Grower of the Month - May 2012

Andrew Taft Farm in Pearson, Georgia
Grower of the month

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 for processing.

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 people."

"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 chickens.

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 locations.

"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 hands.

"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.

Grower of the month logo
2014 Growers of the Month

January 2014
Medlock Farms in Elba, Alabama

2013 Growers of the Month

December 2013
McKinnon Farms in Douglas, Georgia

November 2013
Griffith AgriCorp in Dutton, Alabama

October 2013
Sunset Farm in Fisher, West Virginia
Grower Recipe: Gluten-free Chicken and Dumplings

September 2013
Koontz Family Farms, LLC in Mt. Jackson, Virginia
Grower Recipe: Sunday Fried Chicken

August 2013
Triple G Farm in Muscadine, Alabama
Grower Recipe: 652 Stew

July 2013
Hays Creek Farm in Opp, Alabama
Grower Recipe: Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas

June 2013
Hen Mar Farm in Goldston, North Carolina
Grower Recipe: Chicken Parmesan

May 2013
JW Farms in Powhatan, Louisiana
Grower Recipe: Chicken and Sausage Fettucini

April 2013
BLJ Farm and King Ranch in Timpson, Texas
Grower Recipe: King Ranch Chicken

March 2013
Crosco Farm in Mt. Sidney, Virginia
Grower Recipe: Creamy Baked Chicken Breast

February 2013
Perryland Farm in Perry, Florida
Grower Recipe: Paprika Chicken

January 2013
Steve Morrison Farm in Bradley County, Tennessee
Grower Recipe: Sherry's Chicken Casserole

2012 Growers of the Month

December 2012
Karla Betz in Floral, Arkansas
Grower Recipe: Betz Chicken Casserole

November 2012
Serenity Farm in Cohutta, Georgia
Grower Recipe: Serenity Chicken

October 2012
J & L Farm in Scoggins, Texas
Grower Recipe: Chicken and Dumplings

September 2012
Dianna Self Farm in Kirby, Arkansas
Grower Recipe: Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

August 2012
Hopkins Farm in Mt. Hope, Alabama
Grower Recipe: Chicken Casserole

July 2012
Galloway Poultry Farm in Oneonta, Alabama
Grower Recipe: Cheezit Chicken

June 2012
West Fork Farm in Clermont, Georgia
Grower Recipe: Chicken Pie

May 2012
Taft Farm in Pearson, Georgia
Grower Recipe: Chicken Alfredo

April 2012
Bar A Farm in Adairsville, Georgia
Grower Recipe: RO*TEL Chicken Dip

March 2012
Dukes Farm in Reevesville, South Carolina
Grower Recipe: Cheesy Chicken

February 2012
Oliver and Childress Farm in Paducah, KY
Grower Recipe: Chicken Casserole

January 2012
George Key Farm in Carrollton, GA
Grower Recipe: Chicken Pie With Batter