At age 14, Texan Bo Halley began his career in chicken farming alongside his twin brother, Sam—they learned the ropes from their father. As contract growers, the Halleys raised six batches of chickens per year—192,000 birds per batch—for 30 years in 12 factory-style houses on their family farm in Cookville, Texas. But when faced with mounting financial and health troubles from chicken farming, Bo and Sam decided to give up raising birds for good.
They teamed up with their sister, Devvie Deany, and her partner, Evan Penhasi, to switch to growing hemp. With the support of Transfarmation, they successfully completed their first hemp harvest.
We knew we couldn’t keep contract farming animals but didn’t know where to turn for help—what could we do with 12 empty chicken houses? Although we had stopped raising chickens and were extremely thankful to finally be out of the business, we still had bills to pay and a leftover loan. … I’d farmed crops before, but I’d never grown hemp, so I was just expecting new challenges and new things. We just decided to get into it and start with an acre.
Having decided to stop chicken farming, Bo, Sam, Devvie, and Evan began researching and exploring other uses for the chicken houses. They soon learned about Transfarmation and the opportunity to grow hemp plants.
When it became obvious that the business was not something that made financial sense, we decided to ... eat the debt and shut down the chicken houses and look for a different option in order for the farm to make money, and, most importantly, to find some sort of a long-term, viable business that doesn’t include animal suffering.
We were so happy to have support from an organization dedicated to helping us transition. … Since our first phone call with them, we’ve known that they care and are invested in seeing us succeed. At every turn, people with expertise have been there to consult with, and someone from Transfarmation has checked in with us to make sure we have everything we need to succeed.
It’s been really great to see Bo and Sam go from very troubled, angry, and broken people while the chicken houses were here to just flourishing with joy working with the plants. It just melts your heart. There’s no other way to say it. How can you not love that? How can you not want to see that? How can you not want to see other people succeed or get out from underneath crushing circumstances and flourish and thrive? So really, it’s about helping them to do something different that they’ll carry on, that they’ll take on so that this 1,000-acre farm can be here for their children.
The Halleys would recommend transitioning to growing plants to any poultry farmer, not simply for the better financial investment and payoff but for the heightened quality of life on the farm.
Number one, don’t be afraid. I think fear holds us back from change, and we wind up getting stuck in something for months, for years, maybe for our entire lives, and we go through so much hardship and suffering that’s needless. If we just kick that fear to the side and be open to learning something new, and with the help of other farmers who’ve been through this before them, I would hope that other farmers would be open to change and open to growth and know that they’re not alone. They’re not alone. There are others who have felt that way before them, and we can all get through this together.