Neighbors: Chris and Angie Thomas

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 24, 2000

named Top Young Poultry Farmers


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Nov. 23, 2000 10 PM

Billboards all across the country show a couple of wishful looking cows holding signs that read "Eat More Chicken!"

Those cows may be Chris and Angie Thomas’ best four-legged friends.

Had it not been for Thomas’ decision in 1994 to diversify his farming operation to include four poultry houses, the drought of 2000 could have made it very difficult for him and his family to stay on the farm.

However, because of the great demand for chicken, there was a great opportunity for farmers to get into the poultry business. The Thomases realized the steady income from poultry houses would provide a supplement to their row crop and cattle operations.

In the year 2000, the decision to diversity their farming operation proved to be a sound one. Their poultry operation provided a safety net for them during the worst drought to hit South Alabama in 40 years.

"The dry weather this year really hurt us," Thomas said. "Our cotton was fair. We had a rough stand of peanuts and our corn crop was a complete loss. We only cut about 15 acres out of 100 acres of hay and we probably got about half the normal yield on that. It was a tough year."

But while the dry weather was playing havoc in the fields, it was business as usual in the Thomases’ six broiler houses and Thomas said he realized how much he really appreciated the poultry business.

"The chicken business has made it possible for us to stay here on the farm," he said. "That’s where Angie and I want to be. The farm is where we want to raise our family. We both believe children learn more family values on the farm. The farm is the kind of environment that we want our children to grow up in and the kind of place where we are happiest."

Chris and Angie grew up in the small town of Goshen and they both love quiet country living. Because of their dedication to farming and their love and commitment to it, in good times and in hard times, Chris, Angie and their 2-year-old son, Trent, were recently named the 2000 Outstanding Young Farm Family in the poultry division by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

The Thomases are an outstanding young farm family, period.

In addition to their poultry operation, they have 245 acres of peanuts, 170 acres of cotton, 20 acres of corn, 100 acres of hay and 175 brood cows.

Thomas said he and his family were very honored to have been named the Outstanding Young Farm Family in the poultry division.

"We appreciate being recognized," he said, "and, we are also very appreciative of the Farmers Federation and the Young Farmers program. It’s good to know that somebody is out there looking out for us and encouraging young farmers. It does get tough at times."

Because farming is a "tough" business, Thomas said it’s not a good idea for a farmer to put all his eggs in one basket. By diversifying, if one operation goes flat, there will be another to keep the wheels from coming off.

"Getting into the poultry business has been good business for us and we do what we feel is necessary to keep it that way," Thomas said. "The poultry business changes so fast and you have to be willing to keep re-investing to stay in it."

Thomas said his new poultry houses are fully automatic.

"They cost more but the savings are in time," he said. "There will be new and better ways of operating the houses in the future and we will make the investments to keep our houses up to date and productive."

Thomas said he and his wife are committed to being good stewards of the land and they have implemented better ways of disposing of dead birds in order to protect the environment.

"At first, we buried the dead birds in pits," he said. "When we became more aware of the effects burial had on the environment, we changed to composting. That worked well for a while because composting allowed us to recycle the birds back into fertilizer, which we used on our peanuts, cotton and hay."

But, when the Thomases expanded their poultry operation from four to six houses, the compost system wasn’t large enough to handle the additional load, so they contracted with a company which provides an on-site freezer in which to store the dead birds.

"When the freezer is full, the company picks up the birds and uses a sophisticated composting method to recycle the birds into a milled feed product," Thomas said.

Chris and Angie Thomas can’t imagine themselves anywhere except on the farm so, they, like the wishful cows, are hopeful that people will continue to "eat more chicken."

"With the way things are going, the future of row crop farming in Pike County doesn’t look that bright," Thomas said. "It’s disappointing to see farmland go out of production, but I know it’s an economic decision for many. Row crops have a hard time making it around here. Chicken houses have made it possible for a lot of families to stay on the farm. Chickens are our future on the farm and that’s the future we want for our family."