Consisting of four, 500-foot chicken houses on Cedar Creek Road, the Cartersville resident’s poultry farm recently garnered praise from his peers. Last month, Matthews became the 51st recipient of the Bartow County Farm Family award, which has been presented to the owners of “family farms” since 1962.
“I’m not a kind of guy that likes accolades or attention,” Matthews said. “I don’t really care for that. I’m a real private person. I reluctantly decided to accept it [because] it’s a good thing to help kind of promote farming because we’re pretty much a minority now — farmers. ... That’s the sad part. The cost to build the same size operation as I built in ’95 has nearly doubled.
“It’s just making it tougher and tougher for people to get in it now, especially since the economy’s slowed down and the bank’s have tightened up their lending standards. It’s just tough. Most people can’t qualify for the loans now. I don’t know where it’s going to end up at but it’s getting harder and harder for new farmers to get in the broiler business. We’ve got to keep a new generation kind of interested some way.”
Even though his operation did not get underway until the mid-1990s, Matthews first was acquainted with the poultry industry as a child.
“When I was a kid in the mid-’60s, my father built a broiler house for Gold Kist and that kind of introduced me to it,” Matthews said. “I was too young to really take on a lot but I would get in from school and a lot of times I’d have to go up there and push wheelbarrows and fill the feed trays for the baby chicks and fill up the drinker jug. It’s changed a lot since then, but I did that for a while. Then at the end of a flock of birds, I might get a $5 bill under my breakfast plate. But that’s how I got an introduction to it.
“Then [as an adult] ... I’d worked at Lockheed and I’d been self-employed and did landscaping and light grading and had some equipment but I’d always said I was going to try some way to make a living off the farm property to get it back to earning its keep. The opportunity came up back in ’95. Gold Kist was planning a big expansion and I just seized on the opportunity and took the risk and 18 years later here I am.”
A contract grower for Koch Foods, Matthews maintains seven flocks — each one consisting of 120,000 chickens — per year on average, which amounts to about 2.8 million pounds annually in live weight.
“I enjoy being on my own property, on the land,” Matthews said. “It’s hard work. It’s a lot harder than a lot of other jobs at times but I enjoy the freedom. I enjoy at least some semblance of being a farmer. ... [My work] varies from day to day, and it also varies with the age of the birds. There’s some days where it’s pretty hectic. Then the other days it’s easier. But around the farm, your work is never done. There’s always something to work on.
“When the babies first arrive, they’re not even 24 hours old, and they have to go into a 90- to 95-degree house environment. They’re just an infant. They have to stay warm. We have to make sure they get adequate feed, water and you’ve got to maintain that temperature regardless of what time of the year it is. It’s a daily thing. ... We keep them about five weeks. Every week, that temperature’s ramping down. By the time the birds leave, you’re trying to maintain a temperature in the 70s. So it drops quite a bit.”
Held at the White Clubhouse on June 17, the 2013 Bartow County Farm Family Banquet was sponsored by Ag Georgia Farm Credit and John Carroll in cooperation with the Bartow County Farm Bureau and Bartow County Extension Service. As is tradition, Matthews was selected by the award’s past three recipients — Cliff Martin, Jacob Jones and Mark Floyd.
“It’s always a peer recognition of those farmers that tend to go out above and beyond as far as standing out in the community and being well-known in the farming community, especially,” Bartow County Extension Coordinator Paul Pugliese said. “There are a lot of folks that are on that list of previous farm family recipients that have been a tremendous impact on the agriculture industry in Bartow County over the last 30, 40 years.
“And those are folks that are really the roots and the foundation of agriculture here in Bartow County, and a lot of these folks are still very actively involved whether it’s the Farm Bureau program for farmers as far as lobbying for agricultural issues on Capitol Hill or involved with the local Cattlemen’s Association or any of the other industry associations that are out there. These folks are well-recognized and they’re important to our agriculture industry.”
Along with Matthews, other individuals that were acknowledged during the banquet included Henry West, Friend of Agriculture; Savannah Leachman, Adairsville High School, Family and Consumer Science; Caitlin Harris of Adairsville High School, Outstanding Future Farmer of America; and Daniel Craven, Danielle Drexler and Kaitlyn Drexler, all homeschooled, 4-H Excellence in Agriculture.