Toua Yang knew long before most American citizens about the United States’ “Secret War” in Laos. He lived through it.
It wasn’t until decades after its involvement was over that the U.S. government admitted it played a role in the civil war that pitted the Communist Pathet Lao and the Royal Lao Government against each other. Long after Toua and his family fled through the jungles of their homeland to seek asylum in Thailand. Long after they spent four years in a refugee camp. Half a decade after Toua and his wife, Chao, whom he met in camp, were able to emigrate to the United States.
The Yangs arrived in the U.S. in 1992. They settled in Sheboygan, Wisc., where Toua found work in a factory that made various metal machine parts. Starting on the cleanup crew, Toua eventually became one of the company’s main mechanics.
But having originally come from an agricultural background in Laos, he wasn’t happy in the factory or the city. Opportunities he heard about in southwest Missouri appealed to him.
“I thought I would like to move to the countryside and raise poultry,” Toua said. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to start a home business.”
Soon, the family was heading west.
In 2003, the Yangs purchased an established poultry operation on 20 acres in Barry County, learning what they needed to know from the previous owners and from Tyson, the company for which they would be growing broilers.
Today, they have six houses, six of which are 40×400 feet and two of which are 40×300 feet. Each house holds 22,000 to 23,000 birds, and in a year’s time, the Yangs raise six flocks.
Tyson delivers each flock on the day the chicks hatch. They will stay 35 to 36 days, until full grown.
“If you’ve got a good flock, they will weigh pretty close to four pounds,” Toua said.
Guidelines set by the company for the feeding and care of the birds and maintenance of the houses are pretty standard, Toua said. The houses are equipped with automatic feeders and waterers. Heating, cooling and air quality are monitored and regulated automatically as well. Monitors in the houses send information to a computer in the Yang’s home, so any problems can be discovered and taken care of promptly.
The birds also get personal attention from Toua, who does walk-throughs of the houses during the day to ensure everything is working properly, and to remove any dead birds.
Choa works at the Tyson plant in Monett, but before and after school and on weekends, Toua has plenty of other help on the farm. Five of the couple’s children, ranging in age from 11 to 18, still live at home and help with chores.
“It’s a whole family operation,” said Yeng, who is a senior at Wheaton High School. “Everyone has their jobs. As they get older, they have more responsibilities.”
Yeng usually starts each morning at 5:30 a.m., making the first run through of the day through the houses. The younger children help, too, and chores are scheduled so that not everyone has to work every day. But no one shirks his or her duties, and no one gets stuck with one job more than another.
“Everyone takes turns helping with everything,” Yeng said. “Whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Yeng, who says he loves small town life and farming, has flourished on the farm and plans to stay in agriculture. Next year, he will be off to college and hopes to join his older sister, See, who is a student at the University of Missouri. He hopes to major in animal science “and see where that takes me.”
Yeng is in his fourth year in FFA, and was encouraged to join by See.
“She was in FFA and encouraged me to join. I’ve loved it ever since,” said Yeng. “She was president of our chapter and was also Area 11 vice president.
Yeng is following in her footsteps. Last year, he served as chapter secretary and this year is president. He is Area 11 treasurer and has done well in state competitions. In fact, he ranked second in the state last year in poultry production, with his work on the family farm serving as his Supervised Agriculture Experience project.
He also has a small swine operation and was among the exhibitors at the 2007 National Livestock Show at the American Royal in Kansas City.
Yeng said he is grateful for the opportunities FFA has offered.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it,” he said.
In addition to gaining practical experience and a good work ethic through his SAE project and leadership skills through his chapter offices, Yeng said he also has learned how many opportunities life offers for success, happiness and service.
Service has become particularly important, he said. As FFA president, he already has been instrumental in the chapter heading up food and clothing drives in his community for the holidays.
“My goal is to help as many people as I can before I die,” he said.
Perhaps his family’s experiences in refugee camps have helped shape that desire for service. Like his mother and father, he is grateful for the opportunities living in the United States – and especially in Missouri – has provided.