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125 years of a daily grind

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By Walt Reichert

The skyscrapers in Bagdad are filled with corn, wheat and soybeans, not office workers.

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This weekend, the city's landmark business, Bagdad Roller Mills, a forest of steel gray silos in the heart of Bagdad, will celebrate 125 years in business. The company is one of the oldest agribusinesses in the region.

There will be a customer appreciation day, complete with food and tours of the plant on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The mills are located near the intersection of Ky. 395 and Ky. 12.

On the tour, visitors can see the “historic wall” where a previous mill worker, in the 1950s, kept a weekly log of events – births, deaths and other occasions – in the area.

“It's kind of neat to see all of that history,” said the mills general manager Charles Jeffries.

Founded in 1884, Bagdad Roller Mills, for much of its history, produced food for people, not animals. The mill ground locally grown corn and wheat into meal and flour.

In the 1950s, the Harrison family, the company's majority stockholders, decided to focus on animal feed rather than people food – specifically chickens.

At that time, the company had 20,000 laying hens on the site. Bagdad Roller Mills was also incorporated in the 1950s. Most of the stock is held by the Harrison, Davis and Roberts families. The land is owned by Alice Barnett.

Bagdad Roller Mills employs about 20, a number that has not changed much over the years, Jeffries said.

  Lots of change

Since the mills switched to the production of animal feeds, it has had to evolve to meet the changes in local agriculture and the needs of farmers.

In the 1950s through the 1970s, the mill customers were primarily dairy farmers who bought feed in bulk. With the dairy buyouts that started in the 1980s, dairy became an increasingly smaller part of the mills business and bulk feed deliveries dropped accordingly. Today, only about 25 dairies are left in the county.

Jeffries said that when he started at the company 16 years ago, bulk feed deliveries accounted for 75-80 percent of business. Today, it's more like 60 percent, he said. An increasing share of the business is the small farmer or hobby farmer who stops by to get feed in 50- or 100-pound bags.

  Adding horses

As dairy has declined, the mills are also producing more feed for beef cattle farmers and is taking advantage of the opportunity to supply feed to the county's growing horse industry.

Bagdad Roller Mills has partnered with Kentucky Equine Research of Versailles to produce feed for horses.

Feed for goats, chickens, and aquaculture will also be growth areas for the business, Jeffries predicted, and Bagdad Roller Mills has geared up to produce the dozens of different formulations those animals require in their various stages of growth and production.

Its ability to adapt to the changing agricultural scene was one of the reasons Bagdad Roller Mills was named Agribusiness of the Year by the Agribusiness Industry Network in 2003.

Jeffries said what will keep Bagdad Roller Mills in business well into the future is its ability to adapt as well as its ability to provide custom service and products to clients. He said customers also appreciate that the mills buys grain from local farmers and mixes its own feed.

“They know the feed they buy here is made here and is fresh,” Jeffries said.