Grower of the Month - September 2012
Dianna Self Farm in Kirby, Arkansas
Spotlight on Dianna Self Farm in Kirby, Arkansas
Dianna Self Farm, a breeder operation, in Kirby, Ark., has been awarded the September
Pilgrim's Grower of the Month Award.
"Dianna Self is cooperative, very understanding and easy to get along with. She
always has a great attitude," says Chris Connell, Pilgrim's service tech for the
DeQueen Complex. "She does a really good job producing quality eggs for our hatcheries.
Her production cost is low, she has high egg production, and her hatchability is
Pilgrim's looks at egg production and hatchability as the primary measures for evaluating
a breeder farms performance. Production costs, as well as other factors, also come
into play. Egg production is the number of eggs laid. Production costs are determined
by how much money it costs to keep a breeder hen healthy and laying eggs, including
the price of feed. Hatchability is determined by how many of the eggs hatch, once
they are moved to the hatchery.
A Day in the Life of the Self Farm
Self starts her day at 4:15 am, walking through the houses, performing maintenance
and ensuring the chickens are comfortable and healthy. Modern technology has reduced
quite a bit of the collection labor, which used to be a tedious, time consuming
job of going through the house hand-collecting eggs from the nests. They collect
them and pack the eggs into plastic crates. The eggs are then shipped by Pilgrim's
to a hatchery where they will be incubated and nurtured for three weeks until they
hatch into broiler chicks.
Self gets the breeder hens at 21 weeks and it takes about 14 days for the hens to
mature and start laying eggs. In one week, during peak production, Self will produce
almost 150,000 eggs. The eggs are not intended for the breakfast table; rather,
her eggs hatch into broiler chickens, intended for the dinner table.
Self has two 40x630-foot hen houses, updated in 2006, which produce over 20,000
eggs per day during peak production. Each house is home to 13,000 hens, plus she
keeps an additional 1,000 roosters to fertilize the eggs. With her single annual
flock, Self produces over 4 million eggs each year. The farm sits on 32 acres, and
the family owns 92 additional acres adjacent to the farm "within four-wheeler driving
distance." Self says she doesn't have horses or cows, because she doesn't want to
raise "anything bigger than myself."
Self keeps her laying hens for approximately 45 weeks before they go to a processing
plant and are used for various food products.
Growing into the Job
Self and her husband, Chris Self, bought the farm, which they had worked for many
years, from his parents, Blake and Norma Kay Self, in 2005. At the time, Chris and
Dianna were already living on the farm with Blake and Norma Kay.
"Growing up I was never, ever around a farm," says Self. "When my husband graduated
high school, he decided he wanted to get into the poultry business, so his parents
built the chicken houses. He later decided that that's not what he wanted to do.
So back in 1992, when we got married, I started getting my feet wet on the farm,
doing little things like the paperwork. It soon got to where I was pretty much taking
care of the farm and making sure everything was running right."
Along the way, Self fell in love with being a poultry egg producer.
"I actually enjoy it, people have certain niches in life and I think this is my
niche. The chickens are almost like your children in a way, you spend so many hours
with them. It's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding in a lot of ways," says Self.
"If somebody asked me 'what do you want to be?' I would have never said a farmer,
it's just not what I thought I'd be. But, it's something that fell into my lap and
I'm happy it did. People say everything happens for a reason, that ended up to be
true for me, it's been really great for me and my family."
Feeding Chickens, a Family, and the World
Self's husband, Chris, worked at various jobs during his career, while Diana ran
the farm. Ever since Chris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Dianna has been
the primary breadwinner for her family. Chris now helps on the farm as much as he
can. The Self’s have two sons who also have grown up on the farm: Steven, 18, and
Self says it hasn't been difficult to be a female egg production farmer. Over the
years, she has learned to fix just about every mechanical thing on the farm. One
of the perks of farming for a living, she says, is that though it is a great deal
of work, she is available to her family and the job has flexibility. "You don't
have to hire babysitters and you're not away from your kids eight to 10 hours a
Farming and mothering are Self's all-consuming passions, "The chicken houses, my
kids, and my husband, they are my life."
As far as Self's favorite aspect of farming goes, she says, "There's something about
knowing that those eggs that you're hatching will go to a broiler house, then go
on for consumption. What I say is that we're feeding America."