Behind the Barn with Handsome Brook Farms’ Flock Supervisors, Allie Haggarty + Aubrey Thompson
It takes an incredibly hard-working team to keep the gears at Handsome Brook Farms turning smoothly, and an essential piece of that puzzle are our Flock Supervisors. Tasked with overseeing all the action, supervisors visit our farmers every week and ensure they’re equipped with all the knowledge they need to keep their girls healthy and happy. This International Women’s Day, we’re touching base with two of our star supervisors — Allie and Aubrey — whose passion for improvement help make HBF what it is today. From what inspires them to how they turn in at the end of the day, join us as we dig into their dynamic daily lives.
How did you originally get into farming?
Allie: I grew up on a small hobby farm with horses, dairy goats, and chickens. My passion for agriculture started from a young age when my family and I joined 4H when I was just a cloverbud. 4H led to FFA, which led to studying Animal Science at the University of Kentucky, which led me to HBF.
Aubrey: I grew up on my grandparents’ farm. My grandma was my babysitter, so I got to tag along and learn the ropes of farm life. We raised tobacco, corn, soybean, beef cattle and milked about 200 head of Holsteins so we were always busy, and I was always experiencing new things. During the summer, I would walk behind the tobacco sitter and fill in any plants that got missed or ride in the tractor with my grandpa baling hay. I knew from a very young age I wanted a career in agriculture. I joined 4-H and later on FFA and started showing livestock. I then went to college and got a degree in agriculture. I ended up getting a job with Perdue, where I was a flock supervisor for broilers, and I fell in love with the poultry industry. I found the job for HBF and thought it would be a good fit for me. Sure enough it was, and here I am!
How did you first hear about HBF and what drew you to the network model?
Allie: A professor and mentor from college sent me the application and told me he wanted me to apply. I liked that it was a production layer model and that HBF was focused on bringing commercial eggs back to its roots by working with small family farmers with plenty of room for the flock to wander.
Aubrey: To be honest, I knew very little about HBF when I took this job. But what I love most about it is the farmers. You could not find a better group of growers out there. They are hardworking, intuitive and just down right the best. At first I was nervous that there would be a cultural divide, but they have welcomed me in with open arms.
Tell us about family life on the farm
Allie: Family life is what makes a farm run. And usually, family life on the farm is all hands on deck; everyone has a role to play and chores to do which helps to ensure everything gets done by the end of the day. It means you always have a buddy to work with or people to rely on if you need help.
Aubrey: Everyone has a job on the farm. The littlest ones normally are in charge of gathering floor eggs, and the middle and older children pack eggs. It takes everyone to keep the farm running and operating smoothly.
What's the first thing you do when you wake up every morning?
Allie: Coffee. I don’t do anything before pouring myself a cup of coffee, and it’s best to expect that I won’t remember any conversations before it too.
Aubrey: I wake up my mini me and start our morning routine: breakfast, brush our teeth, get dressed and out the door.
What do you eat for breakfast (and when do you eat it)?
Allie: Usually some sort of egg sandwich variation, but lately with this winter weather I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal.
Aubrey: Yogurt and granola bar. On the weekends biscuit and gravy with bacon.
Can you give us a little behind-the-scenes insight into your daily interactions with the hens?
Allie: My daily interactions with the flocks is to make sure the hens have everything that they need to be happy and healthy. Plenty of food to eat, water to drink, and fresh air to breath. The farmer is my main set of eyes on the barn so I rely on them to keep track of everything going on for the majority of the time I’m not there. If they notice that there is something unusual going on, then I take a closer look at what the problem might be and work on solving the issue.
Aubrey: I am there to make sure they are living their best life possible. I check FLAWS (feed, lights, air, water and space). If all those things check out, they are good to go.
Do you have any favorite hens?
Allie: Unfortunately, one hen is pretty hard to pick out of any barn. But I do have some favorite memories with hens. I’ve definitely sat in the pasture on a nice day and eaten my lunch and enjoyed the company. There’s also always a jealous or extra curious hen in every flock that tends to get a bit more of my attention because she couldn’t help but fly onto my shoulder or peck at my boots.
Aubrey: They are all created equal in my eyes.
Do you have any special rituals with the hens that you find helps get them moving or calms them down? (music, certain words, certain movements, etc.)
Allie: As with most animals, it’s best to let them know you’re around. I always knock on the door before entering, and I whistle when I walk through the barn so I don’t sneak up and startle any of the hens.
Aubrey: The hens are used to their caretakers. They are used to what they wear, how they walk, etc. They know when I come in with my boots, blue suit and hair net that I am the crazy lady that checks the water and feed lines. I just try to walk slowly, make no sudden movements, and try to get the farmers to walk the barn with me, because they are always calmer when they do.
What is your standard midday meal?
Allie: Normally just your standard brown sack lunch; a sandwich, some fruit and veggies, and a snack for later.
Aubrey: Most of the time, it's peanut butter and crackers and a granola bar — but I like to treat myself with my favorite drive thru occasionally when I've been extra productive.
What is your favorite part about working on the farm? Least favorite part?
Allie: My favorite part is interacting with the farmers and their families. These farmers are watching their barn 24/7, they know if the hens are behaving differently, if they’ve had success trying something new, or even if they failed trying something. Talking with the farmers and discussing everything going on at the farm is how we both learn how to manage the flock successfully. A lot of the knowledge that I gain discussing flocks with our farmers, I take and share with other farmers and coworkers to promote success across the company. I also really love interacting with the farmer’s family. I grew up having to do farm chores every morning and evening, and it brings a sense of nostalgia watching the family pack eggs or walk the barn with me. It also brings me hope and confidence for the future of agriculture and animal husbandry. The worst part is the weather; sunny days, rainy days, snowy days. No matter the weather, the farmer still has to do his job and I still have to do mine.
Aubrey: My favorite part is the scenery. We have a lot of beautiful farms and walking the pasture with the hens is really peaceful. My least favorite part is that most of them are in the middle of nowhere and the bathroom situations are not the best. Also, when it snows it makes my life very difficult. I am southern and do not know how to operate a vehicle down slick curvy roads.
What is one thing you wish everyone knew about your industry?
Allie: Farmers are some of the smartest people you will ever meet, and they have the biggest hearts. Farmers have to be engineers, meteorologists, carpenters, veterinarians, accountants, agronomists, etc. and they care so deeply about what they do and the people and animals involved.
Aubrey: Farmers always have the best intentions. They are always trying to make things better for the hens and to produce the best product. They truly are trying to do the right things when it comes to animal husbandry and food safety.
Do you have a favorite egg dish? (i.e. scrambled eggs, quiche, BEC, etc.)
Allie: Does creme brulee count as an egg dish? Otherwise, it's quiche lorraine.
Aubrey: Scrambled eggs with hot sauce.
How do you wind down at the end of the day?
Allie: By curling up with a good book.
Aubrey: Bedtime stories with my daughter.