Nation’s largest free-range egg business has roots in 4-H classroom program
?Mid-Missourians can’t get enough of the brown eggs sold by two Centralia brothers who started their business when the older brother was in first grade and inspired by a University of Missouri Extension 4-H project.
Dustin and Austin Stanton of Stanton Brothers recently shared their story of starting a business with teen would-be entrepreneurs attending Build-a-Business Camp during Summers @ Mizzou, an MU Extension 4-H program that brings youths to the University of Missouri to explore the campus and learn about college majors and career opportunities.
In 1999, Dustin’s first-grade class hatched baby chickens through MU Extension 4-H’s “Hatching Chicks in the Classroom” project. Names were drawn for the lucky winner who would take home the baby chicks that were incubated and hatched.
Dustin was disappointed when another classmate won the chicks, so his uncle bought him six chicks. Those chicks proved to be the beginnings of a business. By 2007, he had 500 chickens. It is now a 22,000-poultry operation, the largest free-range operation in the nation.
The brothers’ operation houses free-range Hy-Line, Bovan and Tetra chickens. It’s a daylong job to gather, wash and box the eggs, which they distribute to retail outlets in mid-Missouri, college residence halls, nursing homes and grocers. They also sell their eggs at the Columbia Farmers Market and are the sole supplier for Isle of Capri Casino in Boonville.
Dustin and Austin Stanton of Centralia are already running the nation’s largest free-range chicken operation, which produces more 2.5 million eggs per year.
Because their operation has grown so much, they now have two part-time employees and are building a state-of-the-art facility that automates egg gathering, washing and packaging. With the completion of a new 40-by-200-foot facility, chickens can lay their eggs on angled, elevated nests so that the eggs will roll to a conveyor belt that carries them to automatic washing, grading, sorting and packaging machines.
They hope the automation increases production levels and makes their processes less labor-intensive. Their job is not “sunrise to sundown.” They say it is “sunrise to whenever the job is done,” and some days that might be midnight or later. They spend vacations combing the country for new equipment and learning how to improve their already successful business.
They grind 5 to 7 tons of feed weekly from milo grown on the farm that has been in their family since before Boone County was an actual county. Their parents operate a 1,200-acre grain and cattle operation and help with the egg operation as needed.Dustin is in charge of marketing, and Austin handles the production and technical side of the business. Working and living together might cause conflict between some brothers, but the Stantons maintain an environment of competitive fun
What began for the Stanton brothers as a hobby with six chicks has turned into an egg business with 22,000 head of poultry.
The Stanton brothers have had many successes and failures along the way, including first picking a breed of chicken that is a “meat” chicken. They have consulted University of Missouri Extension specialists and learned through FFA and college courses.
They plan to stay on the family farm after they finish school because they think it is important to produce quality food locally and efficiently.
Missouri 4-H by the numbers
Missouri 4-H reached young people in every county of the state. Youth development specialists and other MU Extension team members worked with volunteers and community leaders to reach more than 290,969 Missourians ages 5 to 18. These young people — more than one-in-five Missourians from their age group — participated in a 4-H educational program, the 4-H year-long club program, a 4-H short-term school enrichment experience, special interest activity, camps or after-school program. 4-H members are three times more likely to participate in community service than their peers.
After graduation, 77 percent of high school seniors who have participated in 4-H programming pursue higher education, and 14 percent enter the workforce.
4-H provides a great return on investment. According to a report by the Carnegie Council On Adolescent Development, the value of youth development programming provided by MU Extension 4-H faculty and staff was nearly $60 million. With a budget of $7.4 million, 4-H excels at leveraging public funds to provide valuable educational programming.
Missouri 4-H helps engages more young people in 4-H science, engineering and technology programs to address demand for high-tech workers. This year, 4-H provided science education opportunities for 76,217 youths.