Growing up in Horatio, Brian Walker had no idea where his food came from. “I just took it for granted that chicken nuggets came from McDonalds,” he said. He didn’t know anything about farming either, coming from a non-farming family. Now, Walker and his wife, Elizabeth, raise more than nine million pounds of chicken meat – perfect for chicken nuggets – in 10 chicken houses at their Lucky 13 Farm. They also run a cow/calf operation and a feeder-calf operation.
After graduating from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in biology, Brian went to work as a broiler field technician for Tyson Foods. This sparked his interest in the chicken business. He quickly learned where chicken nuggets come from. He proposed to high school sweetheart, Elizabeth, in 2002. She grew up in a nearby farm family, and the two decided to buy land near Horatio and build their first two chicken houses. Brian also had a small cow/calf herd he’d started in 2001 with 12 cow/calves and a Simmental bull.
“I jokingly called them the “Lucky 13,” he said. The nickname stuck, and that’s how his farm got its name.
He and Elizabeth married in 2003, adding her 19 cows to the herd and finished building the two chicken houses. Elizabeth, who earned a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas, already had a good job as a process engineer at a paper mill.
Little by little, the two saved and built their farm, adding the feeder-calf operation and four more broiler houses. Now, they own 397 acres of the 480 they farm. Their family grew, too, with daughter Reese born in 2006. Elizabeth kept working at the paper mill, but the itch to stay home and help on the farm started growing for the farmer’s daughter. Son, Rhett, came in 2008.
Their goal now was to take the big step and have Elizabeth quit her job and become a fulltime mom and farmhand. That finally happened in September 2009. Brian jokingly says he had to build another four more broiler houses to make it happen. However, neither would trade the benefits of it for anything now.
“The main goal of increasing the farm income was so my wife would be able to stay home with our children and help more with the farm,” Brian said. “Our farm has been built from the ground up by saving, planning for the future, taking calculated risks and just plain hard work. We’ve come a long way, and it’s been amazing to watch how quickly things have progressed.”
The farm’s efficiency is better, too. Brian handles his own litter removal and its use for fertilizer. He’s converted hog barns into hay barns. And with some study and a better understanding of the intricacies of proper cow/calf feeding and where to sell, he increased weight gain in his calves. He also switched from Simmental to Charolais bulls and improved color consistency and the resulting profits.
Oh yeah, and he also now knows where chicken nuggets really come from.