Grower of the Month - May 2012
Andrew Taft Farm in Pearson, Georgia
Spotlight on Andrew Taft Farm in Pearson, Georgia
Andrew Taft, a grower for the Douglas, Georgia, complex, is Pilgrim's Grower of
the Month for May 2012 because of his consistently high performance, conscientious
farming and proactive farming practices.
"Andrew is an all-around good grower and also one of our youngest growers. He's
very conscientious about his farm and he always asks me for literature on all sorts
of topics, like spring and fall ventilation. He notices things like how the weather
will affect his flock and he's always willing to learn," says Becky McKinnon, Pilgrim's
service tech for the Douglas complex.
Taft has six new state-of-the-art chicken houses on his 400-acre farm in Pearson,
Georgia. He produces 138,000 broiler chickens per flock and raises four flocks per
year. He raises the chickens from the time they are delivered as chicks, bringing
them to eight-week-old, nine-pound chickens before they are picked up and taken
What's the Motivation?
While Taft says he loves growing chickens because of the flexibility, independence
and the lifestyle, his main motivation is the gratification he gets from producing
a product of value.
"I love the satisfaction of helping produce something that’s sold at a price that
people can afford," says Taft. "It's satisfying to be a part of providing food to
"I feel blessed and am thankful that I received a contract for Pilgrim's, allowing
me to return to the farm. I feel that these poultry houses enable small family farms
to stay in operation," says Taft.
Taft is a third-generation chicken grower. He grew up on his parent’s farm.
"My father's always grown chickens and I always hoped I'd be able to do it," says
Taft. "After I graduated with my bachelor's degree in diversified agriculture from
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, I applied to be a chicken
grower for Pilgrim's and I was accepted."
Farming Tradition Meets Modern Technology
Taft lives on the farm with his new wife, Leila, a high school history and economics
teacher at Lanier County High School. She is also a third-generation poultry grower,
the daughter of Randall Wright, a fellow Pilgrim's chicken grower.
This is the second year the Tafts have been farming chickens. They also farm 200
acres of hay and about 150 acres of cash crop. Taft and his cousin Eric have partnered
to grow cotton, corn and wheat, and this year, they intend to grow peanuts. The
chicken litter to put on the cash crop is viewed as a form of residual income by
Taft, money he otherwise would have spent to fertilize his crops.
Taft's six new houses are technologically advanced, being controlled by a continuous
central C system, which closely monitors the chickens' environment at all times
through one computer. The system monitors humidity, temperature, static pressure
and air quality.
"These houses use less fuel and are better insulated. Andrew has a personal computer
which monitors the houses, like a lot of our growers do, but Andrew uses his phone
to monitor his chicken houses 24 hours a day," says McKinnon.
What's Good for the Chickens is Good for the Business
The houses are also built with such energy efficiency that he can afford to heat
and cool the entire house, so that he doesn't have to transfer the chickens from
half the house, as is necessary in older houses, thus inducing less stress on the
Other responsibilities include closely monitoring feed and water levels, making
sure the new chicks can find the water and helping them get to the feed and water
"I really enjoy growing chickens because I feel that we produce the chickens in
a humane way," Taft remarks. "The whole goal of the grower is to keep the chickens
comfortable and reduce stress by providing good air quality, correct temperature,
proper lighting, enough room to move around, a disease-free environment and fresh
water and feed. Neglecting any of these things would be against the grower's goal
of maintaining good performance."
"He was saddled with quite a bit when he started with six chicken houses," notes
McKinnon. "He jumped out on a limb. Once he graduated from college he could have
gone and gotten a job somewhere, but he wanted to come home and grow chickens."
Great Advice Helps, Too
Roger, his father, lives right across the road and is his farming mentor. Having
grown chickens for decades, he's a wealth of knowledge and an invaluable set of
"He's been the biggest help," says Taft. "He usually stays about a week ahead of
me and always gives me advice on what he's doing. When the new birds come in he
helps me get started and tells me where I should be in the growing process."
"I always joke with his dad about trying to keep up with the neighbors. When you
mention Andrew, his dad starts smiling. He's a fine young man," says McKinnon. "When
I go to his farm I know everything is going to be exactly as it should be; it's
really just an exercise for me to go."
The feeling is mutual. Taft is grateful to McKinnon for her expert advice on raising
the healthiest chickens possible.
"I feel that chicken growers are a vital part of providing a healthy product at
an affordable price to people around the world in an efficient way," says Taft.