Hickman’s Egg Ranch got started in 1944. My grandmother had a few chickens on her back porch, and when my parents got married in 1957, my grandmother was up to 500 chickens. My mother joined her in the enterprise with 500 baby chicks of her own, and the two women built it from there. We got to about 200,000 chickens by 1980, and we have just been consistently growing since then.
An average day in the life of a chicken begins when the lights come on about five o’clock. Chickens recognize that as daybreak and that starts that whole cycle of getting up, getting something to drink, getting something to eat, and hopefully you laid an egg that day and that continues on throughout the day until about eight o’clock at night when the sun goes off. So most of our activities are set around the chickens.
We have people there when the lights come, on we have people there when the lights go off. One thing that we’ve been is an early adopter of automation. We have miles and miles and miles of conveyor belts that move feed, or move manure, or move eggs — those kinds of things. And we control all that centrally with computers and such so we’re able to do with less people more work, and that’s what it’s always about — driving efficiency.
We have a fleet of about 30 robots. We now build those robots ourselves and program them and that kind of thing, so I think that now what we really feel at our edges is our ability to adapt automation and make it work for us.
You know, I think agriculture and those of us involved in it can be proud of what we do every day. We feed people, we clothe people, and you know to the largest extent we invented the word “sustainability.” A farm today is more productive than it was a hundred years ago, even under the same family stewardship, so when you look at what we’re able to do with our resources and in terms of generating productivity — whether it’s food or fiber off the ground — I think that’s a very admirable trait that everyone in agriculture shares.
in agriculture, you’re surrounded by other like-minded people that kind of put their goals and their desires above their own personal agendas. So, it’s easy to be involved in an industry like that when everybody is trying to achieve a greater goal than just what they might accrue to themselves, and what might accrue to their generation. In agriculture, we have a horizon that we kind of think as is perpetuity, so it’s never about what you’re doing today for today’s game.