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'Total transparency' — ProFILE group gets firsthand look at how farmers raise chickens for Chick-fil-A

Brenda Cooley talks with Michigan ProFILE participants about the Cooley Farms poultry facility, which raises chickens for Chick-fil-A. Image credit: Tony Hansen
Date Posted: January 30, 2023

The Cooley family knows where at least some of the chicken on your Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich comes from. And they want everyone else to know as well.

“We love hosting people on our farm. We want people to know how our chickens are really raised because it’s probably not the way they think it is,” said Terri Cooley, who operates a poultry farm along with husband Larry near Roberta, Georgia.

“This is a Perdue Farm (who contracts with Cooley Farms to raise broiler chickens) and they want total transparency. They’ve been great to work with.”

In fact, Cooley Farms features an observation house that serves as a learning center to give visitors an up-close look at exactly how broiler chickens are raised along with an educational session that outlines the process of raising broilers from chick to finish.

A group of young farmers looking through the observation window of Cooley Farms under a sign that reads "RAISED WITH CARE BY A FAMILY THAT CARES."

Visitors to the facility are able to see first-hand how the chickens they consume are raised. A glass-front viewing window is used to allow complete observational access and educational videos are employed to outline the steps farmers take to produce healthy (and delicious) poultry.

A section of feed line is attached to a small feed bin to allow guests to see how the chickens have free, open access to food and a water line also allows them to see how the birds are able to activate the water source by tapping with their beaks.

In-room ventilation fans illustrate how the climate is maintained at a comfortable temperature and the house’s computer control board is on display as well.

Cooley Farms has hosted groups of all ages and welcomes the opportunity to provide education about the life they love.

Safety and flock health are top-of-mind here. Prior to entering the observation house — and every other chicken house — visitors don plastic overboots and utilize a foot wash pan.

Farming is a total family affair for the Cooleys. Son Leighton and his wife Brenda have their own poultry operation as well as freezer beef and both have been (and remain) intensely involved with the Georgia Farm Bureau serving on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher Committee. Leighton is also currently a member of the Georgia Farm Bureau’s Board.

And, side note, fans of the documentary film “Farmland” may recognize Leighton. He was one of the farmers featured in the 2013 production.

Over lunch at the family’s house (Chick-fil-A sandwiches, of course), the ProFILE crew had a chance to really talk shop and the contrasts and similarities between farming in very different regions of the country. And, as it turns out, there seem to be far more similarities than differences.

“Just like in Michigan, multi-generational ag businesses touch many parts of the community,” said ProFILE participant Jed Bushey of Huron County. “The business owners are always giving back to the community in one way or another and they’re almost always involved in the community.”

Cooley Farms is able to turn over about 500,000 broiler chickens every eight weeks or so. Of course, raising the birds also means finding an outlet for the litter. That outlet is fertilizer for the roughly 1,000 acres of hay which is then sold for feed.

At a stop earlier in the morning, additional similarities were observed during a visit to Lane Southern Orchards.

Founded in 1908, Lane Southern is a prominent fixture on the agricultural scene in southern Georgia. You don’t travel far without seeing billboards or road signs encouraging a visit to their retail location.

Lane Southern operates on roughly 11,000 acres split nearly in half between peaches and pecans.

And, just like Michigan growers, it’s the weather that’s the uncontrollable factor that makes or breaks a season. Yes, even in Georgia, frost makes a chilly claim each season on a percentage of the year’s crop.

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