Building a Poultry Industry

During the 1920s and 1930s most farmers raised poultry in their backyards for food and bartering purposes. Two men by the name of E.E. Ellerand and Nike Smithey, however, began to buy, sell, and trade chicken and other farm needs to various towns for money or goods in order to bring it back and sell to local residents. Grocery stores of the time would sell actual live chickens from coops they kept in the back.

Thomas Otto Minton, in 1923, returned from North Carolina State University to Wilkes County after studying poultry science. He started his prized company of Champion Farms with a battery operated chicken brooder and 150 white baby leghorn chicks. Minton’s Champion Farm became the South’s largest breeding farm. Through his breeding, Minton created the Champion single comb white leghorn strain, which became a common name on farms throughout the U.S.

Charles O. Lovette, in the early 1920s, founded the C.O. Lovette Poultry Company. Lovette would travel the county buying poultry and other goods from local farmers and sell them to boarding houses, restaurants, and grocery stores in places such as Winston-Salem and Charlotte. He was one of the first to build broiler houses with the capacity of 250 broilers in 1928. His son, Fred Lovette, became a part of his father’s business and helped boost the enterprise through buying its very own processing plant. Together, the Lovette Family created what is now known as Holly Farms.

Hatcheries began as an in-home operation for small subsistence farmers. The discovery that chickens could be easily cured of rickets by mixing synthetic vitamin D with their powdered feed. This gave hens the ability to produce eggs year round. With the cure for rickets and the hen’s ability to continue egg production, hatcheries such as Blue Ridge Hatchery, Holly Mountain Farms, and Wilkes Hatchery had the opportunity to push their businesses to an all time high during the 1920s and 1930s. Wilkes Hatchery later built the first modern hatchery in Fairplains, Wilkes County with a hatchling capacity of 200,000.

Another huge part of the Wilkes County Poultry Industry were the feed mills. Mocksville Feed Mill began as a flour based mill beginning in 1892 and stayed in operation until 1955. The Mocksville Feed Mill produced exclusively for Wilkes County poultry farms. Using Selected Feed Store in Wilkes as a distribution area, they sold feed in 100 pound dress print bags, which were popularized by farmers’ wives. They would sew the bags into clothes for their families during the 1940s and 1950s.