What Scotsburn Means in Nova Scotia Dairying

What Scotsburn Means in Nova Scotia Dairying


The word “Scotsburn” in Nova Scotia is the short for good creamery management and large production, while in the produce trade it is a synonym for butter of the highest quality. In 1912 Dr. Cumming took W.A. McKay from the little creamery that was fast becoming famous, and commissioned him to “Scotsburnize” Nova Scotia, and for almost eight years Mr. McKay has been endeavoring to inoculate into the dairy industry of Nova Scotia a vaccine cultured from the co-operative and enterprising spirit that has made the Scotsburn creamery an outstanding institution in the Maritime Provinces.

Early on a June morning a representative of “The Farmer’s Advocate” strolled into the Scotsburn creamery looking for information that would explain the success of what was once known as “Ruddick’s Pet Lamb.” There at a bench stood the genial manager, Robert Stewart, soldering the bottom into a can that on the previous day had voluntarily opened and spilled a patron’s cream. “I cannot send this can back to that fellow without a bottom in it,” Mr. Stewart remarked, “for he has no means of mending it.” “Will he lose the cream?” he was asked. “Oh no, it was an accident, and no one will lose.” This incident typifies in a striking manner the workings of the little creamery of Scotsburn. It is a patron’s factory, and no stone is left unturned to produce the last ounce of first-class butter from every can of every patron’s cream. Service is the guiding motto of the staff. Alvin Graham, the buttermaker, and his efficient help, are not working to put in time, they are working to put out good butter. The manager and his staff are serving not one individual but one thousand farmers around the little hamlet of Scotsburn and along the Short-Line towards Oxford.

An Uphill Road

The history of the Scotsburn creamery is unique and intensely interesting. When Dr. J. W. Robertson was Dairy Commissioner he recommended that a creamery be established at Scotsburn, and that the Government should meet all deficits for a period of three years. Scotsburn has not, nor did it have any advantages to recommend it over other locations in Nova Scotia, for such a venture, except that it was just an ordinary farming district like hundreds of other localities in Nova Scotia, and the people were Scotch. The feeling was entertained, no doubt, that if a creamery could be made a success under these circumstances, others would thrive in typical Nova Scotia districts. The Dominion and Provincial Governments supported the project financially as well as morally, and a local company was formed with shares selling at $5 each. The investment for the farmers was gilt-edged, but it will never be allowed to pay more than 5 per cent; nevertheless, the eighty farmers who purchased stock are keeping these modest little documents as souvenirs of an investment that brought something good to their neighborhood and become a guiding star to the dairy industry in the Province.

Like many other good things, this creamery was not a success from the beginning. It was a hard struggle to keep it alive from 1901, when it was started, until 1908, and a great deal of credit is given locally to the continued support and determined efforts of Commissioner J. A. Ruddick and Geo. Barr to make the Scotsburn creamery a success. The plant came to be known as “Ruddick’s Pet Lamb,” and Geo. Ransome, the manager, worked hard indeed to keep life in the delicate young thing.

For seven years whole milk was received and separated, but such a system did not permit growth or expansion. In 1908 Hugh McLeod happened to be visiting in the State of Wisconsin, and there he saw for the first time a thriving cream-gathering creamery. He brough [sic] the news home, and the supporters of the local plant adopted the new method with considerable hesitancy. That was the turning point, however, and since then Scotsburn has gone rapidly ahead. In 1909 the creamery was without a manager, and they found in W. A. McKay a good dairyman and one temperamentally qualified to put Scotsburn on the map. Since 1912 Mr. McKay has been busy Scotsburnizing Nova Scotia, and Robert Stewart, Secretary-Treasurer since 1903, has been the efficient manager of an increasingly prosperous concern.

Seven Hundred Patrons Supply the Creamery

Last year seven hundred patrons shared in the success of the creamery; 446,171 lbs. Of butter, or approximately 223 tons, were manufactured, and this was worth in the neighborhood of $243,235. Cream came in from a distance of 70 miles, and patrons received 63 cents per lb. butter-fat, net. The books revealed the account of many successful patrons, some herds averaging from $150 to $200 per cow, gross. One herd of five cows returned their owner $909, gross, last year, but the largest contributor was E. G. Stevenson, who totalled $3,126 in 1919, from a herd averaging fifteen milkers. On the day of our visit to the creamery, 2½ tons of butter were manufactured from the cream received. Up to that time there was a 40 per cent increase in the make over last year. Mr. Stewart was certain that they would make 45 tons of butter in June, and the production for 1920 would approximate 300 tons.

As the county of Pictou supplies practically all the cream, it has the first call upon the butter made at Scotsburn; this takes about ten tons per month. There is a keen demand throughout Nova Scotia and New Brunswick for Scotsburn butter, and connections are enjoyed with a very select trade as far west as Montreal. Needless to say the highest market price is obtained.

The Creamery

Efficiency is the most outstanding thing about the Scotsburn creamery. The equipment is not elaborate, but it is complete. The patrons are urged to send in good cream and then an effort is made in the factory to manufacture every ounce of butter-fat it contains into first-class butter. Space will not permit us to mention in detail several little devices which contribute to the over-run and the excellence of the product, but suffice it to say that nothing is overlooked. Mr. Stewart considers it his duty to see that a patron’s cream is efficiently handled, and that no leaks occur between the farm and the market. The over-run in this creamery sometimes amounts to 22 per cent. One feature we desire to mention, however, and that is the storing-room, which was built according to Government specifications. It has a seventeen-inch, and the rooms are perfectly dry and sweet; no mold was in evidence anywhere. The insulation is so perfect that only about fifty tons of the ice stored melts during the summer. The ice-storing compartment has a capacity of about 150 tons, and there is ice in the bottom of this room that has been there for years.

A Good Checking System

A complete set of books is kept in the office, but a simple checking device originated by Mr. Stewart, is worthy of mention. The tag, which forms a part of this system, is shown in the accompanying illustration. On each can is placed a small wire bent into the form a key-ring, and into this ring is drawn one-half of the tag herewith illustrated. This has the patron’s number, the weight of cream in the can, and the date on which it was received. The other half of the gag, a perfect duplicate, is kept in the office, each patron having a compartment in the tag-holding device also illustrated herewith. The first rack for holding these small tags was made by the manager himself, but he later had metal racks made according to the same principle. These racks provide for 250 separate compartments and hang on the wall, close at hand but out of the way. The patron thus has the same information as is received at the office, and if there is anything wrong regarding the weights, he is asked to make a complaint at once and have the matter adjusted. This plan has been found a very satisfactory method of reducing errors and grievances.

A Letter to the Patrons

On the 15th of every month the patrons receive a statement for the previous month, and a cheque to balance the account. The statement conveys information regarding the number of pounds of cream supplied, test of the cream, number of pounds of butter-fat, and the total value at prevailing prices of fat. When the patron obtains supplies, butter, buttermilk, cans and locks etc., this is deducted and a cheque mailed to balance the account.

Along with this statement usually goes a letter to keep them informed regarding the conditions at the creamery, and how they can assist in removing any obstacles. The following is a typical letter sent to patrons, and happens to be the letter sent with the May statement, 1920:

“A Hint to Our Train Patrons”

“The amount of cream being now received by train is immense, the shipment of Saturday making 3½ tons. Now it is not best to carry too much cream over Sunday, so we would greatly appreciate your sending all possible on Thursday, and thus relieve the Saturday pressure a little. By remembering this you will do us a kindness.

“A word about cans. Some cans, as they come in, indicate that the patron is particular, as the cans are polished as clean as new; others again come in covered with dust and show considerable carelessness. How would it do if patrons vied with each other as to which would send in the cleanest can? Just a little scrubbing on the outside and covering cans on the way to the station would do the trick, always remember that they are ‘CREAM CANS.’

“Stir your cream every morning and evening.”

Educational Work in the District

It is necessary to carry on educational work in connection with the Scotsburn creamery in order to get new patrons and to keep the old patrons informed. Mr. Stewart attends a good many meetings during the fall and winter months, and explains fully all phases of butter production in a creamery and the handling of cream in order that a good product may be obtained from it. In order to drive home his points, he distributes, just before the meeting opens, a little sheet which has printed on it twenty-three relevant questions. People in the audience who wish any of these questions answered simply call out the number of the question, and it is answered in full. Mr. Stewart said that he is frequently kept on his feet for two hours at a time answering these questions, and the topics are the very ones that can be most profitably discussed.

Questions on the Management of the Scotsburn Creamery, “By the Secretary.”

  1. What is a creamery?
  2. Is it an expensive plant to erect?
  3. Are the running expenses heavy?
  4. Has the organization of a creamery been a good thing for the farmer?
  5. Is it a paying investment for the shareholder?
  6. Is there more money for the farmer in sending his cream to the factory, than making his butter at home?
  7. How can the patron best care for his cream before shipping to the factory?
  8. How rich in fat should cream be?
  9. Explain the Babcock test and is it trustworthy?
  10. Why does the cream test vary?
  11. What do you mean by the “over-run” and what becomes of it?
  12. Why does the company pay for “butter-fat” instead of butter?
  13. How often does the company pay for cream?
  14. Does it hurt the cream to freeze?
  15. Who pays the freight on the cream?
  16. What becomes of the buttermilk?
  17. Where can one secure cream cans, and at what price?
  18. Is it necessary to lock the cans?
  19. How often do patrons ship cream, and on what days?
  20. Should cream be kept sweet?
  21. How guard against bad flavours?
  22. What effect does feeding turnips have on cream?
  23. What seperator do you consider the best?

The Influence of a Good Creamery

About 8 years ago the Pictou Presbytery made a survey and found all the the rural churches suffering a serious decline. There was one notable exception to this untoward condition, however, for the Scotsburn church was more prosperous and vigorous than ever. This has never been accounted for in any other way than that the co-operative creamery thriving in their midst engendered a spirit of cooperation in the people and brought prosperity to the community. Whatever the reason may be Scotsburn Presbyterian Church is one of the strongest of the country churches in the Maritime Provinces, and many are inclined to think that a good creamery has more than a little to do with the building up of a strong kirk. Mr. Stewart voices the opinion that the creamery has made the people just a little colder and a trifle more mercenary. Nevertheless, they are 500 times better off. They can pay cash for everything at the store, and they are obliged to want for nothing. Every patron is doing better financially; they have better stock and their farms are better equipped. “Our business follows your creameries,” said the general manager of a large implement firm operating in the East to the secretary for Agriculture in Nova Scotia. The same is true everywhere. A dairyman must be industrious, careful and eager to produce a clean article when he is the patron of a good creamery; when a man combines these virtues he is a prosperous farmer and a good citizen.

There are plenty of potential “Scotsburns” in Nova Scotia, and the modest little creamery in Pictou County stands as a beacon of light to dozens of districts that have all the resources necessary to make just as great a success in the creamery enterprise. Scotsburn had no special advantage. It was determination, patience and efficiency that made the Scotsburn creamery what it is. These are not found in broad meadows or fertile uplands, but in the minds and hearts of men.


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