Spotlight on Hopkins Farm in Mt. Hope, Alabama
Donnie and Patricia Hopkins of Hopkins Farm in Mt. Hope, Alabama, are examples of steadfast dedication and outstanding performance as chicken growers for 42 years.
Though the Hopkins didn't mention it, Britt Nickens, service tech for the Russellville, Alabama, complex, says the Hopkins are particularly deserving of growers of the week, month and year, because in the midst of tragedy, they still took the utmost care of their chickens and won the award for Grower of the Week in their division. Eighteen to twenty growers compete against each other to produce the best chicken for the lowest cost to earn Grower of the Week.
The Hopkins' granddaughter, only 15, recently sustained severe head injuries in a devastating car accident. The Hopkins, though they were commuting back and forth to visit their granddaughter and her family daily, also made it a priority to nurture the chickens on their farm.
"Donnie was scheduled to get chickens on the Monday after the accident," recalls Nickens. "He said, 'If it's going to be an inconvenience, we'll take the chickens.' I told him, 'Don't worry about the chickens, we'll do something with the chickens.' Then he earned the Grower of the Week award with this flock he had, while he didn't know if his granddaughter was going to live from one day to the other. I think that's very admirable."
Service tech Mike Noe, pictured with the Hopkins above, stepped in and gave the farm a lot of attention so that Donnie and Patricia could be at their daughter's side without having to worry about the chickens at the same time.
"The accident has been financially devastating, the medical bills astronomical, destroying the family's finances," Nickens continued. "The whole community has jumped in with several cookout fundraisers. Scott Varner, General Manager of Pilgrim's Russellville, Alabama, division, phoned me because he was concerned about the Hopkins, and donated meat for one of the fundraising cookouts. Everybody jumped in and nominated Donnie for Grower of the Year."
Doing the Rightsizing Thing
Hopkins Farm sits on 82 acres, with another 20 acres of timberland. The Hopkins, once growers with five houses, are down to three. They built their first house in 1970 and grew from there. In each house the Hopkins produce 12,800 to 16,800 chickens per flock.
"If I could turn back time and had things to do over, I always wanted six chicken houses," says Patricia. "But things were changing and we felt like it was time to stop."
When ConAgra (which Pilgrim's acquired in 2003) expected their growers to update their chicken houses with cool cells, they upgraded only two because they were both in their 60s. They updated again when Pilgrim's made the transition to computerized chicken houses.
Carrying on the Family Legacy
Truly a family farm, Donnie Hopkins, is the forth generation of Hopkins to work the land there. His great-grandparents bought the place and the family has passed it down from one generation to the next. Hopkins was raised on the farm.
Donnie previously worked full-time for General Motors in Decatur for 31 years, retiring six years ago. For more than 39 years, Patricia worked the chicken houses full-time. Three years ago she took an opportunity to work as a recreation coordinator in a senior living facility, in addition to her chicken grower responsibilities. Donnie began to work the farm more after his retirement, which gave Patricia a chance to work more outside the farm.
"I really enjoy this type of work. Chickens don't talk back to you, they don't tell you what you should have done the day before and what you're not doing right today. I just enjoy watching them grow from babies to fryers," says Patricia. "I always find one or two that are different in color and show them to the grandchildren. My mother and daddy had chicken houses when I was a very young girl."
The longevity and experience of the Hopkins played into their winning the grower of the month award.
Doing Whatever it Takes
"I couldn't think of anyone more deserving, and not just because of their granddaughter," Nickens said. "They've been growing chickens for many years and have always done a superb job. Whatever has to be done for chickens to be taken care of gets done. In the age we live in today, that doesn't happen a lot. They're just super people, super chicken growers. I've known them for over twenty-five years and they are just good Christian people."
Donnie Hopkins says he can't complain about the four decades his family has spent growing chickens.
"It has helped us out over the years; it's a good way to stay at home and make some money," says Donnie Hopkins. "We've seen the good and the bad average out and it's been good to us. We've worked with a lot of good people in the chicken business and we've made some money off of it.