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Young agribusiness magnate has something to crow about

August 16, 2012

Published August 15, 2012 by  George Hohmann of the Charleston Daily Mail, this article is worth sharing to show how a business can grow from a small investment!

Chickens don’t shy away when Wesley Davis enters the layer house. Instead, they eagerly wait for him to open the door so they can roam the family’s farm. The free-range session starts at 4 p.m. daily.

POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. – When Wesley Davis was 11 years old, he already had been showing market lambs and rabbits for three years.

He sold them all, and when the Mason County Fair rolled around, the rabbit cages on the family’s two-acre farm were empty.

Davis asked his mother to buy a tan-colored miniature lop rabbit for $5.

She said, “No.”

The rabbit was marked down to $3 on the last day of the fair. Davis borrowed the money from his brother “to get something to drink,” and sprinted to the rabbit and poultry barn. Alas, the rabbit had been sold. But some baby black chicks were still for sale – at only $1 each.

“I bought one for a dollar and still had enough to buy a drink,” Davis recalled last week. He left the fair with the black chicken “and a very angry mother.”

Wesley Davis explains how chicken litter is mixed with straw and sawdust to produce compost at his poultry farm near Point Pleasant.

In the seven years since, Davis has used his own money, a $5,000 loan and a $14,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to create two thriving businesses.

He has 250 chickens that produce up to 20 dozen eggs a day, which are distributed by JL Foods of Charleston to the Bridge Road Bistro in South Hills, Bluegrass Kitchen and others. Dale Hawkins of Fish Hawk Acres, a well-known community-supported agriculture business, also is a customer.

Davis also mixes chicken litter with straw and sawdust to produce compost, which is sold in 50-pound sacks.

“The truth is, the compost business makes about as much as the egg business,” he said during a recent tour of the family farm.

Davis tries to locally source everything from feed to hardware.

His eggs are marketed as all natural, locally produced by free-range chickens. Those features help fetch a good price.

The 18-year-old’s knowledge of chickens is encyclopedic. He will tell you he raises Red Star and Buff Orpington hens. The Red Stars lay year-round. The Buff Orpingtons will sit on the Red Stars’ eggs and keep them from freezing in the winter.

“We don’t have the money to heat the layer house in the winter,” Davis said.

lastic sheets are lowered around the walls. Eighteen inches of litter are put on the ground. The litter slowly composts, creating heat that helps keep the chickens warm.

“We have limited land and limited resources so we have to figure ways to do things differently,” he said.

Davis will tell you that chickens with light-colored legs have laid more eggs than chickens with dark legs. Another nugget: “Chickens cannot process fiber at all because they have short intestines.”

Two of the neighbors have guineas, another kind of fowl, and they serve as farmyard watchdogs. Although the neighbors feed them, the guineas help keep birds and other wildlife from encroaching on Davis’ poultry.

Davis does not have all of the answers, though. Asked why two hens insisted on walking around in a puddle of water, he replied, “Chickens seem to enjoy playing in water. I don’t know why.”

This  fall, Davis is going to West Virginia University. He is about to turn over the businesses to his 15-year-old brother.

“It’s been a journey,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

Davis is going to major in agribusiness management and communications.

He just wrapped up a term as president of the West Virginia Future Farmers of America Association – the first Mason County resident to hold the post since Gus Douglass.

Douglass, who is retiring as state agriculture commissioner, was the first West Virginian to serve as national president of the FFA – a post he held in the mid-1940s. Davis will be eligible to run for a national FFA office next year. He’s thinking about it.

Douglass said through a spokesman, “Wesley is an outstanding individual, a great young farmer, and a superb leader of our state’s FFA organization.

“I am so proud when I see one of our state’s youngsters do so well,” Douglass said. “I’m not surprised that agriculture has been the avenue that has helped him become successful. Other students should follow his lead and explore the opportunities agricultural education can provide.”

Contact writer George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or  304-348-4836.

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