Outstanding Young Farm Family – Poultry
Poultry farmers who raise some of the best broilers in the country can probably trace their success to Daybreak Farms in rural Lauderdale County, even though they may have never met Prentiss Romine, his wife Jennifer or their two children.The Romines raise what some people might call super eggs that eventually will become broilers two generations later. Their success, which includes numerous awards for top egg production in both quality and quantity, is what earned them the title as this year’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in the poultry division.The Romines have two breeder hen houses located on their farm in northeast Lauderdale County. Their hens and roosters are grandparent stock for Aviagen Group, formerly Ross Breeders, which raises chicks for broiler operations in Talladega, Ala., Oklahoma, South Carolina and around the world.”The eggs our hens lay are picked up twice a week and taken to Elkmont to the distribution center,” said Prentiss, 35. “When those eggs are hatched, those chicks are sold to companies like ConAgra and Gold Kist or other companies to make their breeder stock. The eggs from those chicks will eventually become broilers.”Why all the steps to produce such superior breeding stock? Prentiss said it’s important to raise the best chicken for the intended consumer.”For example if you want a cow to produce a lot of milk, you’d pick a dairy cow like a Holstein,” he said. “But if a great tasting steak is what you’re after, you’d pick an Angus cow or some other type beef cow. With poultry it’s the same way. Chickens are bred for what the customer wants. Some customers want whole chickens and others want chickens with big breasts. It’s a matter of genetically improving the stock to produce what the customer wants.”The Romines usually get chicks that are 21 weeks old and on average, each hen will lay eggs for about nine months. When the egg production begins to drop, those hens are picked up and Aviagen Group officials begin the process of preparing for the next batch of chicks.Biosecurity is so strict at Daybreak Farms, a person might think they’ve walked into a hospital instead of a poultry operation.”As soon as the hens are picked up, Aviagen brings in a crew with pressure washers to thoroughly clean the houses,” Prentiss said. “The houses have a concrete floor, and the entire place, from top to bottom, is cleaned then disinfected.”But biosecurity doesn’t just exist prior to the arrival of a new flock, once the flock is in it continues with a vengeance. All the workers in the houses, including the Romines and the father and son team that are employed as helpers with the operation, must shower and put on specialized sanitary jumpsuits and boots before they enter the houses.The Romines have 30 acres on their farm so they knew the size of their operation would be limited. Prentiss said they opted to go for quality not quantity.”Most broiler operations have to have four houses to pay for itself,” Prentiss said. “We chose to build the breeder hen houses because the integrator will only allow you to have up to two houses because it’s so labor intensive.”The Romines built their first breeder house in 1994 and their second house in 1996. Although both Prentiss and Jennifer have farm backgrounds–his father was a farmer and her grandfather was a farmer–they are both proud of the fact that they built their farm on their own.”We didn’t have anyone give us a thing except for the two acres my parents gave us to build our house on,” said Jennifer, 36. “We bought the other 28 acres from my parents and have made it on our own.”The Romines rent 250 acres that contribute to a successful beef cattle ranch and custom hay operation. They have 114 head of brood cows that consist mostly of Angus-crossed cattle, and a small herd of registered Angus, which they hope to expand.Jennifer works as a management analyst at Redstone Arsenal, but she’s always willing to pitch in after work, on weekends and holidays. “Eggs have to be picked up every day,” she said. “But we all pitch in, and that’s what I like about living on a farm. We do a lot of things together.”Those “things” include raising and showing lambs and cattle. Their oldest son, Levi, 13, is an accomplished showman with his lambs, steers and heifers. And their youngest son, Lake, 6, already is giving the competition fits with his show lambs.”We’re a very close family,” Jennifer said. “We work together and play together, just like my family did when I was growing up. Living on a farm and caring for livestock teaches children values and responsibilities. I look around at the places we go with other families who show livestock and their families are the same way. Their children are well behaved and have a since of belonging that lots of children may never have.”The Romines say they’ve also made lasting friendships throughout the state thanks to the Young Farmers program.”It’s funny because when we’re driving to a lamb show or steer show, as we drive through a particular county we think about who we know that lives there and usually it’s someone we’ve met through the Farmers Federation,” Jennifer said. “It’s comforting to know that other young farmers are experiencing some of the same challenges that we are. We also share ideas and learn a lot from each other.”Prentiss serves on the Lauderdale County Farmers Federation board of directors and is chairman of the county’s Poultry Committee. He formerly served as chairman of the county Young Farmers committee and served four years on the state Young Farmers Committee, including a term as vice chairman. As for the future of their farming operation, the Romines said a limited amount of land available in their area will force them to continue to concentrate on quality, not quantity.