July 2, 2014 Edition

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Lisa Williams, director of the Lawrence County Cooperative School in Portia, visits with Peco representatives (from left) James Chester, grain buyer for the state of Arkansas; Warren Terrell, housing coordinator; and Duane Weems, live operations manager.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Chamber hears report on Peco Foods


Gretchen Hunt
Editor

Duane Weems, live operations manager for the new Peco Foods operation in Northeast Arkansas, spoke at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting on Thursday.

Peco, which already has an operation in Batesville, is expanding its presence with a hatchery and processing plant in Pocahontas and a feed mill in Corning.

Weems oversees the process by which the chickens are raised starting with the selection of the hens that lay the eggs and continuing until the broilers are delivered to the processing plant. Chicken houses for the operation will be located in Lawrence, Clay, Randolph, Greene and Craighead counties.

"Lawrence County is unique because there are already producers supplying chickens for our operation in Batesville," Weems said.

He said it is possible that more chicken houses will be added south of Batesville so that chickens raised in Lawrence County can be processed in Pocahontas

"We currently have 22 farms in Lawrence County for Batesville," he said. "We also have 39 houses planned with farmers who are trying to build in Lawrence County." A total of 584 broiler houses will be needed to raise the 1.3 million chickens that will be processed in Pocahontas each week.

Weems shared that it takes approximately 12 to 14 months from the time an individual decides they want to put up a chicken house to the time it is completed.

Broiler houses, which cost approximately $305,000 to build, are generally 50 feet wide by 550 feet long. Peco is offering 15-year contracts and most financial institutions are offering 15-year loans.

Weems said while there is no minimum acreage required, there are requirements regarding distance from property lines, houses, roads, etc. He said sometimes acreage is also needed as collateral for bank loans.

On average, a broiler farm would have eight houses, but some have as few as four and some have 10 to 12.

Process starts with eggs

Houses will also be needed for the hens that will lay the eggs for the hatchery. There will be 38 layer houses and 20 pullet houses.

"We will need about 550,000 pullets in a 12-month period to produce the eggs," Weems said. "We will then hatch the chicks and take them to the broiler farms."

The target weight for a Peco chicken is nine and a half pounds. In addition to starting with the right eggs, feed plays a major factor in producing the desired size of chickens.

"A hundred thousand acres of grain will be required to operate the mill and feed the broilers," Weems said. "The diet consists of corn, milo and soybean meal, and the chickens consume a good bit of food."

He said they bring a load of feed when the birds are first put in the broiler houses and it usually lasts a week to 10 days, but as the chickens get bigger, feed has to be delivered regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. A chicken will eat approximately 18 pounds of feed during its lifecycle.

Jobs to be available

In addition to the impact on the Lawrence County farming community, the operation will also offer approximately 1,000 production jobs.

When it comes time to hire employees, Weems said they hope to hire as many local people as they can.

"That is one of the reasons we chose this location - the need for jobs," he said. "Peco is a good company to work for. They treat people right and do business right."

Peco anticipates having a $20,000,000 payroll at the Pocahontas facility alone.

Weems said Peco will use a temp agency when hiring begins, and job fairs are anticipated, as well.

"We are excited to be here," Weems said regarding Peco's expansion. "We think it is going to be good for us, and we think it is going to be good for the community."

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