May Milling Company provides animal feed and nostalgia
By Kathy Feist
Rod May, Jr. pulls out his ballpoint pen and writes down a customer’s purchase onto a receipt. Cow ears. Beef sticks. Chicken sticks. Alfalfa.
Another customer had just left with a mix of birdseed. While yet another asked for a recommended product to help her cat take its medicine.
May Milling Company at 606 Main St in Grandview has been supplying customers with animal feed since 1930. The former hay barn turned retail store sells its own brand of dog, bird, and horse feed as well as hay, cat food, garden and lawn seeds, spices, local honey, Watkins products and numerous odds and ends for animals and humans.
Rod Jr. and his father Rod May, Sr., who turned 88 September 1, run the feed store. They are the fourth and fifth generation in their family to do so.
“People like to buy here because there is no distributor and no dealers,” says Rod Sr. “It comes directly from the manufacturer.” That results is a cost savings for customers.
While cost is certainly a draw, the nostalgia of the space cannot be dismissed as an added appeal. The worn plank floors, the big band music playing on the radio, the old turquoise refrigerator, a hand-cranked wooden record player and the original mill wheel hanging from the ceiling hearken to another era. At one time, May Milling Company was the town hangout for the old-timers who spent the day there playing cards or just gabbing. It still has that vibe.
The May family has been in the mill business since 1898 when Roderick May established May Coal and Feed Company in Independence, MO. His sons, Nephi and Alvin May started the May Grain Company in the mid 20s at 8521 Prospect in Dodson, MO (now known as the Dodson Industrial Area). Another son, J. Russell continued to operate the Independence store until 1930 when the opportunity to purchase Grandview Feed Mills presented itself. He purchased the business from Edward Curtis for $2000. (Curtis had purchased the mills only two years earlier from Carl Hopkins.)
In 1938, the May empire expanded when Russell purchased Quisenberry Manufacturing Company located in the River Market. The plant made feed for the Grandview mill as well as other feed companies in the midwest. At the time, most of the feed was for cattle and horses, which was booming business considering Kansas City was a cowtown.
In 1939, J. Russell purchased May Grain Company in Dodson from his uncle Nephi for $1. Around the same time, a fire destroyed the Grandview Feed Mill and a new office was built off Rhodes and Main streets in 1940. The operation there included two nearby warehouses and the current hay barn. After another fire destroyed one of the warehouses that same year (another eventually destroyed the remaining warehouse in 1952), the office was moved to the hay barn. The facility received new plank floors, milling machinery, an elevator and trucking scale. The ceilings were outfitted with old wooden boxcar sides. Glass windows replaced the barn doors that faced Main Street. The company also changed its name to May Milling Company.
During the 1940s and 50s, J. Russell owned several feed mills throughout the midwest. In the late 1960s,J. Russell’s eldest son Rod Sr. became president of May Milling Co and Quisenberry Mills. Rod Sr. had worked at the mills since he was 10 years of age. He managed the Springfield, MO, and Dodson mills after his return from the Korean War. His father, J. Russell, passed away in 1971.
In 1989, Rod Sr. sold the Quisenberry mill in the river market. Five years later, Rod Sr. became semi-retired and passed the management over to his son Rod Jr. At times, Rod Jr.’s college-age son Addison, the sixth generation, can be found working part-time along with his grandfather.
Rod Sr. stands among tall stacks of yellow and red bags of May Dog Food stored in the back of the building. “There are 25 to 30 tons of dog food here,” he says.
While the domesticated bird feed is still manufactured at the mill, May brand horse and dog feed is produced at a Purina plant. Made of a mixture of oats, milo, corn, liquid molasses and protein and vitamins, the recipe remains their own.
“No one else has our formula,” says Rod, Jr. “It’s been tweaked so many times.”
In addition to their own brand, May Mill Co. carries other well known brands for dogs and cats, such as Hills Science Diet, Blue Mountain, Taste of the Wild, and Diamond.
May Milling Co. is the oldest continuous running business in Grandview. It’s formula for success clearly includes generations of a family’s passion for feed done right.
( May Milling Company doesn’t have a website or Facebook presence. To contact them, call (816) 761-5511.)