In 2006, Peco Farms, the nation’s 11th largest poultry company, headquartered at Tuscaloosa, Ala., began expanding into east Mississippi. The company has a feed mill/hatchery at nearby Gordo, Ala., and processing facilities at Philadelphia, Sebastopol, and Bay Springs, Miss.

“They now have at least 100 houses here and in adjoining Lowndes County,” Jay says.

“Andrew and I each built six 25,000 square foot houses at the end of 2006 and the first flock of broilers went into them in February, 2007. Kevin built six houses about a year later, and then added two more.

“There are 29,000 birds in each of my houses. We grow them for 51 to 53 days, with the goal of having a 7-pound bird when they’re picked up by Peco. We’ll run 5.5 flocks per year through the houses, for a total of 870,000 birds and 6 million pounds. With a 2-to-1 feed conversion ratio, we’ll go through 12 million pounds of feed each year.

“Under our agreement with Peco, we provide the facilities and the labor and care associated with growing the birds, while they supply baby chicks, feed, and health care. “They’ve got it all down to a science — vaccines are injected into eggs before the chicks ever hatch, and during their cycle here, they are fed four different kinds of rations to promote optimum growth.

“Baby chicks arrive here straight from the hatchery, only a few hours old,” Jay says, “and it’s our job to do the very best we can with them until they leave here a bit over seven weeks later.”

Everything in the houses is automated and computerized — from feeding to watering to heating/cooling, but he says “my manager walks each house four times a day to be sure everything is operating properly, that the birds are getting everything they need, and that they are in top condition. And I check them myself frequently.”

The houses are solid wall and well-insulated, much superior to the old curtain style houses, he says. While winter heating costs are a major expense, he is in a co-op of a hundred or so farmers who pool propane purchases, and “we’re able to get good rates on propane for our heating needs.

“We usually take 10 days or so between flocks to freshen the houses, add new sawdust, and do other maintenance.”

Jay says he is seriously considering adding more houses. “I have my name on Peco’s waiting list for whatever time they expand their operations in this area, with the idea of adding another six houses.

“One of the things I like about poultry is that I can give my employee year-round work, whereas with row crops I’d only need him at certain times of the year.”

And he has compliments for the local ASCS office, which he says “was extremely helpful with all the paperwork needed to get things up and running.”

While Jay’s farming career has taken some unexpected twists and turns since he borrowed money to begin dairying almost 30 years ago, he says, “Farming has been good to me.

“I’ve been blessed to do work I love, to have a wife who has stood by me all these years, three wonderful daughters, sons-in-law who are farmers, and many friends. The Lord has been good to us.”