Working Around the Clock--Chicken Farmer Joel Thompson

Working Around the Clock--Chicken Farmer Joel Thompson
Joel Thompson
Joel Thompson

You might work long hours, but you probably only work five days a week. We met a man whose work has him on the go seven days a week, before the sun comes up. Joel Thompson's job has him working all hours of the day and night. It's not for the faint of heart, but then again, this man is no chicken.

It's six in the morning. While many people are still in bed, Thompson is meeting with those who keep his business running every day: 20,000 chickens.

"You've got a lot of eyes looking over you and you do get to feeling like someone is looking over your shoulder all the time," he says.

Thompson has been waking up with the chickens for 13 years. His hens lay the eggs that will become the Claxton Poultry Company's chicken. Their morning starts with breakfast. Here, it really does pay to be the early bird: breakfast is the only meal of the day.

"If you don't get up early, you miss breakfast, lunch and dinner all at the same time," says Thompson.

He walks through each chicken house four or five times a day to inspect the birds. One group is 22 weeks old. They'll start laying eggs about a week to ten days after the roosters arrive at the farm. They'll lay eggs for nearly a year, producing a total of 6 million eggs. During that time, the workday for Thompson and the chickens will get longer.

"As these birds get into production, they're going to a 16 1/2 hour day, and it starts at 3:30 in the morning with feed time," Thompson explains.

By 9am, the farm has a special delivery from the Claxton Poultry Company: about 3,000 roosters. Many put up a fight as they're taken from the truck, but by 11am, most are making themselves at home in the chicken houses.

Joel Thompson's farm is actually one place that can answer an  age-old question:

"The chicken came first here," he says. "They came last Wednesday here. So the chicken came first, and we expect the egg in a week to ten days."

Thompson grew up on the very farm he runs. He used to work in the hydraulics business in Savannah, but after 2 1/2 years, he gave it up for his true love, farming.

Thompson says, "That was an eight-hour-a-day job, five days a week. This is ten, 12, 14 hours a day, seven days a week."

At 1pm, Thompson discovers some dead birds in one of the chicken houses. With thousands of birds, he says unfortunately you can expect a few sick or dead ones.

"You will have a normal mortality just like with anything else," he say. "You will have a few that are weaker than the others and some will get down."

It's one of farming's challenges. Disease, harsh weather, even wild animals can wipe out a flock. There's also egg production. Some chickens lay more eggs than others. Lighting and heat help, but every farmer has his own secret for adding eggs. Thompson's trick? Talking to the hens.

"I don't know whether they listen or not, but it maybe helps my feelings to go in there and give them a little pep talk," he says.

By 2pm, Thompson's father and a friend assemble the nesting area for a chicken house. Meanwhile, Thompson hooks up a sprayer truck to hose down another house. He continues working through the afternoon, and right into evening.

"We'll go back in there and check in there to check the temperature and see how the birds are and make sure everything is all right before the lights go out at eight o'clock," Thompson says.

Finally, it's time. The lights go out, and Joel and the chickens are done for the night. Another day has come to an end.

"Whenever you see the sun come up and the sun go down, you know it's been a pretty good day," Thompson says.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,