When Jim Parker retired from the Pine Bluff Police Department in 1985 after 24 years in law enforcement, he decided he wanted a break from the public and chose to go into farming with his wife, Judy Parker.
Since he lived in Southeast Arkansas, one would assume he chose rice or corn to grow, but Parker, who bought the farm in 1984, began raising chickens. Since then, her daughter and son-in-law Stefan and Lynn Draper of S&L Farms have successfully taken the reins, and they were named the 2021 Jefferson County Farm Family of the Year.
“It’s an honor to be chosen,” Stefan said. “Jefferson County never chose a chicken farm. It made me feel truly blessed. Poultry is Arkansas’ largest agricultural product, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. The state is second in the country for the total number of pounds of broiler meat produced, producing more than 5.7 billion pounds with more than 2,400 broiler farms.
S&L Farms is owned and operated by Stefan and Lynn at their Sheridan address near Ashley Road in Jefferson County. The Draper family raises chickens for Tyson Foods and has approximately 50 cows that are raised and sold.
“When I retired from the chicken business, I asked my daughter and son-in-law if they wanted to get into the chicken business,” said Jim, who started the poultry contract with Tyson. Foods and who now lives in Arkansas County with his wife. “They both worked at Mid-America Packaging.” After 15 years in the company, Stefan decided to take over the family business in 2000.
He added two townhouses to the four already on the farm and purchased additional acreage, expanding the farm for future productivity.
“When we bought this farm, it was 60 acres. Then we bought the land behind us, another 60 acres, and then we bought 200 acres at the end of the road for the cows, ”said Stefan, who said cows went hand in hand with raising chickens at because of the fertilizer.
“The opportunity arose and I worked about three years before Lynn left Mid-America after 13 years,” Stefan said. “To do it financially, we built two more houses, and that way it would support our family. The Drapers, who have been married for 26 years, had twins, Baxter and Brent, and believed they could make a living just producing poultry for Tyson Foods, the world’s largest poultry production company, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. .
“They [Jim and Judy] were there and were making a good living, ”Stefan said. “They raised four children raising chickens.” The Drapers have a contract with Tyson to provide five “magnifications” per year. Each magnification varies from 60,000 to 130,000 chicks over 56 days.
“We produce 7.5 to 8 pound birds, and Tyson pays us $ 6.25 a pound,” Stefan said. “Tyson brings us their food and the chicks and we provide the water, utilities, labor and the place to keep them. [Tyson] comes and catches them, and that’s the chicken that everyone is eating. The grow-out farms rear the newly hatched chicks at market weight. As a contract producer, the farmer provides the barns, water, bedding, electricity and management while the company provides the chicks, feed and pharmaceuticals needed.
While the process seems straightforward enough, Stefan said technology has changed the way chicken farms operated from when his stepfather was in charge.
“We used to have conventional houses where you lower the curtains,” he said. “About eight years ago, Tyson decided they all had to be tunnels, solid walls, vents, computers, and different forms of environment.” The drinkers have been replaced with water nipples for the chicks, and the ceiling foggers are no longer there as townhouses now consist of cold cells that allow Stefan to control temperatures from a distance.
Stefan said the changes have improved conditions, resulting in fewer chickens lost to the heat. He also said that wind speed inspections are carried out regularly.
Higher wind speeds dissipate more heat from the birds, resulting in better feed conversion, faster growth rate and lower mortality, according to the National Poultry Technology Center.
The State Farm Bureau said in a statement that poultry farming is all about animal husbandry.
In 1925, it took 112 days to grow a 2.5-pound chicken and the death rate was 18%.
Today, it takes an average of 47 days to grow a 6.12 pound chicken and the death rate is 3.9%.
The Drapers have about two weeks between each growth, but that downtime doesn’t count as a hobby for the couple.
“Between herds, you have to manage your litter and prepare for your next herd,” Stefan said.
The couple have only taken a vacation once in their 21 years of work, and Jim said most poultry farmers are reluctant to do so because it puts them in hardship.
“If the chickens are small and the weather is nice, we can go to town, but we’re home every night to watch them,” said Stefan, who added that he and his wife might have a day or so. two for themselves when there are no chicks on the farm.
“We love to kayak when we have the chance,” said Lynn. “We can’t get too far away, but at least that’s something we can do. Lynn also enjoys reading and gardening, but she is very proud of her pet pig Hamilton, which she has raised since he was a piglet.
“My dad always raised pigs when I was younger, and of course they went to the slaughterhouse,” she said. “I was determined to have a pet pig that wouldn’t go to the slaughterhouse.” Even though Lynn grew up on a farm, she never thought she would raise chickens.
“It wasn’t my plan, and I’m sure my dad never thought I would be here,” said Lynn, who added her dad almost invested in an alligator farm instead of poultry. – a path not taken for which she is grateful. “I work with Stefan every day. I am in the henhouses with him. For now, it’s just the two of them, but just as the reins have been passed down from generation to generation, the Drapers are hoping that at least one of their sons will be the next to continue the family tradition.
The two sons are married and each has a baby boy.
“We talked with one of our sons about coming back here from Benton Town and potentially running the two farms down the road,” Lynn said. “It’s still in talks, but that would be nice.”
Until then, the Drapers say they will remain dedicated to the family business and connecting and associating with a respected brand that will continue to be a rewarding opportunity for generations to come.
Lynn Draper says that one day she hopes businesses are passed on to her children and their families as she admires their photos inside her home. (Pine Bluff Commercial / Eplunus Colvin)
S&L Farms, owned and operated by Stefan and Lynn Draper, raises chickens for Tyson Foods, raises and sells cattle. (Commercial Special)
Stefan Draper works on the farm during a winter storm in February. (Commercial Special)
Lynn Draper gives her dad Jim Parker a flash and says if it weren’t for him, she and Stefan wouldn’t be where they are today as a county farm family. Jefferson. (Pine Bluff Commercial / Eplunus Colvin)