 years.
Honors presented to Orbec included Master Farmer by the Wisconsin Agriculturist and Farmers’s Magazine in 1937. He received the FFA Master Farmer in 1937 and 1943. In 1970, he was honored as the Tri-State Man of the Year. Dairy Shrine honored him posthumously in 1989 with the Pioneer Award. In 1986 at World Dairy Expo, Orbec was honored for his 90th birthday with a cake during the Brown Swiss show. Over 5000 people stood in the coliseum to sing Happy Birthday, and he received a card signed by 142 friends.
A strong supporter of the Brown Swiss breed and the association, in 1986 Orbec shared that he hadn’t missed a Swiss show at the Wisconsin State Fair since 1928 or a national show since 1926 and had only missed one national convention or banquet since 1926.
As mentioned before, Orbec loved his horses. He is pictured with his beloved horse Silver bringing newborn Jane of Vernon 5th in from the pasture. He loved trail rides, a 30 mile trek meaning nothing and he continued with the trail riding into his 80’s.
Orbec kept himself in shape in his later years doing chin ups. With a sparkle in his eye, Orbec was known for his sense of humor and stories. And in the midst of it all, it was nothing for him to do a handstand for you at the drop of a hat or kick and touch the ceiling. Featured in his 1980 Centennial ad was a picture of Orbec, with his daughter, Mary, and 4 grandchildren - right side up and upside down!
Hilda Sherry passed away on October 6, 1986, age 92. Orbec died on July 5, 1988, at the age of 91.