This week on the blog we'd like to introduce you to our founder and expert poultry farmer Terry Baker. We asked Terry some questions about his experiences so far in the poultry industry and he has some amazing insights to share. We'd love to hear your comments and experiences below.
How Did You Get Into The Poultry Business?
I’m the second generation to work in the poultry industry, however my father and I were both involved in the processing more than live production. After graduating college with a degree in Business Management and a minor in Accounting, I entered the world of poultry processing. For 24 years, I moved up and down the east coast renovating and/or managing processing plants including ones in Florida, Alabama, 2 in North Carolina, Maryland, and Delaware.
When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we decided we wanted her to stay at home and raise our children as both our mothers had done for us. I also wanted to be more involved in my children’s lives than 14 hours a day in a processing plant would permit. To solve this problem we bought a farm so I could work two jobs, and she could be at home. The good thing about raising chickens is they don't care if you care for them at 4 am or 9 pm; which was the two times a day I tended to them while working full time.
In winter of 2009 Delmarva had the worst snow storms in more than four decades with three blizzards, two of which were back to back. Under 4 feet of snow, one of the poultry houses collapsed with almost 20,000 birds inside, killing them all. The worst part was with the reduction in capacity the farm no longer had a positive cash flow; I projected that within three years we would have to file for bankruptcy. The only option was to go further in debt and increase volume, so we more than doubled the farm’s original capacity.
I had already begun working on Greener Solutions and a few years after the increased farm capacity I was able to quit my job and focus on the farm, Greener Solutions, and my family full time. The Greener Solution project is a BMP “Best Management Practice” encouraged by the federal government because of the environmental benefits; this encouragement comes in the form of grants to the farmers adopting the practice. Researching the project and setting up the subsidies took much longer than expected and during the three years it took to get approval and funding I got bored I wanted to find more ways to help other poultry farmers like me free up time for the important things - improving their quality of life and increasing profitability, so I started Poultry Services, invented a few products, and started this website to engage a global audience.
How Would You Define Your Current Role In Your Business?
There are many roles I perform in my business, but mostly I see myself as a director; I’m not great at doing any specific thing but have been blessed in finding people that are great at tasks or that want to be, and I can help them get there. As a director, I have a vague idea what I want the end to look like and continually try to coordinate those working with me to reach that goal.
One aspect of Poultry Services I’m most proud of is helping others (sometimes older farmers) care for their farms so they can “retire” or focus more on family while still receiving a steady income and staying in the homes they have been in for decades. Some of this help has been in the form of educational materials we give away and the others are more hands on. Two farms are now run using Poultry Services’ management system and young, previously unemployed local Hispanic youth. This has been greatly rewarding on both ends with the youth having a job and learning a skill they will have for life as well as the older farmer not have to shut down or sell their home. Being able to make this kind of difference in the lives of others really makes my day.
The products we've developed and are working to develop are focused on helping farmers, and all products we offer have been tested and proven on the farms we manage (many never made it.) If they aren’t items that help me and the guys working with me, they aren’t going to be made available. I enjoy developing products, testing and tinkering until things are just right; two of the four items or processes currently in development have unfortunately had to be temporarily shelved as Greener Solutions has the spotlight.
What's Your Opinion On The Negative Press/Media That's So Common Around Concentrated Poultry Feeding Operations?
It’s a shame there's such a negative perception of poultry farmers and that they're so often seen as abusers of animals - which really couldn't be further from the truth. Farmers are hard working people, doing all they can to make life as good as possible for the animals they have the privilege of caring for.
There are incidences of animals being mistreated, and it's wrong that those individuals aren't being held accountable, but there are a few bad apples in every bunch. The people painting farmers with the brush of abuse are sensationalists sitting in their houses reading what other people sitting in their houses have written and it's just mushrooms. Nobody wants to read about the man that stayed up all night fixing a feed auger motor so his chickens wouldn’t be without food for any longer than necessary, but it happens all the time...
Farmers are also generally kind hearted, caring people who don’t want to offend others, often in fact going out of their way to avoid it. Rather than picking a fight with the reporter who gets it wrong or animal rights group taking something out of context, they just look the other way; them doing anything else would be to change who they are and could lead down the path of what some perceive them as (cruel.)
What Are Some Of Your Favorite Things About Raising Chickens?
Getting it just right, seeing and feeling the results. When the birds are cared for in a way that more than just satisfies their basic needs it’s obvious in their actions; when entering a house they come running to greet you, as your working you see them play fighting, playing a game of steal and seek (where one has a feather and others try taking it from them - once gotten they run and others try to get it), and they puff up their feathers when you're near; I guess to look beautiful and impressive. You can just feel when you’re doing a good job!