Spotlight on JW Farms in Powhatan, Louisiana
James Wagley, owner of JW Farms in Powhatan, La., out of our Natchitoches Complex, is noted for his top-notch performance and his commitment to excellence.
"People do well in this industry not because of one specific thing they do well," says Brad Morgan, Natchitoches Complex broiler manager. "It's because they do everything well."
Wagley approaches his business with a sense of pride that is reflected in the meticulously clean appearance of the farm. Wagley focuses on keeping his farm spotless. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently visited JW Farms. Wagley admits to being nervous, as if the IRS were auditing him. However, the EPA inspector rated his farm the cleanest farm he'd ever been to.
"The EPA inspector was pleased because his farm is immaculate," Morgan says. "James does an excellent job keeping everything manicured, it's a nice farm."
Not Just Another Pretty Place
Additionally, Wagley has a fantastic performance record for production.
"James does an excellent job for us. His farm performs well. He pays attention to detail, he's always improving. He's willing to try new things and he has really high standards. He's very consistent," Morgan explains.
JW Farms sits on 200 acres of land with six 50x500 ft. state-of-the-art chicken houses. Wagley sold his first flock to Pilgrim's in March of 2005, and this past March he sold his 58th flock of birds. He grows a consistent seven flocks of 222,000 chickens annually. On the rest of the property Wagley produces hay.
"I average over 1.5 million chickens per year," says Wagley. "Over eight years that's 13 million head of bird we've raised. It is kind of amazing to think about how many birds you raise and how many people you're feeding doing that."
Built From Scratch - Literally
Wagley grew up on a cattle farm. Both of his grandparents were farmers. However, once he got out of high school Wagley entered the construction industry. While it was good work, he found that he was away from home too much for his liking. He wanted to work from home and to work for himself.
Serendipitously, he was home from a job in Georgia when he saw an ad in the local paper about Pilgrim's intention to expand. Within a year-and-a-half of walking into Pilgrim's for more information Wagley was opening his poultry farm.
"It was about $1.5 million to buy the land and start from scratch," says Wagley. "I had to build roads, water lines, gas lines, power lines and everything else it took to get it going.
All of Pilgrim's 4,000 growers are independent business owners who contract to sell their poultry to Pilgrim's. This means that Wagley's farm was a significant personal investment. Wagley is grateful to Lee McCann at Sabine State Bank for making the loan, and his new lifestyle, possible.
The investment, he says, is worth it. He is able to be at home with his wife, Sonia, and daughter, Jamie Lee. When Sonia isn't working at a waterfront dress shop and Jamie Lee isn't in school, both can be found doing chores around the farm. Added to that his father, Sonny Wagley, comes to the farm every day to help grow the chickens. His mother, Wavalyn Wagley, works at a bank, and is his go-to person for legal and business advice.
"It really has been a great investment," Wagley reports. "I really enjoy it. In a way, you're your own boss and everything works out because you made it happen. My father is 72 years old and he's able to come to work everyday and help me like he was 22. It gives him something to do and we're able to do it together. I really enjoy that."
A Sustainable Farming Profession
Poultry farming has given Wagley a sense of stability that most farmers don't enjoy.
"People have to eat and we've got to feed them," points out Wagley. "Crop farmers are more dependent on the weather; they have to wait for rain to dry up. The chickens are growing 24/7 indoors. We're still able to grow the birds even in inclement weather."
Inclement weather did hit the farm over the Easter weekend, with a storm blowing the roof off of one of the chicken houses. Luckily, JW Farms was between flocks, so no birds were injured and construction workers were able to repair the roof without interfering with a growout or disrupting a flock.
Wagley is involved with the broader farming community. He has served on the board of the Natchitoches Parish Farm Bureau for eight years. The Farm Bureau helps with funding for agricultural education programs and livestock shows for kids, among other activities.
Wagley is now serving his first term on the Natchitoches Parish Soil and Water Board, as well. The Soil and Water Board works toward improving water quality and preventing soil erosion. Natural resource conservation is essential to the longevity and sustainability of farms, Wagley knows.
Poultry farming provides Wagley with a sense of pride, when he observes the end result.
"When a person goes up to counter and orders a box of chicken, they have no idea what it took to get it to them at that low price," Wagley marvels. "If they knew, and could see all the work behind it, and still know how cheap it is when it comes across the counter to them, it's unreal."