Grower of the Month - January 2013

Steve Morrison Farm in Bradley County, Tennessee
Grower of the month

Spotlight on Steve Morrison Farm in Bradley County, Tennessee

Pam and Steve Morrison of Steve Morrison Farm in Bradley County, Tennessee, out of Pilgrim's Chattanooga Complex, are our January 2013 Growers of the Month. The Morrisons were nominated for their steadfast work ethic, attention to detail and selfless community spirit.

"If I had to pin down Steve's key to success, it is attention to detail. He is very, very consistent, he's one of our best managers. Steve has a strong work ethic, he's in the chicken houses when he's supposed to be and when he needs to be. He's very aware of what it takes to do a good job," says Mike Beekman, Pilgrim’s Service Tech. "I would say the same things about Pam. She does a good job running the farm in Steve's absence."

The Hawkins Farm has been in the family since 1872. The farm has since been split between various Hawkins family members who still live on and work the land. Pam and Steve Morrison purchased their 70 acres from Pam's grandparents, Harold and Alethia Hawkins in 1975, and they built their first chicken house in 1976.

A Family Tradition

Pam Morrison grew up around chicken farms. Pam's parents, Frank and Nellie Hawkins, own the other 50 acres of the original farm, on which they built chicken houses in 1972. Prior to that, her parents worked on other people's chicken farms. The poultry business has always been Pam's life.

"I've always been around chicken houses and I helped when I was a kid. I've always lived on the farm and when we married that's what Steve wanted to do, he thought it was wonderful to live on a farm; he didn't grow up on a farm," remembers Pam Morrison.

The Morrisons now have two chicken houses, each 40x400 feet. They built the second house in 1979 and have continued to upgrade as new technology and regulations have changed poultry farming. They grow six flocks of broiler chickens with approximately 23,500 chickens per year in each house. That's over 282,000 birds per year that the Morrisons contribute to America's food supply. The Morrisons also run 37 head of cattle, put up hay for their livestock, and have six horses to entertain the grandkids.

Deep Farming Roots

Pam Hawkins and Steve Morrison grew up attending the same schools and married in the early 1970s. They raised two children, Sherry and Shane, on the farm. Their children's families now live on either side of the Morrison farm. Steve was away from home, driving a truck for many years, while Pam and the children ran the poultry farm.

"My husband worked and I was home. I was a stay-at-home mom and we always farmed," remembers Pam. "Steve was always here to do all the hard parts though, like bringing a flock in. We were always on the phone, he knew what was happening on the farm the whole time."

Having retired three years ago, Steve is now the primary poultry farmer, though they all still work together. He goes out to the chicken houses multiple times a day to ensure his flock is well. Even when he's in his house, he regularly monitors the computer to see how the chickens are doing.

The Family that Farms Together Stays Together

Where once Sherry and Shane learned the craft of farming at their mother's side, the grandchildren, Blake (14), Langlee (10) and Eli (8) are now apprentices to their grandfather, Steve.

"The children are always around here on the farm with us," says Pam. "We have horses and cattle, and Blake and Langlee have goats right next to us. They're here daily, they help when we get the chickens, they help put out feeder lids and help us feed. Any jobs that need to be done, they will help."

The Morrisons believe that farm life teaches children valuable lessons.

"To me, you learn about life, you know, life cycles, and the nature of being born, living and dying. And on the farm you're part of nature and you learn to work with it, not against it. You get to teach your kids your values and your morals. You're working together all the time. You just appreciate your time with them." says Pam Morrison. "I remember my son, when he was in junior high saying, 'I can't imagine what people do who don't have this farm life,' he liked it then and appreciated it even as a child."

Learning the Business

One of the primary challenges of their poultry farm was to pay off their houses. A house, when they built them in the 1970s cost about $50,000.

"That's a laughable amount of money now, but back then it was a lot of money," remembers Pam Morrison. "That was hard. With the second house, we worked very hard and had it paid for in five years, and we really sacrificed to get it paid for. Every time we'd upgrade, that was thousands of dollars too."

Other challenges have been largely eliminated by updated technology. For instance, they used to work hard to keep the chickens cool in the summer time with only windows and fans in the Tennessee heat. There was a lot of guesswork involved in creating the prime atmosphere for the chickens, which enabled them to grow well and allowed them to fetch a good market price. Since then the Morrisons have installed a cooling system and the chicken houses are computerized, allowing them to meticulously and efficiently control air quality, temperature and lighting conditions.

Work and Love

Still, the Morrisons are profoundly grateful for the opportunities and lifestyle poultry farming has given them.

"Chicken farming is very dear to my heart," says Pam, emotionally. "I was raised here and this is how I raised my kids and it was very important. Because of the farm and the chickens I was able to stay home and be a full time mom and we all loved it."

Farming can be character building, which is something that Beekman has come to admire in the Morrisons.

"Steve is always there to help out his neighbors, if anybody needs help he's the guy they call and he's the guy that always shows up," notes Beekman. "The biggest thing about the Morrisons is the type of people they are. Steve always put others first, without a doubt. He is a great ambassador for chicken growers."

Now that he's retired from trucking, Steve is finally living his dream.

"Every day he'll say, 'this is what I've always wanted to do - stay home and be a farmer.' We just feel very blessed by God that we get to be chicken farmers," says Pam.

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