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Although veteran Mississippi dairyman and university professor Bill McGee sold off his milking operation several years ago, he and family members continue to raise high quality Holstein cows for a north Mississippi dairy operation. At any given time, the McGee farm near Starkville, Miss., will have about 400 animals, ranging from young calves to two-year-old heifers.
When Bill McGee retired in 1991 as professor of dairy science at Mississippi State University, he kept right on doing what he’d done all his life — working with dairy animals.
“My hobby has always been work,” he says. “I still love getting up every day and looking after the calves and cows.”
On his scenic Mactoc Farm in the rolling hills of the Oktoc community near Starkville, Miss., not that far from his alma mater, an average 400 Holstein dairy animals are in a continuous management rotation from calfhood to two years.
Until a few years ago, Bill and his eldest son, David, who earned a dairy science degree at Mississippi State University, operated a dairy on the farm here. Their top quality registered Holstein herd consistently led the state in annual average milk production per cow (rolling herd average). They were able to increase production by more than 10,000 pounds of milk per cow, to 28,000 pounds rolling herd average.
“An emphasis on good genetics, herd health/nutrition, and doing everything possible to keep cows in tip-top condition really paid off for us,” Bill says.
His other son, Darren, who had earned dairy science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees at MSU, did the veterinary work for the herd, and contributed heavily to its financial management and development of feeding programs.
In 2005, the remnants of Hurricane Katrina took down about a third of the shade cloth over a 200-cow lockup barn. That was replaced with a permanent roof, and shortly afterward, a straight-line windstorm collapsed the roof.
“We were facing a $100,000 expenditure to make repairs,” Bill says. “In addition to that, an large upscale housing development had gone in nearby, and there had already been a lot of opposition by local citizens to a hog farm in the area.
“Rather than face complaints by neighbors and potential environmental battles over our operation, and make the costly building repairs that would be required, we decided to get out of the dairy business. We sold our herd and milking equipment, and the proceeds from that allowed us to wipe out our debt.
“Several years earlier, Darren, who had a veterinary practice here and had been doing large herd consulting work all over Mississippi, formed a partnership with Grandy Ladner in Heritage Dairy at Wyatte, Miss., not far from Memphis, milking about 500 cows, all Holsteins.”
Darren later took a position with a Monsanto division that was spun off to Eli Lilly Co., and moved to Indianapolis, where he now coordinates dairy research programs nationwide.