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Starling Strives for Better Broilers

This post was originally published by the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association on June 3, 2021.

By Caleb Hicks

Raising nearly 1.5 million broiler chickens every year, Michael Starling said he does the best he can.

A Henry County native, 49-year-old Michael made a switch from full-time row cropper to full-time chicken farmer, maintenance tech, problem solver (the list goes on) in 2006. When given the go-ahead, he built four houses in the town of Shorterville, just east of Abbeville.

Operating 12 poultry house keeps him busy, but Michael said poultry has proven profitable.

“It’s a true blessing,” he said. “I think it’s the best thing you can do in production agriculture, especially from a cash flow standpoint. When my banker told me to get excited about the possibility of growing chickens, I got excited about growing chickens. I had no experience before that.”

With the help of his wife, Aimee; his mother, June; son, M.J.; and daughter, Rebecca, it’s a family affair.

“When we first got the houses, my mother would walk the.,” Michael said. “Now, she cuts all the grass on the farm, Aimee keeps the books and M.J. helps me with maintenance. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Rather than an 8-to-5 office job, Aimee said the farm offers flexibility, a luxury their family wouldn’t have otherwise, allowing them time for family and volunteer activities.

“Being chicken farmers allows us to stay home and raise our kids,” Aimee said. “If they had a ballgame or if we have a volunteer meeting with our church, we worked around all of that because of the chicken houses. They’re hard work, but to be able to provide such an affordable need is important to us. We help produce a delicious and nutritious source of protein the world needs.”

An APEA board member, Michael and his family have 80 head of beef cattle. They also grow small grain crops and hay. For him, chicken houses are a lot like a new relationship.

“Everyone always says you’re married to the chicken houses, but I always tell people you’re dating them,” Michael said. “Because, when you’re dating, you’ve got to commit whole-heartedly to them.”

Meeting at Auburn University, Michael and Aimee said commitment is what fuels their passion for poultry.

“If we could do it all over again the same way, we would. We would never second guess it,” Aimee said.

Michael agrees.

“Growing chickens, we get to ‘plant and harvest’ five times a year,” he said. “No matter how good or bad the last flock was, you get to start over. The past doesn’t really matter. What you do for the next nine weeks matters. You get out of it what you put into it. That’s the most rewarding part of farming.”