Family Flocked Together
June 7, 2021
Written By Jason Jenkins
In the poultry industry, being “up with the chickens” isn’t an expression reserved exclusively for early mornings. It also means late nights, weekends, holidays and everything in between.
Tammy and Richard Hale know this all too well—yet they wouldn’t change a thing.
“The chickens are kind of like your kids or your grandkids. You have to love them, even if you don’t always like them,” Tammy says with a laugh as her cell phone rings. It’s another alarm call from the automated system monitoring one of their barns. “When you have chickens, you’re on call 24/7, but they’ve been the best thing we ever did farming.”
For 25 years, the Hales have managed a poultry operation near Canehill, Ark., about a half-hour southwest of Fayetteville and less than 2 miles from the Oklahoma border. Both Tammy and Richard grew up on chicken farms here in Washington County. However, they went a different route when they married and settled on land adjoining Richard’s parents.
“We started off dairying, but it just wasn’t making it,” Tammy says. “We kept the farm, but we moved south to Midland for about 3.5 years before coming back and starting again.”
Upon their return, Richard built a business as a bulldozer operator while Tammy oversaw about a 50-head dairy herd and 30-head cow-calf herd. They continued raising cattle—along with sons Matthew, Joshua and Sawyer—until 1996.
“By then, I had been out of chickens for 20 years, but Richard talked me back into them,” Tammy recalls. “We raised breeder hens for nine years, then sold those barns and started up our current broiler operation.”
Today, the Hales have 10 broiler houses and raise nearly 1 million chickens on contract for Simmons Foods annually. They also run a 100-head cow-calf operation on their 400-acre farm.
“Raising broilers requires more inputs, but they’re less labor intensive than breeder hens,” Tammy adds. “Automation has made us more efficient. It’s a lot better than when I was a kid.”
While the farming operation has changed, the trend of family staying in proximity hasn’t. The couple’s oldest son, Matthew, lives just to the west and runs his own broiler operation. Sawyer, the youngest, lives to the east and operates a lawn and landscaping business. Both partner with their parents on some farming endeavors.
Tragically, Joshua was killed in a car accident in 1999, just 10 days after his high school graduation. Tammy and Richard named their farm JLH Farm in his memory.
It was Matthew who encouraged his parents to consider MFA Oil Company for their propane. The previous winter, he had purchased propane from the bulk plant in nearby Stilwell, Okla., and was pleased with both the pricing and the service.
“When you’re raising broilers, you cannot be without propane,” Tammy says. “There was a Sunday when Matthew unexpectedly ran out, and they brought out a truck. After that, we started buying from them, too. That was 10 years ago. I really like the service. We didn’t always get that before.”
The Hales take advantage of the co-op’s Propane Pre-Buy program to lock in their rate, avoiding volatile market pricing when demand increases in the winter. They also rely on MFA Oil for their fuel, oil and lubricant needs. Tammy became a delegate two years ago after being encouraged by Stilwell bulk plant manager Howard Hopkins.
“Whether it was 4-H, FFA or the school board, I’ve always been one to get involved. So, when Howard asked me to consider it, I figured I could contribute,” she says. “It’s been an interesting experience so far, especially with the pandemic and virtual meetings.”
When they aren’t busy in the chicken barns, Tammy and Richard relish the opportunity to spend time with their six grandchildren, who range in age from 6 months to 20 years old. Friday nights are spent hanging out, watching movies and playing games. Everyone also gathers for Sunday dinner after church.
“The grandkids start to outgrow grandma when they get to be about 14, but that’s OK,” Tammy says. “It’s been such a blessing to have everyone together.”