Spotlight on Little Flower Enterprises in Marthaville, LA
Stephen Lirette, of Little Flower Enterprises, in Marthaville, Louisiana, lives on the 300-acre farm with his wife Elizabeth, and their seven children, five sons and two daughters. His father and mother, Gary and Louise Lirette, who actually own and started Little Flower Enterprises 16 years ago, also live on the farm about a half a mile down the road.
The farm, which produces 2.8 million chickens annually, is a broiler farm, meaning it focuses on growing smaller chickens for the fast food industry, catering its product to the needs of companies like KFC and Popeye's.
Lirette hasn't always been a farmer, though that has always been his ambition. He started his career as a service technician for Pilgrim's.
"I realized if I was ever going to raise a large family and stay around my kids, I would have to do something differently. So, I helped my dad build the first six chicken houses and when we built the last six houses, five years later, I quit my job and took over the farm," says Lirette. "I think the farming life is a fantastic way to raise kids. They get to see something being produced and it's beneficial to them to see work being done."
Big Family, Big Farm
The family attends Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in nearby Natchitoches. Elizabeth homeschools her school-aged children. Only this year, the family sent the two oldest children to St. Mary's High School.
Little Flowers Enterprises is, by every definition, a family farm. When the children are not being formally educated by their mother, they are doing as much as they can on the farm, getting hands-on learning experiences. The family employs one older gentleman to help, but the vast majority of the work is performed by Stephen, Elizabeth and the children.
Not only do the Lirette children help with the poultry farming, they also have a summer job - growing, marketing and selling purple hull peas.
"We raise about three acres of purple hull peas in the summertime. They pick and sell them as their summertime job. They learn the marketing of purple hull peas, which is a great economics lesson for them every summer. We sell about 100 bushels every summer. They make about $2,000 at $20 a bushel," says Lirette, proudly. "They always have something they want to buy and they save up their money and wait until they have enough to get it."
Lirette grew up in South Louisiana where land is at a premium because most of it is swamp land. When he was in high school, his father, Gary, made the leap to move to North Louisiana because the land was more usable and more affordable.
Stephen's goal was always to be a farmer. He attended Louisiana State University where he majored in Agriculture. Gary bought the farm in Marthaville and Stephen bought a little place right next to it. Stephen went to work for Pilgrim's until he was ready to work the farm.
The Lirettes do farm hay in their pastures. They used to run cattle, but Lirette felt it was taking away from his poultry operation and he wanted all the emphasis on his chickens.
Gary Lirette is a Certified Master Farmer through the State of Louisiana, which means the farm has environmental standards that it meets in terms of a nutrient management plan and best management practices they follow. When they built the farm, they also took measures to fix erosion issues and prevent future erosion issues.
Brad Morgan, broiler manager of Pilgrim's Natchitoches Complex, says the Lirettes are one of his better growers. "I think it's probably his thirst for knowledge and attention to detail that sets him apart. He's constantly looking for better ways to manage his environment and his birds' environment. He constantly reads everything he can get his hands on and experiments with different things to find the best environment and the most consistent ways to provide for his birds and be smarter about what he's doing."
Some examples of this, Morgan reports, are water runoff monitoring stations on the farm. He has LSU groups monitoring water runoff on the farm and bringing information back to him.
Morgan also speaks to the Lirette family's character saying, "They're great folks. Their intelligence and honesty comes to mind."
Lirette is adamant about the health and quality of the chickens he produces.
"I believe that as farmers, we have a vested interest in how we raise our chickens. The healthier the chicken, the better they produce and the more money we make. So the health of our chickens goes hand-in-hand with our profits," says Lirette.
Preserving the Farming Life
Another thing that goes hand-in-hand, is Lirette and the farm life.
"I think that not enough people get to partake in farming anymore, it's a thing of the past and it's a shame. More kids should be raised on farms," says Lirette. "I love farming. I love the farming life. Getting chicken houses was one of the best things that's ever happened to me, other than my wife and 7 kids."