Switzerland in May

In May, farmers lead their cows, wearing flowers and bells, to high mountain pastures to graze for the summer. It is a cultural experience with a long tradition, influenced by tourism today. Cheese made during the summer is brought down when the cows return in August or September, a cause for celebration and selling of the cheese. (2019 photo)

Many of us can trace our roots to Switzerland, where our ancestral farmers lived and worked. My paternal ancestors emigrated from Switzerland over 250 years ago, and many generations later their descendants were still farmers, including my father and Mennonite grandparents. 

Memorial Day in Silver City

Silver City Cemetery in Mills County is the site of an annual Memorial Day program organized by William Somervell. Terry’s Texas Rangers, portrayed here, was organized in 1861 as a group of volunteers for the Confederate States Army, and fought in a number of battles.

In 2021, the program began with the American Legion Post 439 color guard, a bagpiper, and riders portraying the Texas Rangers on horseback. The horse on the left in the first row is the riderless horse, with the commander’s boots placed backwards in the stirrups, looking back at his troops. At the end of the procession are civilians dressed in period costume. (See photo below)

The pastor of Silver City United Methodist Church spoke, followed by chaplains of the Legion and Legion Auxiliary. Memorial wreaths were placed in the cemetery and it concluded with a cannon 21-gun salute, a bugler playing taps, and music by a small group of musicians.

Somervell’s Percheron draft horses were originally stabled in the 1904 barn below, renovated to resemble Kentucky horse barns. Today, his seventeen horses reside in a nearby barn. Percherons were used to pull heavy cannons in the war because of their strength, and also were widely used in farming as a draft animal after 1850.  Wind your way to Silver City to celebrate Memorial Day in 2022.

The big yellow barn

This big yellow barn, built in the late 1920s, had steel siding added in the mid-1980s and has been a part of the farm laboratory for the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Agribusiness program since 2005. Utilizing the barn are cattle as well as hogs in a farrow-to-finish component.

DMACC leases land and farm buildings from Dallas County for a hands-on real world experience for Ag Business students interested in farm management and production agriculture. It also serves as a model of good conservation practices. The 325 acres leased includes 100 acres of corn, 100 acres of soybeans, with the remaining acres of pasture and hay for the livestock. Various test plots for seed companies are also part of the program.

The farm was originally “the poor farm” or “county farm,” later known as the Dallas County Care Facility. Now, after a $5.5 million remodel of the buildings, completed in 2016, it has become a Dallas County Human Services campus, housing county departments including Public Health, Environmental Health, Community Services, Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities, County Sheriff Communications Center, and more.

The combination of the community college program and county offices is a great plus for Dallas County. The location is: 25747 N Avenue on U.S. Highway 169, north of Adel.


It’s lambing season on farms and thousands of lambs are making their debut in the world. In 2021,Texas was the largest sheep producing state, followed by California. Iowa was #8.

In Iowa on January 1, 2021, there were 160,000 head of sheep and lambs and a total breeding stock of 114,000 head. In the photo below, taken in March 2022, a mom and her two-day old lamb on the Larsen farm at St. Anthony greet visitors.

This sheep isn’t alive but the “hen and chicks” plants are, in the city of Sisteron, France (2011 photo)

Easter Greetings

A Milking Shorthorn story

What were YOU doing at age five? Marcia Shaver was showing her first calf at the Iowa State Fair at age five. That was almost 80 years ago. She is pictured here at age four on the cover of Milking Shorthorn Journal, March 1941. Thus began her legacy of showing and judging cattle at the Iowa State Fair, the National Dairy Cattle Congress, the Chicago International, the National Show in Madison, Wisconsin, the World Dairy Expo, 13 state fairs, and many other shows. 

At the 2005 World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, Marcia showed the grand champion, Mysha Lady Di, pictured below, a highlight of her career. She was also the official judge at the 2000 Sydney, Australia Royal Show. At the Mysha Farm near St. Anthony she still keeps in contact with friends all over the world she has made through the years and also checks on the cattle she owns based on farms in a few other states.

The Milking Shorthorn story began when her father, Noran Shaver, worked at the Clampitt farm south of New Providence milking 40 cows by hand in the era before milking machines. Below is a photo of the Clampitt barn built in 1916, destroyed by a tornado in 1989. See page 247 of Iowa Barns Yesterday and Today for another photo of the barn and more of the Clampitt story.

What was a project that many farmers did years ago in the summer? Her father owned a boxcar and he and his sons would take 12 head from Lawn Hill (near New Providence) in specially constructed stalls in the boxcar, first heading north into Minnesota and then south to Texas. This was a project to make money for the farm and sell a few bulls, stopping at fairs and other shows along the way. Imagine the work and logistics this project would involve.

Marcia and her father continued their love of raising and showing cattle for decades after he bought a farm west of St. Anthony that he named Mysha Farm, now owned by Marcia. He attended his last Iowa State Fair shortly before his death at age 93.

Being a dairy farmer has been a lifelong adventure for the Shaver family, where dedication and breeding prize cattle is legendary. Marcia Shaver-Floyd has broken barriers for women and forged the path for girls to pursue their dreams of raising and showing prize cattle. (Photos courtesy of Marcia Shaver-Floyd)

A silo observatory

Do you have a spare silo but don’t know what to do with it? Here’s an idea. This Johnson County silo now has a series of steps inside all the way to the top, offering a magnificent 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside. Below is a long-distance view taken by a drone. (Ritter photo)  

The silo idea was the brainchild of Scott Ritter who spent weekends and evenings constructing it, beginning in the summer of 2014 and finishing in late 2015. Enter below to start the climb to the top.

There is a series of steps every four vertical feet, a four-foot landing, then more steps, winding all the way to the top of this 60-foot concrete stave silo. That was a heavy-duty project, lugging pre-cut heavy boards up more and more steps as he headed to the top. Below is a view of the underside of two tiers of the steps, which gives you an idea of the scope of the project. 

This view shows the very tiny steps installed outside when the silo was built, date unknown. It would have been a treacherous climb. Today they are just decorative, but serve as a reminder of what climbing them would have been like in earlier times.

This ordinary silo has become an extraordinary silo–with a new life. What a great idea this was! Scott Ritter’s dream has become a reality.

Palmer House Stables

Forty-three years ago, when this photo was taken, this barn at 200 East Main Street in downtown Solon was an empty shell, structurally sound but not in use.

It was built in 1838 as a mill. However, residents in the area complained about the mill’s noise, so it was converted to a livery stable. Horses were housed on the ground level, with a workshop and tack room on the second level. Over the years it was also used for cattle and hogs as well as rental car storage. In front of the stable there was a gas station for 40 years before closing in 1999. 

Below is a photo taken in June of 2021. Restoration began in 2013 and it is now Palmer House Stable, a venue for weddings, holiday parties, birthday celebrations, family reunions, weekend retreats, hayloft lodging, and more. See page 56 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today for more of the story. It’s a great transformation.

Prairie Pedlar Gardens

Prairie Pedlar Gardens, a seven-acre site north of Odebolt, is a popular destination for weddings and summer gatherings. Referred to as a “Bouquet of Gardens,” there is a total of thirty display gardens to see and enjoy. This Sears catalog pre-fab barn, built in 1941-42, also has a barn quilt that adds a touch of elegance.

A rooftop garden of multi-colored wave petunias seen below is a playhouse for their grandchildren. Don’t miss visiting Cook #8 country school on the property and checking out the gift shop as well. 

The site is located in Sac County at a corner of what was once the Wheeler farm, one of the largest farms in Iowa. See page 30 of Iowa Barns yesterday and today for more about the Wheeler farm and page 211 for more of the Prairie Pedlar story.

Garden shed

Can you guess the original use of this building? Today it is a garden shed in Grundy County, with the addition of birdhouses and a barn quilt, but it was originally part of a corncrib over thirty years ago.

 The “building” on top of a corncrib is called a “headhouse,” with openings for an elevator to be inserted to transport grain inside for storage. Headhouses vary widely in size and shape, this one being quite large, evidenced by my husband standing next to it in the photo below. Imagine the difficulty of getting it down to the ground without demolishing it in the process! However, it surely needed significant restoration to achieve this look today.

Pictured below are two other examples of headhouses. If you are in need of one for a garden shed, doghouse, or a playhouse, there are plenty of corncribs that might be available just for the asking. The owner might even give it to you if you would take the whole corncrib too.

No battens

WHAT? There is space between the boards in this Madison County barn. Covering the gaps are often long thin strips of wood called battens. Battens keep out rain, snow, and wind, but not in this barn. No battens, maybe just a few flying bats. Was this intentional? No one is left to ask, but some say this provides better ventilation. It could be desirable in summer but drafty in winter. 

This is a Pennsylvania-Dutch style bank barn, referred to as a Sweitzer (Swiss influenced) design, built around 1876. A view of it, seen below, doesn’t give an appearance of spaces between the boards.

Inside, on the basement level, is an amazing 40-foot-long 12” x 12” hand-hewn beam that supports the loft floor. See photo below. Finding a tree this size to make a 40-foot beam would be almost impossible today. One of the hand-hewn support posts, also pictured below, would also have been quite a task for a pioneer builder.

William and Mary Seerley settled on this 200-acre farm in 1856, built the barn, an elegant home, and the combination limestone smokehouse/milkhouse seen below, still in use by the current owners, although not for milk storage. The house has been replaced but the other two buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. They are treasures and a tribute to our Iowa pioneers.