HORATIO —Growing up in Horatio, Brian
Walker, 34, had no idea where his food came from. “I just took it for
granted that chicken nuggets came from McDonalds,” he says. 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
The couple is a finalist for the Arkansas Farm Bureau Young
Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Achievement Award. The other
finalists are Josh and Melissa Cureton of Cash (Craighead County), who
produce rice and soybeans; and Jeremy and Magen Allen of Bismarck (Hot
Spring County), who have laying hens, cattle and a feed business.
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 that
he pastured on his grandparent’s land.
“I jokingly called them the “Lucky 13,” he says. The nickname stuck and is the name of their farm.
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. Reese and Rhett don’t seem
to mind either.
“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 says. “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.
Both he and Elizabeth enjoy being involved in YF&R activities.
“The Young Farmers & Ranchers gives us a chance to
interact with people our age that are going through the same things;
raising young children and farming,” Elizabeth says. “You know, we
think we’re facing something nobody else has ever heard of and then you
get to talking to somebody, and they’ve been through the same thing.”
The YF&R Achievement Award honors young farmers and ranchers
across the state for their hard work, innovation, progress and the
general excellence of their operations. The winner of the award will be
announced at the 76th Arkansas Farm Bureau Convention, which takes
place Dec. 1-3 in Hot Springs. The winning couple will take home a
Chevrolet 1500 quad cab, four-wheel-drive pickup truck and an
expenses-paid trip to the American Farm Bureau Convention in January in
Atlanta to compete for the national award.
Brian and Elizabeth are both active Farm Bureau members.
Brian presently is vice president on the Sevier County Farm Bureau
board of directors, and he and Elizabeth are presently the co-chairman
and co-chairwoman of the county YF&R among numerous other community