BRIDGEVILLE — More than three decades ago, John and Carlene Swartzentruber were parents of two young children.
Mr. Swartzentruber wanted to do something that would allow more family time.
Growing chickens was the answer.
“I’ve been in the poultry business since 1987 as a grower. The 10 years prior to that I was involved in the construction trade, building chicken houses,” he said. “I got a job out of high school working for some friends that built chicken houses. Through that, I got involved in the trade. And eventually, in 1987, my wife and I had two young children, and I wanted to do something where I could spend more time at home with them. So poultry houses seemed a good fit for us.”
Last week, the Swartzentrubers were among the Delmarva Chicken Association’s 10 Outstanding Grower awardees.
Their small farm north of Bridgeville includes two chicken houses that produce broilers for Mountaire Farms.
They take great pride in their work.
“When you get done and the birds do well, you can see the investment of time and things that you did. There’s a reward financially when you do well, and there’s a reward in just having a good flock of chickens,” Mr. Swartzentruber said.
“The better I do, the better paycheck I get at the end of the day. That is part of the growing chicken business. The contract is set up in that way,” he added.
Their farm operation is predominantly chickens. They’re not in the crop business.
On average, the couple’s combined flock has about 32,000 to 33,000 birds, depending on the time of the year.
“At one time, they would put 20-some thousand in (one of the houses), but they are growing a larger bird now, so there are not as many in there,” he said.
While Mr. Swartzentruber, 63, does the bulk of the work, his wife also knows the trade.
“I do most of it, but she helps out when needed. And when I can’t do it, she does it. We work together on the farm,” he continued.
Their children assisted in the poultry operation when needed, as well.
“We have four children. They didn’t always work out there every day, but when I needed help with just a variety of projects — whether it was feeding or picking up dead or getting ready for a new flock — I’d get them to help me,” said Mr. Swartzentruber.
Outside of growing poultry, the farmer pastors at Greenwood Mennonite Church.
“It is an honor to have people recognize the work you do,” he said. “At the end of the day, I am grateful to Lord for the ability and things that he gives me to do, and I want to do the best that I can with whatever it is.”
DCA’s 10 Outstanding Growers for 2021 are:
“Time and again, Delmarva chicken growers serve as examples for the chicken community and the nation,” said Holly Porter, DCA’s executive director. “When growers stand and speak at meetings and public hearings, their voices command attention and respect. When they share their everyday rewards and challenges on social media, they help people who never set foot on a farm understand how chickens are raised. And they are valued in their communities by all who understand their roles as stewards of the land.”
The award winners were recently honored during DCA’s Booster BBQ at the Delaware State Fairgrounds. The growers received silver Revere bowls and lane signs about the awards to be displayed at the entrances to their farms.