J. K. Southerland
J. K. Southerland’s poultry empire sprung to life in 1935 when his wife, Cleo, discovered her chicken had hatched a dozen eggs. When the chicks grew to pullets, J. K. sold them for $1.00 each, a huge amount of money in the midst of the Great Depression. Southerland recognized poultry could be a thriving industry and decided to build a laying house on his property. At that time, production chickens were raised more naturally, venturing outside whenever they wanted, which meant they were easy prey for many predators. His new method of containing the chickens at night gave him a financial edge, and his business prospered.
Chickens need feed. Rather than relying on others, Southerland decided to finance his own feed store, then expanded to include more feed stores throughout the region. Southerland also grew tired of transporting his chickens to the processing plant in Memphis, which is a journey he and his company drivers made frequently. Southerland opted to close that gap as well by building a processing plant. With every part in place, J. K. Southerland built an empire that no longer had to rely on an abundance of outside help. He did order feed from Purina, and his feed stores, vehicles, uniforms, and even pith helmets bore the telltale signs of Purina’s white and red checkerboard.
At every turn Southerland invested his money in another chicken-related venture, eventually leading to dozens of hatcheries, processing plants, mills, and feed stores. Many of his ventures included subcontractors in the guise of local chicken farmers. In this manner and by hiring local workers for his growing businesses, Southerland significantly bolstered our area’s economy. To this date, poultry remains a major employer in our area. Broiler production in Arkansas ranks third in the United States.
This November Old Independence Regional Museum is again honoring our patrons with “Artifact of the Week” articles highlighting their amazing stories. Learn more about the Southerlands by visiting OIRM beginning in January 2024 when we open our exhibit “A Taste of Community” in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution. We will showcase dozens of local businesses and individuals who have contributed to our area with innovative ideas relating to food.