“Faith, Family, Farming and Fun. Life-style Matters!”
For many people, retirement from a job means sleeping late and taking up a new hobby. But for Lee DeBerry, of Independence County, Ark., retirement at age 50 was merely a word, and a transition from one career to another.
A lifelong Arkansan, and a proud University of Arkansas Razorback, DeBerry left his home state only long enough to earn a graduate banking degree at Louisiana State University. It was in commercial banking that he built a career—his first one, at least—and where he learned what made businesses work, and what didn’t.
Most of DeBerry’s work in commercial banking was with the agricultural community, much of it the financing of poultry operations. And he came to understand that poultry farming was like any other business.
“It’s management. If you take care of business, it works,” he explains. He moved to Batesville, Ark., a decade ago to run a bank, just as two poultry companies were expanding in the area. And having seen many clients succeed in poultry, he was ready for what he now characterizes as a “trial run” in farming. He built a four-house broiler farm, running it for Peco Foods, with hired labor, as a sideline to his banking work.
“It worked really well and I was happy with it,” he recalls. And so his second career was officially launched.
In time DeBerry sold that first farm and traded up. He built a 10-house operation, after which there was no looking back.
And only a year later, he added to his holdings with a six-house farm.
Ready to devote himself to his new and thriving vocation, he left the banking world after 26 productive years. “I haven’t regretted it,” he says. “Not one second.” Preferring the management side of the poultry business, DeBerry leaves the day-to-day routine to a handful of trusted staffers who keep the wheels turning. “I love ‘em to death,” he explains. “I try to take care of them, and they take care of me.”
But it isn’t as if DeBerry is a distant boss. He set up an office on the farm, where he also does a bit of consulting. “I always enjoyed dealing with my Ag customers,” he says, recalling the banking world, and this way he stays connected. Lee DeBerry’s experience in finance provided lessons he draws from every day, and which guide him as a poultry farmer. “The people I saw be successful,” he recalls, “were the people who treated it as a business.” This meant going into an endeavor for the right reasons, and then managing their money carefully.
He identified two main areas where good intentions can go awry. First are the people whose determination to begin farming or to buy a particular farm can cloud their judgment about potential sources of trouble, much like the car shopper who falls for the shiny paint job but doesn’t look under the hood.
“They’ll say they’re going to buy a farm no matter what. It might be an older farm that needs a lot of work, or they’re going to pay too high a price. They’re not thinking about business.” The other potential minefield for poultry farmers is money. “I don’t get a weekly paycheck,” DeBerry says. “A farmer gets a large sum of money, but that has to last three months,” referring to the 60-some-day turnaround for his broiler flocks. The ability to look forward and manage cash flow can confound younger or newer growers, another lesson learned from years financing other people’s farms.
Not content with his 16 poultry houses, DeBerry recently embarked on yet another expansion, this time in northeastern Arkansas. In mid-May, American Poultry Company helped him close on an eight-house farm in partnership with his brother, who runs a row-crop operation. A unique and mutually beneficial aspect of the partnership will be the use of litter from the poultry houses as fertilizer for Lee’s brother’s farm.
The DeBerry brothers’ new houses will be with Ozark Mountain Poultry, which is owned by George’s Poultry.
It is unusual for one farmer to raise birds for two companies, and there were hurdles to clear before both Ozark Mountain and Peco signed off on the arrangement. But the deal came together, and the brothers were, as the saying goes, in business.
“I’m an Ag guy from an Ag family,” Lee says. He and his wife, Gina, have two kids, also University of Arkansas Razorbacks. One is studying animal science, and the other is active in student ministry. “We say he’s cultivating souls,” Lee explains with a laugh.
Lee DeBerry has been retired for six years, but he is anything but idle. He describes his life now as one of faith, family, farming and fun. And in all areas of life, he abides by the credo of legendary University of Arkansas football coach Lou Holtz: Just do the right thing. Because in life, as well as the poultry business, that works....
Article above from American Poultry Farmer magazine, c/o AmericanPoultryCompany,Inc
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