Spotlight on Dianna Self Farm in Kirby, Arkansas
Dianna Self Farm is a breeder operation in Kirby, Arkansas.
"Dianna Self is cooperative, very understanding and easy to get along with. She always has a great attitude," says Chris Connell, Pilgrim's service tech for the DeQueen Complex. "She does a really good job producing quality eggs for our hatcheries. Her production cost is low, she has high egg production, and her hatchability is excellent."
Pilgrim's looks at egg production and hatchability as the primary measures for evaluating a breeder farms performance. Production costs, as well as other factors, also come into play. Egg production is the number of eggs laid. Production costs are determined by how much money it costs to keep a breeder hen healthy and laying eggs, including the price of feed. Hatchability is determined by how many of the eggs hatch, once they are moved to the hatchery.
A Day in the Life of the Self Farm
Self starts her day at 4:15 am, walking through the houses, performing maintenance and ensuring the chickens are comfortable and healthy. Modern technology has reduced quite a bit of the collection labor, which used to be a tedious, time consuming job of going through the house hand-collecting eggs from the nests. They collect them and pack the eggs into plastic crates. The eggs are then shipped by Pilgrim's to a hatchery where they will be incubated and nurtured for three weeks until they hatch into broiler chicks.
Self gets the breeder hens at 21 weeks and it takes about 14 days for the hens to mature and start laying eggs. In one week, during peak production, Self will produce almost 150,000 eggs. The eggs are not intended for the breakfast table; rather, her eggs hatch into broiler chickens, intended for the dinner table.
Self has two 40x630-foot hen houses, updated in 2006, which produce over 20,000 eggs per day during peak production. Each house is home to 13,000 hens, plus she keeps an additional 1,000 roosters to fertilize the eggs. With her single annual flock, Self produces over 4 million eggs each year. The farm sits on 32 acres, and the family owns 92 additional acres adjacent to the farm "within four-wheeler driving distance." Self says she doesn't have horses or cows, because she doesn't want to raise "anything bigger than myself."
Self keeps her laying hens for approximately 45 weeks before they go to a processing plant and are used for various food products.
Growing into the Job
Self and her husband, Chris Self, bought the farm, which they had worked for many years, from his parents, Blake and Norma Kay Self, in 2005. At the time, Chris and Dianna were already living on the farm with Blake and Norma Kay.
"Growing up I was never, ever around a farm," says Self. "When my husband graduated high school, he decided he wanted to get into the poultry business, so his parents built the chicken houses. He later decided that that's not what he wanted to do. So back in 1992, when we got married, I started getting my feet wet on the farm, doing little things like the paperwork. It soon got to where I was pretty much taking care of the farm and making sure everything was running right."
Along the way, Self fell in love with being a poultry egg producer.
"I actually enjoy it, people have certain niches in life and I think this is my niche. The chickens are almost like your children in a way, you spend so many hours with them. It's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding in a lot of ways," says Self. "If somebody asked me 'what do you want to be?' I would have never said a farmer, it's just not what I thought I'd be. But, it's something that fell into my lap and I'm happy it did. People say everything happens for a reason, that ended up to be true for me, it's been really great for me and my family."
Feeding Chickens, a Family, and the World
Self's husband, Chris, worked at various jobs during his career, while Diana ran the farm. Ever since Chris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Dianna has been the primary breadwinner for her family. Chris now helps on the farm as much as he can. The Self’s have two sons who also have grown up on the farm: Steven, 18, and John, 16.
Self says it hasn't been difficult to be a female egg production farmer. Over the years, she has learned to fix just about every mechanical thing on the farm. One of the perks of farming for a living, she says, is that though it is a great deal of work, she is available to her family and the job has flexibility. "You don't have to hire babysitters and you're not away from your kids eight to 10 hours a day working."
Farming and mothering are Self's all-consuming passions, "The chicken houses, my kids, and my husband, they are my life."
As far as Self's favorite aspect of farming goes, she says, "There's something about knowing that those eggs that you're hatching will go to a broiler house, then go on for consumption. What I say is that we're feeding America."