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One Monticello Life – Thad, Nikki, & Colton Mitchell – 2012 Drew County Farm Family of the Year

May 2nd, 2012 by

“I was born and raised on same property we’re living on now. This 180 acres of land has never been bought or sold, it was homesteaded by my family. It goes back to my Great Great Granddaddy. I’m the 5th generation farming this land.” – Thad Mitchell

Thad and Nikki Mitchell, along with their six year old son, Colton, have settled on the family land to continue with the farming tradition and raise their family. This year, they have been selected as Farm Family of the Year for Drew County.

Thad and Nikki’s farming business largely consists of raising Bermuda grass for hay, along with some Alfalfa, and producing eggs for Tyson Foods.

Nikki was born in Peoria, Illinois and was raised in IL by her parents Taron and Sam Ashley, along with her two sisters. Nikki’s father retired from Caterpillar, and also bailed hay for their horses. Growing up around horses and performing in rodeos is what led Nikki to her future husband.

Thad was born and raised here in Drew County, on the same land he and his family live on today. His parents are Rusty and Karla Mitchell and he is an only child. He said that even though he grew up in the country, surrounded by the beautiful land, farming was not something he saw himself doing as a career.

“My mom and dad both had “regular” jobs. Dad worked for Game and Fish and Mom worked at UAM… they both retired last year. They were both still young and saw how well the chicken houses were doing for us, so they built 4 broiler houses across the street from us.”

“When I was growing up Dad and Granddad had some cows and baled hay for the cows… so I wasn’t around farming other than that. I wanted to rodeo professionally. I wanted to do calf roping. Right after we got married in 2005, I realized that wasn’t going to happen. But from 17 until 26 I worked off and on at a row crop farm. We raised corn, beans, rice, and cotton. The last year I worked there (M&J Farms) I talked to Tyson about poultry houses. They weren’t building any at that time, but we got on a list and a year later in 2006 they contacted us and we started building the houses. It was working those row crops that showed me what I needed and wanted to do as a real profession. I loved it, and it was then when I realized I really wanted to farm.”

During Thad’s rodeo years, he met a young lady that changed the course of his life.

“We met in West Memphis at a Rodeo in 2004. We dated long distance, over the phone, and saw each other at different rodeos. We started riding together and eventually, I came down here and never went back.” – Nikki Mitchell

On March 12, 2005 the couple was married, and they welcomed their son Colton on March 16, 2006.

Since starting their life together, the Mitchells have focused on building their own farm.

“Primarily we produce breeder hen growers for Tyson Foods. The chickens lay eggs and the eggs go to Star City to be hatched, and then they go broiler houses. That’s where they go to gain weight before slaughter.” – Thad Mitchell

The couple also farms hay, and between these two aspects of their farm, and keeping up with their son, they stay extremely busy.

“We have 110 acres of pure Bermuda grass that we square bale and sell to the public. Some goes out of state, some to feed stores, and some stays local.”

According to Thad, time management can be one of the most challenging aspects of farming.

“One of the hardest parts is managing your time between the chickens and the hay. In the summertime I get up at 4:00am and I’m at the chicken houses at 4:30am, because that’s when the feeding starts. At 7:30am you start picking up eggs… and that takes until noon. Then you have a two hour break to eat lunch and try to get hay cut. Then you’re back to picking up eggs, then back again to cutting and baling hay until way after dark. If you’ve got a field that has worms and needs to be sprayed, running to town and working on that in the middle of everything, too…. it’s just non-stop.“ – Thad

Nikki said, “Then trying to juggle everything else. Like he’s coaching tee ball right now.”

They said how difficult it can be to ever be away from the farm.

“If you’re not here and the generator breaks in the summer, in about 15 minutes you’ve got dead chickens.” – Thad

Even with the constant demands, the Mitchells say it’s the only place they can imagine living and working. They love the experiences it’s given to their son, too. They both said he loves being able to live out in the country and help out with anything he can.

“He goes with me on the Rhino to check the Bermuda grass for worms. He wouldn’t know what to do in town.” – Thad

“He’ll get up some days, put on his blue jeans and boots and say “I’m going to work with Daddy, Mom!” He likes getting dirty.” – Nikki

Many kids his age are astounded by large machines and tractors, but the Mitchells say that they simply don’t phase Colton.

“He’s been around it from the beginning so tractors don’t awe him.” – Thad

Nikki laughed and remembered how she used to take him and his pack-n-play to the chicken houses when he was a baby. “He really has grown up with all of this; it’s no big deal to him.”

Even owning his own horse hasn’t wowed Colton.

“He has his own mare, Cricket. She’s 6 like him. Thad’s grandfather, Clay Mitchell, bought her for Colt when she was born. He isn’t as into riding her as other kids would be. It just has to hit him that he wants to… and he can go a month without riding.”

With the love of their farming lifestyle has come the harsh reality of today’s times.

“The hardest thing with farming right now is the input cost… fuel, fertilizer, butane. Everything is so extremely high…. The margins are so thin now on your profits. Everything has gone way up in price.”

“Farm fuel was 35 cents a gallon when I started at 17 years old with M&J, and today it’s $3.65 or $3.70 for off-road (tractor) fuel. Fertilizer costs have done the same thing because it follows the oil prices. So oil goes up, fertilizer goes up. Grain prices are covered mostly by Tyson, but they are higher now, too, and that’s a trickle-down effect to us.”

“You wonder when it’s going to stop… when someone will step in and do something about it. Everyone’s in a bind anyway. I’m making less money than I was 4 years ago selling hay because the input costs are so high, even though we’ve raised hay prices. When will it stop?” – Thad

Even with the ever-increasing financial hardships today’s farmers face, That and Nikki both agreed that the satisfaction they get out of this business and lifestyle is like nothing they could gain by doing anything else.

“I love being self-employed and being my own boss.” “Doing what you like to do, how you want to do it, is rewarding to me. Being able to go cut and bale hay and look back and see what I’ve done, you get to see what all your work accomplished when you’ve got a barn full of hay that’s ready to sell. You can say, “I did that.” At the end of each year, it’s like “I did it again!”” – Thad

“And, you’re always trying to improve and make things better. If he’s happy, I’m happy. I see what he’s done and I’m proud for him and supportive. It’s also amazing to see how this has stayed within the family for so long, and all of this will likely be handed down to Colton. That’s a great feeling.” – Nikki

Thad and Nikki just found out two weeks ago that they were chosen for Farm Family of the Year, and Thad’s initial response to seeing the men approach to give him the news, was that something must be really wrong.

“When I saw Brian McDuffy and Mark Robinson come to the chicken house I knew something bad must have happened. Brian is my banker and Mark works for the NRCS Office, they provide government assistance to farmers. When they pulled up together at the chicken houses I thought “What’s wrong?” They said “we’ve got something we need to talk to you about.” They told me the news and I was really thrilled and honored. I told them I figured the government wanted their money back and my banker was about to cut me off. It was a much nicer surprise than what I thought was coming, and we really couldn’t be more surprised!” – Thad

From the hay your horses and cows eat, to the chicken on your plate, the Mitchells have dedicated their lives to providing what they can for the community. Their hard work does not go unnoticed, and MLive would like to congratulate them on an honor that spotlights just a fraction of the exhausting, and often thankless, job they do day in and day out.

“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.” – Benjamin Franklin

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