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Spotlight on Oliver and Childress Farm in Paducah, Kentucky

Oliver and Childress Farm is recognized for their exceptional production numbers and performance.

“Carrel Childress and his son-in-law, James Oliver, were nominated for their outstanding performance,” says Brad Shelton, Pilgrim’s service tech for the Ballard County Region. “Carrel grew chickens for us for 15 years, then he leased his farm out for five years. Now he is growing for us again and has picked up where he left off. They were our top grower in 2011 with a low formula cost, a great conversion rate and high livability.”

It’s All in the Details

Oliver and Childress is a 156-acre farm on New Hope Road in Paducah, Kentucky, which produces seven flocks of broilers per year. Each flock ranges between 28,500 and 31,000 chickens. Broilers are the chickens farmers raise for consumption in the marketplace. Each flock is raised for approximately 34 days, into maturity, until they weigh about four pounds each. Broiler farmers monitor the feed lines, water lines, temperature and lighting to provide the optimal environment for the healthiest, happiest chickens.

“The first thing you have to do is get your house ready,” says Carrel Childress, owner. “We heat the house to 100 degrees 48 hours before the chickens are delivered. The morning they arrive we go through and make sure the nipples on the waterlines are wet so they can drink. We always check on them pretty early in the morning. As I’ve told everybody for years, I’m here so I check on them pretty often and adjust whatever they need. If the temperature drops, I adjust the thermostat. If it rises, I adjust it.”

“They do an outstanding job in everything,” says Shelton. “I think Carrel’s getting a little older, but even when he’s leasing the chicken houses out, he’s there every hour of every day. He’s been raising chickens 21 or 22 years and as long as I can remember he’s been in our top five growers every year.”

Though he’s one of the nicest guys he’s ever met, Shelton says Childress can get pretty competitive about farming. Because the broiler growers are in competition with each other to produce the best chickens — determined by how much feed it takes to grow the largest, healthiest chickens — Childress has a monetary incentive to stay on top. But even if he makes more money than other chicken growers by taking second or third place in the weekly contest, Shelton has seen him get pretty upset. “He likes to be number one,” says Shelton.

Also All in the Family

Oliver and Childress is truly a family farm, now in its third generation. Carrel’s parents, Hubbert and Hazel Childress, bought 108 acres, where the two chicken houses currently sit, around the Christmas of 1950. Carrel and his wife, Phyllis, bought the farm from Hubbert and Hazel in 1972. Carrel and Phyllis had already purchased a nearby 48-acre farm in 1962, where they ran a herd of cattle, and the purchase expanded the farm to its current size of 156 acres.

“I just always loved to follow my daddy and he was milking cows when I was born. They had a herd and he was milking by hand. We separated the cream and sold cream and fed the skim milk to the hogs. Later, Daddy finally bought a milking machine and then we added hay and corn. I got my State Farmer Degree in Agriculture in 1960 and graduated from the Future Farmers of America in high school. When I got out of school, jobs weren’t real plentiful. I looked at going to into public work and applied for some jobs. I guess all the time I felt like I really wanted to farm, so I just continued to farm,” remembers Childress.

The Childress couple had two girls 16 years apart, Renza and Ronza. Renza married and raised two boys on a couple of acres on one corner of the farm. Her boys followed Carrel around the farm as they grew up, often working side-by-side bailing hay and taking care of the chickens.

“The oldest daughter did anything a man could do on the farm,” says Childress proudly. “She drove combines and milked cows; there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. In later years, she married and we had two grandkids and one of them just turned 25 and the other just turned 23. I got to more or less raise them and give them a couple of acres on the corner of the farm. Those little boys would head to the shop to be with me. They rode in the tractor cabs, they bailed hay and did just like their nanny did.”

The Legacy Continues

Ronza married James Oliver (of Oliver and Childress) in 2008; James had been helping on the farm since 2004. Oliver officially began leasing the chicken houses last year. The Olivers also own a 45-acre farm up the road where they grow field crops and run cattle. Ronza is a field tech for Pilgrim’s and Oliver is an electrician with the local union on the side.

“I loved it all. I was raised up in it. Both of my grandfathers, they farmed. I’ve been in it from day one and I just can’t really imagine having to go to work staying in one place and doing the same thing in the same way every day. I don’t know if I could handle it or not. We’re diversified and did a lot of things and that just suited me,” Childress says of his lifelong love affair with farming.