Get to Know Andy & Bonnie, Award-Winning Chicken Farmers from Maryland
Approximately 25,000 family farms raise 95% of all U.S. broiler chickens, or chickens raised for meat—and Andy and Bonnie Lewis are one example of such an operation. The east coast Newark, Maryland, producers place 250,000 broilers each year in their two grow out houses. What’s more, Andy and Bonnie received the distinct honor of being named 2021 Delmarva Chicken Association Outstanding Growers, and they were selected because of their exemplary leadership example at the local and national levels. We took a moment to talk with Andy and Bonnie about what it’s like to raise chickens.
What does winning the 2021 Delmarva Chicken Association Outstanding Grower award mean to you?
We are so amazed, honored and thankful to be recognized as 2021 Delmarva Chicken Association Outstanding Growers. Raising chickens is about much more than making money, because it is a job that requires 100% of your effort. To us, raising chickens is a lifestyle, and that makes receiving this award even more of an honor. We’re committed to making every day on the farm count by nurturing our birds as best as we can.
This honor is even more special to us because Bonnie’s parents, Watson and Betty Jean Powell, won the Delmarva Chicken Association Outstanding Growers award 40 years ago. Although we received a silver Revere bowl of our own, Bonnie’s mom insisted we take their silver Revere bowl also–so we now have two replicas of Paul Revere’s Liberty Bowl in our home.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about chicken farming?
Chicken doesn’t come from the grocery store—it takes an incredible amount of hard work to raise broilers, from the farm to processing plants, across the entire supply chain and marketing—and there’s so much history that has led the industry to where it is today. Even when the pandemic first broke out, the chicken industry never missed a beat in continuing to provide Americans with healthy, affordable food. The entire industry is truly a team effort, and we’re very appreciative of everyone involved in chicken production, all the way from farm to fork.
Why do you contract with a chicken company, like Tyson, instead of raising chickens on your own?
Bonnie’s dad raised chickens even before partnering with integrators, or chicken processing companies, was possible. So we can say firsthand how beneficial it is to have integration between chicken farmers and processing companies: our family has seen the before and after. So many jobs have been created thanks to chicken processing plants, and our family has partnered with Tyson for 40 years.
Today, ‘opportunity’ is the biggest word to describe the partnerships between chicken farmers and processing companies. Our family has the opportunity to have a steady income and completely focus on caring for our birds, while the company takes on big economic risks such as feed costs and market volatility.
What are your thoughts on the current structure of compensating chicken farmers, also known as “the tournament system?”
We’re happy with the current tournament system. The goal of the way things are is to incentivize chicken farmers to work hard. Like any other job, chicken farmers are more concerned knowing that before income comes in, a premier performance is expected. After all, why should the system be even when some chicken farmers work harder than others? The extra motivation results in growing the healthiest chickens along with the safest, most nutritious industry possible.
Did your farm follow additional biosecurity measures during the 2022 avian bird flu outbreak?
Absolutely. As soon as we heard about the 2022 avian flu outbreak, our farm went into a lockdown.
What’s most challenging about chicken farming?
Being 30 minutes from Ocean City off the coast of Maryland, we’re often faced with 100% humidity during the summertime heat. Such weather conditions are very challenging to chickens, and we want our birds to be as healthy as possible. Thankfully, ventilation technology has improved drastically, leading to more comfortable chickens, and ultimately, healthier birds.
What’s your favorite chicken dish?
Fried chicken. We always have to have it at family gatherings. If we don’t have fried chicken on the table, someone is asking where it is. We do have a family recipe and sometimes fry our own chicken, but if we’re having a lot of family and friends over, we’ll cater it, too.