Established in Marshall County in 1929, the United States Dairy Experiment Station has played a significant role in the improvement of dairy livestock and the dairy industry in Tennessee. Lewisburg civic entrepreneur and cattle auctioneer Jim N. McCord, Jersey cattle farmer Jimmy Joe Murray, and Tennessee Governor Henry Horton, all from Marshall County, called upon their friend and political ally U.S. Senator Kenneth McKellar to lobby Congress for the creation of a federal dairy demonstration farm, and in 1928 Congress appropriated fifty thousand dollars for the construction, equipping, and staffing of a dairy demonstration station. Horton then convinced the general assembly to match that amount in order to acquire land for the station. Officials initially purchased the farms of R. L. Brown and R. L. Richardson, a total of 480 acres; in 1954 they purchased an additional 135 acres from Frank and Gladys Medearis.
At the time of the federal and state appropriations, Marshall Countians already had established a thriving Jersey dairy cattle business. George T. Allman introduced the animal to the county in 1871. County dairymen established the Jersey Breeder’s Association, with Jimmy Joe Murray as president, in 1911. Local cattlemen later registered their purebreds with the American Jersey Cattle Club. After the first county fair in 1919, farmers established the Marshall County Cooperative Cow-Testing Association, a voluntary association for the testing of butterfat, and reorganized the Association in 1920. During the 1920s McCord became a nationally recognized auctioneer for Jersey cattle; the Farm Bureau organized three cooperative creameries in 1924; the Marshall County Jersey Cattle Club was established in 1926; the Borden milk company opened a Lewisburg plant in 1927; and county officials and farmers organized the nation’s first Jersey Production Show and the Marshall County Cooperative Creamery in 1928.
The station’s first twenty-four Jersey cows came from Vermont, Maryland, and Louisiana. Its first superintendent was John Simms, who served until 1939. Working with the local agricultural extension agent, the federal officials assisted farmers in creating the Dairy Herd Improvement Association in 1930. Two years later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent fourteen additional cows from its Research Herd at Beltsville, Maryland. Improvement on many farms came quickly. By 1940 the Marshall County Jersey Cattle Club published its first survey of Jersey bulls for breeding.
The station successfully promoted the breeding and production of Jersey cattle and taught local farmers how to increase the yield and the percentage of butterfat produced by their herds. Officials also experimented with alfalfa and other hays to improve pastures for the cattle. They conducted classes, traveled throughout the region to give workshops and seminars, and wrote articles about Jersey dairy production in leading agricultural magazines. Superintendent A. G. Van Horn oversaw the merger of the federal station with the University of Tennessee’s Extension Service program in 1948. The following year, officials counted twelve thousand Jersey cows in Marshall County alone. By the mid-1950s, also during Van Horn’s superintendency, officials decided to end the importation of females to the herd, as they had raised the quality of animal desired for modern dairy production. Although little known statewide, the dairy experiment station in Marshall County did, and continues to, significantly influence Tennessee’s dairy industry.