The challenging part about running a poultry farm isn’t always taking care of the chickens. We also need to focus on taking care of the people, especially in this time of economic and mental stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We raise about half a million chickens on our farm in Colombia, spread across 13 big sheds. Keeping them safe and healthy for meat production requires a lot of effort, especially when you’re as committed as we are to cleanliness and conservation.
Between flocks, we wash out our sheds with a special dry-cleaning method. We also keep our use of chemicals to a minimum, recycle our water, and rely as much as possible on renewable energy, such as solar power. We plan to do more of this in the future, as we build our business and invest in what we do. We also dedicate a portion of our profits to wildlife preservation, and we’ve seen threatened species bounce back from the brink of extinction.
None of this would be possible without our excellent employees. We employ 70 year-round and another 32 indirectly or part-time. I like to think of them not as subordinates but as “co-workers,” because we really do work together as we produce poultry plus palm oil, which is our farm’s other major activity.
One of my rules of ownership and management is to remember this: You are not more than them. Even as we teach our co-workers what we know about food production, they often have excellent ideas. We learn from them in a genuine collaboration.
The term “co-workers” doesn’t quite capture what we aim to do, either. We think of our business as a family and they are members of it. We try to care for them as we care for members of our own family.
One of the most important things we can do is pay them a fair wage. But they benefit from other kinds of help as well. Many of them come from rural areas. When they arrive here, they’re tempted to take out loans that they hardly can afford. We help them get out of these bad situations with no-interest borrowing.
We also help with dignified homes. They’re often accustomed to small wooden or straw shelters. We want them to have access to water, light, and gas—and so we provide them with these basics.
Finally, they deserve good schools for themselves and their kids. Everyone should have a proper education. We make sure they can learn from good teachers and also enjoy access to the internet. Our schools also have soccer fields for exercise and recreation.
Although our farm is a business and we mean to make a profit, we’re also dedicated to improving the quality of life for the co-workers in our extended family. We believe this commitment both makes us a better business and shows that it’s possible to do well by doing good.
Times like these put our principles to the test. Due to COVID-19, we had to stop working for nearly two months. When we started up again, we were at only half capacity. Then we had to stop again for a month because our major business partner had taken a big hit and couldn’t buy at pre-pandemic levels.
This economic shutdown meant that we couldn’t afford to sustain paychecks the way we had in the past. Yet we did our best for our co-workers, however, and we devoted ourselves to keeping them safe from COVID-19.
As a poultry farm, we already have strong biosafety protocols. We doubled them.
We also tended to their mental health. Working on a farm in a savannah can bring feelings of isolation, especially when we have to practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.
So we held meetings and sponsored activities, with the goal of keeping everyone safe and happy. We wanted our co-workers not to feel trapped by outside forces, but rather like they belonged to a strong community and a family that wanted to look after them.
We’re still on the road to recovery, but I’m optimistic that we’ll get there—and a big part of the reason why will be because we know we’re all in this together.
When you take care of your people, good things happen.
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