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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.
Boyhood love of dairying turned into career
Bill’s love of dairying and dairy cows traces back to his growing-up days in Newton County, Miss.
“My father farmed a little bit of everything — cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, chickens, beef cows, hogs, you name it — and we had about 20 cows that we milked by hand.
“I just liked working with cows, so it seemed natural that I’d pursue a dairy science degree. After I finished at MSU,
I worked a while for dairy farmer in the Starkville area, then took a position at the Black Belt Experiment Station at Brooksville, Miss., where they had a small dairy, Angus cattle, sheep, and cotton, corn, soybean, and fertility trials.
“While I was there, Dr. Joe Bearden, who was head of the dairy program at MSU, asked me to come back to the university and be their herdsman, which would also allow me to go to graduate school.”
He earned his master’s degree and for about 10 years taught dairy herd management and dairy judging and coordinated management of herds at experiment stations around the state, then was made a full professor.
During that period, he learned about a dairyman at Starkville who wanted to sell his Guernsey herd.
“I wanted to buy the herd,” Bill says, “but I needed a partner. A friend, Ed Custer, agreed to go in with me, and we managed to get a loan, bought the herd, and rented 400-plus acres on what was then the outskirts of Starkville.
“We sold ‘Golden Guernsey Milk’ to Walker Farms in the Delta and paid off our loan in four years. In 1974, Ed wanted to retire, so I bought him out and continued at that location until 1979.
“I had built up some equity in cows and equipment, and when a 392-acre property here in the Oktoc community became available, I managed to borrow enough to buy it. It was pretty run down, and I built barns and began getting things into shape. We built a house here on the farm and moved in 1979.”
During that period, Jimmy Webb, a MSU graduate who played pro football for the San Francisco 49ers, took an intense interest in the effort that was under way to obtain legislative approval to establish a veterinary school at the university.
“Jimmy agreed to promote the measure and was very effective in working with the governor and legislators,” Bill recalls. “When the veterinary school was launched, he enrolled and attended classes during his team’s off seasons, with the idea of coming back here as a veterinarian after his football career ended.
“He bought 310 acres adjacent to my property. But, even though he succeeded in earning his veterinary degree at MSU, he stayed on in California and established a very successful business doing embryo transplants. I bought his land, which gave me roughly 700 acres.”
Despite encroaching residential development in recent years, Bill says he plans to continue working with dairy animals.
“It’s something I enjoy, it keeps me busy, and I have the pleasure of working with family members. I couldn’t ask for a better arrangement.”