A Passion for Poultry
June 17, 2022
Written By Jason Jenkins
For more than a quarter century, Campo Lindo Farms has raised the freshest free-range chicken and eggs.
Just a few. That was the plan when Jay and Carol Maddick raised their first broiler chickens in the 1990s on their farm in Clinton County, Mo. But a few quickly turned into hundreds, and from hundreds, thousands weren’t too far behind.
“I jokingly told Jay that if we ever raised more than 9,999 chickens in a year, I was leaving,” Carol recalled. “Well, I try not to do the math these days because we raise just a few more than that.”
In fact, the Maddicks now raise roughly 5,000 free-range chickens a month at Campo Lindo Farms, supplying whole chickens to grocery stores and restaurants in the Kansas City region. They also maintain a flock of laying hens and sell free-range eggs.
The Journey to ‘Beautiful Country’
Neither Jay nor Carol had actually intended to become farmers when they enrolled at the University of Missouri in the 1980s. Instead, Jay, who grew up in northwest Missouri, and Carol, whose family lived in St. Louis after immigrating from Chile, both aspired to become veterinarians.
“We were pre-vet students in animal science, and that’s how we met—in a livestock genetics class,” Carol recalled. “It’s funny looking back. We were so sure that neither one of us had an interest in chickens. We never attended our poultry science class.”
Both eventually opted not to pursue veterinary school. Jay graduated one year ahead of Carol, taking a job with a dairy genetics cooperative in Pennsylvania. The young couple found their way to Texas and married in 1987. Carol worked at an equine facility, while Jay managed a cattle ranch. After a stop in Tennessee, the Maddicks decided it was time to come home to Missouri. They found their “campo lindo,” which is Spanish for “beautiful country,” southwest of Lathrop.
During their first years on the farm in the 1990s, the Maddicks raised tobacco—a cash crop that Jay had grown up with—and beef cows. While Jay managed the farming operation, Carol went to work for animal health company in Lee’s Summit, Mo. When their son, Brandon, was born, they decided they needed to find a way for the farm to solely support the family.
“We planned to raise and sell grass-fed beef, but that was a harder sell back then than it is today,” Jay said. “We asked ourselves what we could do to entice more customers to the farm to buy our beef, and we thought, ‘It’s hard to find good chicken.’”
Carol and Jay started raising a few chickens, selling whole birds direct to consumers off the farm. While their beef marketing idea didn’t take flight, word of their flavorsome fowl spread, reaching a few Kansas City chefs who asked if the Maddicks could supply chicken for their restaurants.
“As we started raising more and more chickens, there were some weeks when we had more than the restaurants wanted, so we started going to farmers markets,” Carol recalled. “As things progressed, we added a few laying hens and started selling eggs at the markets, too. It just grew exponentially from there.”
As the chicken and egg business grew, so did the Maddick family with the arrival of a daughter, Isabel. Both she and Brandon grew up helping on the farm. One of their chores was gathering eggs. By the time the pair was in middle school, Campo Lindo Farms had a flock of 3,600 laying hens. Each carton of eggs includes a personal note that lets customers know what’s new and happening with the farm and the family.
Jay and Carol would quit the farmers market circuit when Brandon and Isabel reached high school. Instead, they opted to grow their business with grocery stores and supermarkets, something they had first established with a few independent grocers in the late 1990s.
The Poultry Process
The Maddicks raise a strain of Cornish crossbred broiler chickens. Each week, they receive a shipment of day-old chicks directly from the hatchery. The white-feathered, yellow-legged birds are known for their quick growth and plentiful breast meat.
“They hatch on a Monday, and we get them in the mail on a Tuesday,” Jay explained. “We’ll get them into the barn and get them on feed and water immediately. To give them extra protection, we keep them closer together using draft guards that limit how much of the barn they can access.”
One week later, the draft guard is extended to provide the rapidly growing chicks with extra space. Depending on the weather, the chickens are allowed outside by their third to fourth week of life.
Each group is assigned its own barn and pasture space. As free-range chickens, the birds have a choice between staying inside the barn or venturing out into the pasture. Each morning, Jay opens the barn doors and turns out the chickens. They’ll scratch and forage for insects for a while, return to the barn for feed and water, then find a shady spot to rest. At night, they return to the barn to roost—and to find protection.
“We have plenty of predators who have found the smorgasbord,” Carol said. “They’re easy pickings for sparrow hawks during the day, especially when they’re little.”
Jay adds that skunks and opossums will prey on chickens at night, as will owls. “If you leave the doors open, the owls will fly right into the barns, so we lock them up at night.”
The Maddicks follow guidelines developed by the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) when raising their chickens. The birds are given non-GMO feed without antibiotics, supplements or other additives. After 49 days, the fowl that arrived at Campo Lindo Farms as 1.5-ounce chicks now weigh a little more than 5 pounds each and are ready for processing. Butchering is done completely by hand under the watch of a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector. The freshly cleaned chickens are iced down immediately to cool before being weighed and packaged. A live bird that weighs about 5 pounds will yield a 3.5-pound whole chicken.
“We butcher today, and we deliver to our customers tomorrow,” Carol said. “Because our chicken gets into the store a lot sooner than chicken from the big guys, it has a 10-day shelf life without any artificial ingredients.”
In addition to being featured on the menus of more than two dozen restaurants in the Kansas City area, Campo Lindo Farms chicken can be found in some of the region’s independent grocers and meat markets, along with larger supermarkets such as Hy-Vee, Price Chopper and Whole Foods Market. The farm’s eggs are available in many of the same stores, as well as Natural Grocers locations.
For several years, Campo Lindo Farms chicken—including individual cuts—and eggs also have been available for purchase through Shatto Home Delivery service. And this spring, the farm began offering chicken hearts, livers, necks and feet for sale online.
“The feet and necks are great for making a healthy stock that is full of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are extremely beneficial for joint health,” Carol said. “The hearts and livers are packed with vitamins and minerals.”
With their children grown and moved away, Jay and Carol employ workers to help with butchering and delivery of their chicken. They also partnered with an Amish family to oversee some of the egg production. After more than 25 years of raising free-range chicken, the Maddicks still enjoy waking up and getting to work their “beautiful country.”
“I take pride in the fact that we do right by the chickens,” Carol said. “I know they’re having a good life while they are here on the farm, and I know our customers appreciate that.”