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Bucket of Success

Bucket of Success
February 7, 2005 |

Marshall County poultry growers Dwight and Glenda Williams have computerized controllers to regulate temperature, air flow, humidity and the amount of feed and water their chickens receive. The poultry houses even phone Dwight when something goes wrong. But despite all of the modern technology, Dwight said his most valuable management tool is a 5-gallon bucket.”One thing I do, and it works for me, is to take a 5-gallon bucket and sit down and watch the chickens,” he said. “They will tell you by their actions whether they’re too cool or too hot. I work with a lot of young growers, and one of the first things I tell them is they have to learn to recognize the habits of their chickens.”That attention to detail is one reason the Williamses recently were named Gold Kist 2004 Producers of the Year. The Boaz, Ala., growers were selected for the national award from a field of nine finalists representing Gold Kist’s more than 2,300 producers. The criteria for the award included performance, community involvement, environmental stewardship and support of Gold Kist programs.Dwight admits he’s received a lot of good-hearted kidding about his 5-gallon-bucket philosophy, but he’s seen how growers can improve their productivity by simply “listening” to their chickens.”I was working with one young grower. When we walked in his houses I asked him, ‘What do you see?’ There were (empty) patches in the house, and in other areas the chickens were huddling up because they were too cool,” Dwight said. “We upped the set point (temperature) 2 degrees, and we both sat down on 5-gallon buckets. Within 15 minutes, the chickens were up, moving around and eating.”For Dwight, this hands-on management style has paid dividends because companies like Gold Kist pay growers based on how productive and efficient they are when compared to other producers.According to Gold Kist, the Williamses were the top growers in their area for three of the past five growouts. For the past three years, Dwight has received .38 cents more per pound than the base pay for Gold Kist growers who produce large, 7 to 7.5 pound, chickens.”Dwight Williams is extremely professional,” Gold Kist Northeast Alabama Division Manager Wendell Shelton said. “He treats his operation like the business it is and is always looking for ways to improve his production and the profitability of his operation. Dwight is a strong family man and an outstanding member of the community. I am proud to be associated with him and proud to have him as part of our team.”As the Gold Kist Producers of the Year, the Williamses received a $1,000 cash award, a farm sign and a glass sculpture created especially for this recognition by Hans-Godo Frabel of Atlanta.Dwight said he’s honored to have been chosen for the award, but added that being able to work and live on the farm is reward enough.Although he’s always farmed on a part-time basis, Dwight didn’t start raising chickens until after retiring from a career in vocational education. A former agriscience teacher, Dwight taught in Winfield, Ala., and at three different schools in Marshall County before being tapped to direct the vocational programs for that county. He later helped develop a youth apprenticeship program for the Alabama Center for Quality and Productivity, which became a model for similar programs throughout the nation. The success of that program led to other job offers, but Dwight opted to stay on the farm.Today, the Williamses have four 40-foot by 500-foot broiler houses, which produce more than 500,000 chickens a year. They also have a 142-cow registered Limousin beef cattle herd and 62 commercial beef cows. Dwight and son Kevin run the beef operation together and have 65 acres of corn and soybeans, which they use in their cattle feed. The 450-acre farm produces about 1,500 round bales of hay per year, of which the Williamses sell about 500 bales.Kevin, who is an agriscience teacher at Douglas High School, said he can’t think of anyone more deserving of an award than his parents. “They are worthy of it. Every time I see him (Dad), I ask him how the chickens are doing, and he’s usually complaining about how something could be better. But I don’t pay any attention to him anymore because I know when the settlement sheet comes, he’ll be on top,” Kevin said.Glenda, who works at Paragon Picture Gallery, keeps computerized records for the poultry business and the beef cattle operation. She also “pinch hits” on the farm, but helps out mostly when it’s time to get the houses ready for a new batch of chickens. “I’ve asked him just to write down what he does every day because, if something happened to him, I wouldn’t have a ghost of an idea what to do,” Glenda said.Dwight said that’s almost impossible because every day is different. He is, however, teaching Glenda and other members of the family the secrets of his 5-gallon-bucket system. Besides Kevin, the Williamses have three daughters, Evelyn, Sherry and Genna, and seven grandchildren. The grandkids already are helping in the poultry houses.”I tell people that, if it wasn’t for having to use electric drills and other equipment, my grandkids could set up the houses without me,” Dwight said. “I just have to take them to McDonald’s when we are finished.”The Williamses operate their farm based on an environmental plan developed with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They compost dead chickens and apply litter to their pastures and fields based on soil tests. The Williamses also have hosted FFA competitions and agriculture classes from nearby Snead State Community College.The poultry houses, however, are Dwight’s main job. He spends about four hours a day in the houses when the chickens are first delivered. By the time the birds are picked up–about 60 days later–he’s spending eight to 12 hours a day in the poultry houses.The dedicated grower also put in long hours last fall when a power surge related to Hurricane Ivan forced him to replace the electronic controllers in the poultry houses. Dwight said he stayed up until about 1 a.m. making sure all the equipment was set just right.Although the computerized equipment he uses would allow Dwight to program the entire growing cycle at one time, he’s constantly tweaking the temperature, air flow and humidity based on his bucket-top observations. He also has kept his 10-year-old houses up to date by putting in new equipment before it was required by Gold Kist. In addition, he’s installed ceiling baffles–which he designed–to equalize the air flow in his houses.Dwight said he has to keep finding new ways to be more efficient because production costs keep going up. This year, the price of natural gas has been particularly high. Dwight expects to spend $10,000 on gas for just one growout this winter. That’s about what he spent for the whole year in 2000. For Dwight, the increased costs just mean he’ll have to spend more time “listening” to his chickens and working on the details.”All growers do the big things. It’s fine tuning those things that makes the difference in how successful you are when you receive your settlement sheet,” Dwight said. “It’s the little things that determine whether you are a success. The one that pays attention to the little things is going to be on top.”

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