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The Hay days of Oktibbeha County

June 30, 2012

By RUTH MORGAN

Recently Julia Fernandez of Water Valley donated several photos in memory of The York Family to the museum among which was a postcard booklet titled “Letters from Starkville.” It contained eight photos of Starkville and A&M College. Nason’s Postcard Store produced it.

Nason’s Postcard Store was not found in my search but I did find ads of Guy Nason’s 5 and 10 Cents Store. The ads do not have the street address. Does anyone remember? He lived on the corner of College Drive and Muldrow Avenue and ran the Trailways Bus Station.  Starkville’s Rotary Club history provided some information on Guy Nason. He was a charter member of the Rotary Club. Rotary’s history also reported, “The histories of scouting in Oktibbeha County and the Starkville Rotary Club are intertwined because of this sponsorship. The Oktibbeha County scout movement grew from the Boys' Club of the city high school. In the spring 1923, a group of the Boys' Hi-Y and other clubs under the guidance of Mr. Guy Nason held a camp at Camp Pushmataha on the river near West Point, Mississippi. At this camp Mr. Nason discovered the need for continued work and on returning home, the organization was begun. The first meeting was held in the Chamber of Commerce rooms with John Moore, John Edward Yeates, Roy Chester Jarnigan, Clarke Morris, Alfred Block, Wilburn Maxwell, John Page, M. H. Moore, Eustace Williams, Fred Price, William Herbert, and Frank Hogan as charter members and Marshall McKell as the scoutmaster.”

The photo provided by Fernandez is the first and only photo that is in the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum showing wagons loaded up for miles at the railroad depot to unload alfalfa for shipment. Intrigued by the photo and alfalfa, a little research revealed the following.

On May 16, 1916, The East Mississippi Times reported that hay growers from two states were represented in a consultation held at the A&M college for the purpose of promoting better methods in growing and grading alfalfa and Johnson grass hay in Mississippi and Alabama and formed an Alabama and Mississippi Hay Growers Association. 

The Starkville News in 1923 reported that alfalfa has been grown successfully in this section for many years, often producing three to five tons of dry hay per acre annually. When judiciously handled, it provided valuable pasturage as well as an abundant hay crop. Many carloads of it went out annually.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Artesia just over the county line was called, “The Hay Capital of the World.”

Oktibbeha County has been promoted as the “Land of Milk and Honey,” “Dairy Center of the South,” one of the leading counties of “The New South,” and others. The goal of the Chamber of Commerce is to maximize the community resources for the purpose of fostering economic and community development, and to enhance the quality of life.

In reference to “Opportunities,” the Oktibbeha Chamber of Commerce of Starkville made the following announcement, which was published in a Starkville News supplement, entitled, “Dairy, Poultry and Development on April 26, 1929. ”Oktibbeha County embraces 456 square miles of a southwestern part of the Prairie Lime Belt of Northeast Mississippi. Its elevation is 400 to 424 feet above sea level. Due to elevation and its many natural streams it is well drained and is not subject to destructive overflows.

The climate is that of a desirable Southern section, with adequate rainfall (52.22 inc.) distributed almost equally throughout the four seasons of the year. The fall, or the harvesting season for cotton, corn and hay shows the smallest amount of precipitation. The average frost dates are November 6 and March 26. The winter months are usually mild and very seldom the temperature is colder than 20 degrees.

The topography of Oktibbeha is gently rolling, with frequent outcrops of soft, erosive limestone.  Cattlemen generally have realized the value of lime lands for the grazing of cattle. These extensive lime beds are 800 feet in thickness. The usual content of lime carbonate is 65 to 75 percent, and specimens often show a high content of phosphorus and potassium.

Pastures on these rich, warm lime lands, come into production and last through a longer period — much earlier and more durable — than pastures on cold clay lands. As many as 28 species of grasses and clovers have been enumerated on a single acre of pastureland in a single year. The leading pasture crops are white clover, red clover, hop clover, alsike clover, black medic clover, bur clover, alfalfa, carpet grass, orchard grass, wild barley, red top, vetches and other pasture plants. Often beef cattle gain as much as 250 pounds per head while running to grass and clover over a period of six months.  Legumes, such as soybeans, velvet beans, Austrian winter peas, Canadian field peas, cow peas, and the vetches produce large tonnage of these lime soils.  Small grain, such as wheat, barley, oats and rye, furnish not only grazing but also yield profitable grain crops when harvested.

On realizing such wonderful opportunities for the growing of livestock and especially for the growing of dairy cattle, our late pioneer, Co. W. B. Montgomery began importing fine Jersey cattle as far back as fifty years ago. This excellent work with other importations and the offspring there has brought our total cattle census to 35,000. Ninety percent of these animals are of the dairy types with Jersey blood predominating.

Great care has been given to health conditions of our herds. Oktibbeha County was one of the first to become accredited tick free, and during the year 1927, State and Federal veterinarians administered the tuberculin test to 22,500 herds (35,000 cattle). In this large number of cattle there were only nine reactors. Other breeds of cattle such as the Holstein, Ayrshire and Guernsey, have been tested and found to be successful in this section.

Oktibbeha County is well served with adequate facilities for the sale of its farm products. The Cooperative Creamery, established in 1912 cared for more than a million pounds of butter fat in one year. The Borden Southern Co. established as the first condenser in the South in 1926 received more than 37 million pounds of whole milk in a single year. In addition to these two plants there are the A&M Ice Cream Co. and the Starkville Milk ad Cream Co. The combined capacity of the four plants is above 400,000 pounds of whole milk daily. There are many other facilities that purchase farm products, a cotton mill, and a cotton oil mill.

Income to farmers from the sale of dairy cattle, beef cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry and bees, runs into many hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. For many generations people have come long distances to Starkville and Oktibbeha County to buy fine Jersey cows. Hogs and sheep, in many instances, top the early markets of St. Louis and Louisville.

There is perhaps no other section served better by educational institutions than Oktibbeha County. The Mississippi A&M College, valued at $650,000 for young men with an annual enrollment of 1,000. The Oktibbeha County Agricultural High School, valued at $100,000, Consolidated Schools, valued at $121,000, Common schools, valued at $31,000 are in the county. The total enrollment is approximately 2,160.

Since the advent of railroads and prior to the coming of high-tension electric lines, there has not been a public utility that means as much to our development as Hydro-Electric Power. The Mississippi Power Company an associate of the Alabama Power Company, serves this section with abundance of power for industry, rural farm lines, heating, cooking, refrigerating and lighting.

The county is served by three railroads and 192 miles of hard surfaced (concrete, asphalt and gravel) roads. There is not a community in the entire county that is not served with truck lines for the transportation of farm products.

Oktibbeha County is fostering plans to develop its resources in dairying, stock raising, manufacture, industry and new homes.

Alfalfa is one of the oldest cultivated plants in history. Other common names include lucerne, lucerne grass, chilean clover and buffalo grass.

An interesting alfalfa fact lies in the language origin of the name of the plant. Etymologically, its name is derived from "al-fac-facah", which means "father of all foods" in Arabic.

The Mississippi Federal Writer’s Project stated, “Between Columbus and Starkville the route penetrates the heart of Mississippi’s dairy and cattle country. The land is fertile and gently rolling. For miles little is visible except herds of cattle and meadows of alfalfa and corn. At harvest time when the grain turns gold the landscape is a monotone — vast stretch of gold spreading to the horizon."

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