When I came out of college [in 1950], my father wanted to liquidate his hatchery. I said, ‘No, I want to see what I can do with it.’ We were a seasonal hatchery, hatching chicks and selling them to farmers to produce eggs. I saw an opportunity to get into the broiler business because there were no significant broiler operations north of the Mason-Dixon Line at the time . . . Then, instead of just hatching chicks in the spring, we’d be hatching chicks all year round, which would be much more efficient and profitable.
At first, we tried to sell our chicks to independent growers, but unexpected cancellations of chick orders were devastating to our finances. We were really boxed in because we didn’t have the volume to stay in business, and we couldn’t get the volume because bankers wouldn’t finance the farmers to put up buildings for growing broilers without a secure market.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I stuck my neck out on the chopping block by offering farmers a 10-to-12-year contract to grow chickens on a lease-type basis, where we guaranteed a fixed-rate monthly payment based on square footage. The grower had to provide the building, the labor, and the maintenance, but we assumed all of the risk for market conditions, feed costs, and disastrous circumstances.
The contract was unique in the industry at that time—and still is, nearly 50 years later—because all other contracts in the industry were short term. Offering that guarantee was a statement of our integrity and our intention to treat the farmers as partners. And with a long-term contract, the bankers were more congenial to financing broiler buildings and operations.
We’re still using the same contract today, and we have a waiting list of eager growers wanting to do business with us.