Crowder family continues to remain competitive through cost cutting measures

Gene and Barbara Crowder continue to pass down a long family farm history through four generations. With the help of their daughter, Melanie McNeil, their grandchildren, Jeff and Tia Samuelson and Mat Meins, they operate eight broiler houses and raise Charolais cattle in Gentry, Ark.

“Joseph Thomas came from Georgia during the 1850s to Arkansas and settled the area around the vet clinic here in Gentry. The original piece of land was military bounty because he served in Florida during the Indian Wars,” Melanie said.
Gene said that his great-great uncle, John Allen Thomas, joined the land and made their place the Thomas homestead. John Allen’s family originally lived in a log cabin, but after his mother and two of his young children died in 1886, he built the farmhouse that Gene and Barbara eventually remodeled after they moved back to Arkansas in 1992. The barn still standing on the property was built in 1914.
Even though Gene spent many years working second jobs in the feedlots and farms in Iowa, he grew up in Arkansas.
In Iowa, Gene worked at American Smelters, Union Pacific Railroad and as Stockroom Manager at the Continental Baking Company (Wonderbread). “I ordered all the ingredients that came into the plant. It was interesting job,” Gene said.
Barbara worked as a lab technician in the microbiology lab for Campbell’s for 25 years. “I checked all the incoming ingredients and outgoing product for Swanson Foods. We ‘retired’ and we came down here and we built these chicken houses,” Barbara said with a laugh.

Changing Hands
Jeff moved to Arkansas from Iowa when he was 7 years old to live with Barbara and Gene. Gene said that Jeff and his step-brother Mat have taken over most of the physical labor of farming. Jeff, his wife Tia and their 9-month-old daughter Maddilyn are planning to be the next generation to take over the farm.
“My uncle talked me into coming back down here and staying when he was ready to retire. When Lloyd Peterson found out that we had moved back he told me to come see him. He asked me how many chicken houses I wanted. I told him ‘four’ and he said that wasn’t enough,” Gene laughed.
“We built four houses in 1993 and another four in 1995. We started out with Lloyd Peterson, when Peterson’s sold we just stayed with Simmons.” Gene said.
Gene and Jeff also have around 100 head of Charolais cows. They take the calves in the spring and fall to the Siloam Springs, Ark., or Decatur, Ark., sale barn.

Cutting Farm Costs
With eight houses cutting costs proves pretty difficult. “We can’t cut back on feed. You push the chickens from the day you put them in until they pick them up,” Gene said.
“You have to feed them so much to grow the chicken right. If you take shortcuts to grow a better chicken you end up doing worse,” Jeff added.
With the fixed cost of feed the Crowder family focuses on energy savings. “Our biggest expense is propane,” Melanie said. “We have to be crazy diligent if the weather changes. We all have to go out and tweak the house so that we don’t have heat going out that we could avoid. We just have to be diligent on keeping a house just right. Like, yesterday when it warmed up and they had to change it to let more air in. And when it got cold last night, they had to change it again so that it doesn’t let the heat out.” she said.
“The houses are all computer controlled but when the weather changes you have to go in there and adjust it,” Gene explained.
“We try to save on gas as much as we can. We spray the houses with foam to seal the cracks,” Gene said. They hire a company to spray the houses every few years and constantly maintain the houses by plugging any cracks.
The Crowder family has prevailed through a changing farm industry and has developed a variety of ways to cut farm costs in economic hardships, remaining competitive in the market throughout the years.


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