Sack By Sack

Maquoketa Feeds can trace a history in the milling and farm supply business that goes back to 1842 in Jackson county
*by Lowell Carlson, Bellevue Herald-Leader

Customers, the management and staff, the town, add Jackson County for that matter. Chances are good if you mentioned “the mill” it was understood you were referring to Mitchell-Maskrey.

The national Historic register landmark red brick, three-story mill located at 120 East Pleasant, Maquoketa is many Country Life readers will remember the history of livestock feed milling.
In fact the lineage of their widely recognized family-owned feed and farm supply company goes back to the very founding of Maquoketa and Jackson county.

The Mitchell family can trace the business back to Joseph McCloy’s operation beginning in 1865, the year the Civil War ended, eventually building the famous red brick mill on East Pleasant in 1881.

The business prospered with good times and survived hard times. Its fortunes tied intimately with the farmers who used its milling services and bought commercial feeds for hog, dairy, beef, poultry and horses.

The Mitchell family purchased the business in 1907 and four generations of Mitchells have been involved in the day-to-day operation of the milling business with the fifth generation now beginning to help as they learn the basics.

The milling business has been a key business for the community and the county. When a farmer came to town to grind hog feed it was also an occasion for the wife to do some grocery shopping, maybe to the variety or clothing store, or stop by the house to do business. Farm families combined errands when they brought a truckload or wagon load of corn and oats to town to grind and mix with a supplement concentrate the mill offered.

The mill at East Pleasant was a meeting place for farmers where a cold bottle of pop and a jar of candy for the kids was part of the ritual of sitting in the office waiting for the feed to be loaded. It was where the latest exchange of rural news, concerns about weather and markets could be aired, along with a good joke.
It was a place to learn the world of work for young men looking for that first job and a series of trusted, long time employees who knew the operation like the back of their hand and the first names of customers, and their families, who came to buy feed.
Along with milling and commercial sack feed, the mill sold everything from block salt to baby chicks. It diversified early on offering farmers field seeds and then seed corn, oats and alfalfa and pasture seed mixes.
As farm livestock operations grew larger, Mitchell-Maskrey grew with it by providing bulk delivery to farm bulk bins and self feeders. That went for Northrup King (now simply NK) bulk corn and soybeans as the width of planters and the acres covered just kept getting bigger and bigger.

Agriculture changed dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s. The Farm Crisis took out a generation of young and middle-aged farmers in the mid-1980s. That was followed by the end of small and medium size hog operations. What emerged were larger farms and the almost complete transfer of the hog industry in Jackson County to confinement and automation.
In that upheaval it might have seemed unlikely a business based on a style of agriculture undergoing extreme adjustment could continue on.
In 2000, the next generation of Mitchells made a commitment to the business and purchased Maquoketa Feeds, located at 903 East Platt Street.
The company’s milling and pelleting capacity was increased with price per ton rates well under major competitors in many cases. More space and storage capacity came with the acquisition and it was needed. The company moved into expanded grain banking with free 90-day storage for corn, soybeans and oats. They also deliver bag and bulk feed out to a 45-mile radius of Maquoketa.
There were more people coming through the door with requests for custom ration formulations.
Out in the countryside hog and dairy customers might have become larger, and fewer, but there were new hobby farmers and rural residents who wanted horse rations, rabbit, poultry, sheep and goat feed. Some markets surprise even dealers.
Take bird feed and pet food for example. The feed company’s founders would be mystified by the proportion of total tonnage represented by those two product categories.
It is nothing for some wild bird enthusiasts to feed hundreds of pounds of sunflower seeds every winter.
We no longer believe cats and dogs will survive on scraps from the table and instead buy pet food by the 50-pound bag and think nothing of it.
Maquoketa Feeds contracts with livestock nutritionists like Nelson Dairy Consultants and Kent Feeds. Customers can take advantage of expert technical product support for one-on-one consultation through Maquoketa Feeds.
There is access to daily grain market information at the office.
The company has a relationship with Beck’s Hybrids as well as Welter Seeds, offered at five percent off retail, along with cash and promotional discounts.
The Mitchell family and the feed business have a special relationship with area 4-H and FFA fair and show exhibitors.
They made a special effort to connect with these young livestock exhibitors with a range of show animal feed products, support for 4-H and FFA events and recognition of their achievements.