Dedication to quality and diversification management is making Tom Leverich's family farm a successOperating a laying house has many challenges. Tom Leverich of Pioneer near Wheaton, Mo., who owns and manages his laying house said, “The big thing is that you have to be consistent.” In his house (which is 400′ x 40′) he keeps and maintains approximately 13,000 hens, that lay, at their peak, as many as 12,600 eggs per day. What are the most important things? Tom, who has owned his laying house since 2004, said, “There are four things you have to be consistent with: Quality of the air in the chicken house, temperature, water and feed. If you manage those four things the birds are going to do well.”
Tom bought the poultry house, along with the 100-acre farm from his parents in 2004 when they wanted to retire. Tom’s mom and dad bought that farm in 1976 and made it into a working dairy then built the laying house in 1994. When Tom bought it, the laying house was contracted for breeder hens that laid fertile eggs for broiler chicks. But, for about three years now, Tom has been contracted to keep laying hens for “table eggs” that are sold in egg cartons at grocery stores. These hens lay a higher end brown colored eating egg. There are some differences in the breeder hens and the laying hens, “These birds weigh 4-5 pounds, where a breeder weighs between 8-12 pounds.” Tom also said, “A breeder hen peaks at about 29-30 weeks then egg production will decrease about 2 percent per week, but a layer hen will peak at 27-28 weeks old and they will keep at that point a long time.” Tom added that, “this has been an exceptional flock for me,” when he talked about the egg production of the hens he now has. “Good egg production boils down to two things; they must have about 16 hours of light and the type of food they are eating,” he said about his current flock.
Tom gets the hens at about 16 weeks of age. Tom has advice for managing a new flock of hens, “The first month you get those birds can make or break you. You have to get the birds used to living in the house and eating out of the chain feeders.” Tom babysits the young hens that first month in the house, carefully monitoring how much they eat and drink to make sure that they are adjusting to the change.  He then keeps them during their best egg producing age, up to about 13 months old. At the end of the 13 months, the contractor gathers all the hens and Tom cleans and makes repairs on the house to be ready for another flock.
Tom, along with his mom, Viola Leverich, gather the eggs every morning. This is when the bulk of the eggs for the day are laid. Tom starts his day at 5 a.m. when he checks his hens, runs the belts for cleaning and does paperwork. He measures the amount of feed and water the hens utilize everyday. Dedication to cleanliness has paid off, as he has been awarded “Grower of the Year” and “Grower of the Quarter” on several occasions. He then gathers eggs twice in the morning, with the heaviest harvest during the 10 a.m. gathering. On both sides of the house are egg boxes with a conveyor belt that moves the eggs into the gathering room where they are picked through and carted. In the afternoon he also gathers twice more with the help of a local teen. On the weekends he gets help from his wife, Stephani, and children, Liz and Zach. “This is a seven day a week job. The hens lay eggs whether you are there or not.” The carted eggs are stacked onto tall carts and wheeled into a large cooler room. The contractor then picks the eggs up twice weekly.  
For Tom, who has an education in business management, success is built on maintenance and diversity. Making repairs before equipment needs to be replaced and having a herd of commercial cattle along with the laying house are important to Tom’s farming strategy. He spent more than a decade as the Operations Manager at TDC in Joplin. When his parents put the farm on the market, he originally didn’t consider buying it. “We had 30 acres with cattle in Diamond, Mo., but when mom and dad’s buyers backed out, I talked to dad,” Tom said. Then, after talking it over with Stephani, they put their home in Diamond on the market and he resigned from TDC. “One of my goals was to have my own business,” Tom remarked about their decision.
Since moving to the farm he has increased his beef herd. “I have 50 head of cows that are mostly Angus. I started the herd with five Simmental heifers in 1995 and have kept heifers from them, but I stick with an Angus bull for calving ease.” Tom grazes the cattle on Fescue and Clover pastures, cuts and bales his own hay and prefers to have the cows calve in late winter or early spring.
Community involvement is important to Tom’s family. His wife, Stephani, has been a business teacher for more than 20 years and is currently teaching Computers at East Newton Schools. Tom is involved in a non-profit group, the Shoal Creek Watershed Board, as secretary. Along with that, they are also involved in summer ball programs with their children.


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