What is the "right stuff" for poultry growing? The personal attributes of the people who made America’s early space program a success were chronicled in Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel, “The Right Stuff.” The men who went into space had it, and so did the women and the family members who stayed on the ground. Those heroes were characterized by their willingness to do what was required, regardless of the difficulty, and not shrink from their task. Nobody pays much attention, however, when those qualities are lived out every day in less spectacular ways by ordinary people in thousands of workplaces and homes, including on the nation’s poultry farms.

My interview with Phillip and Nancy Garrison for WATT PoultryUSA's February cover story caused me to think about the right stuff for poultry growing. They shared stories of emergencies in the night with broiler flocks, unexpected changes in what was required from them as growers – and yes ... flocks that would not grow well no matter the quality of the grow-out care. But they answer those challenges and keep succeeding.

Why is this? Are some people born exceptional poultry growers? Are they trained to know what to do and how to do it? Do they inherit traits from their parents that make them successful? Is it based on instinct? Or is their secret in their ability to overcome circumstances even when things are not in their favor? There are probably as many answers as there are successful growers.

Love for growing chickens  

A nurturing attitude and love for growing things can be important. Nancy has a photo of herself at age five in her parents’ chicken house. She is holding a chick in each hand, and obviously loving it. Nancy remembers helping care for flocks starting at age five, helping to assemble feeder lids and distribute feed.

Nancy’s father passed away in 1980, but by that time she and her mother, who passed away earlier this year, were already growing chickens together.

“Mother received the ‘grower of the year’ award in 1976-77. Mother and I were working together to grow chickens at that point. Mother was really more the poultry grower than my dad. Dad helped with everything, but mother had that motherly instinct. You just have to know how to take care of the baby chicks.”

Farming responsibilities  

Phillip shouldered responsibilities at an early age on his parents’ farm where cattle and hogs were raised and crops included beans, tomatoes, corn and melons.

“Our family started working at break of day, and we quit at sundown six days a week,” Phillip said.
At an age when Phillip’s legs were still too short to reach the tractor’s clutch pedal, Phillip’s father fashioned an extension to the pedal that allowed Phillip to operate the tractor. This allowed Phillip to drive the tractor in the field while older family members pulled corn to be loaded on the trailing wagon.

“I would sit on the tractor seat, and my father would tell me to stop and I would push the clutch. I vividly remember crying when the tractor got near the ends of the rows where there were embankments. Years later, my mother would say to me, ‘I wish you wouldn’t drive the tractor so close to the banks.’”

Today, Phillip is the assistant plant manager at a local feed milling company, but there’s always work to be done on the poultry farm when he arrives home. This can range from simply checking on flocks to emergency equipment repairs. As any grower can tell you, there’s no predicting what may need to be done next and no excuses for delay.

The right stuff  

Are courage, determination, and sometimes even heroism, required for successful poultry growing? I think so. All this may go unnoticed, but it is there to be seen on poultry farms across the country if we look.

What is the right stuff for poultry growing? I don’t think anybody knows exactly, but the Garrisons have it.