MU freshman balances expanding chicken farm, classes and FFA conventions

Saturday, October 15, 2011 | 7:28 p.m. CDT; updated 5:47 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 16, 2011
From left, Austin, Dustin and Judy Stanton take a break from their evening chores. Farming is a family affair for the Stantons on their Centralia farm. Although Dustin and Austin own the chickens for Stanton Brothers' egg farm, parents Judy and Andrew take part with the chores to help their sons balance the egg business and school.

*This story has been changed to clarify the number of categories in the competition.

COLUMBIA — When Dustin Stanton got six chickens in grade school, no one in his family knew he'd have about 8,500 by his freshman year in college.

This Tuesday, the Centralia teen will head to Indianapolis for the 84th annual National Convention of the National FFA Organization. He is one of four competitors in the country vying for the national title in the entrepreneurship in agricultural sales category.

*There are 47 different categories in the competition, but only a few finalists are chosen from each state to compete nationally. Stanton will also be competing for a summer trip to Costa Rica to learn about different agricultural practices.

Stanton was selected to compete for the FFA's National Agricultural Proficiency Award because of his work as a chicken farmer.

At 19 years old, Stanton juggles his time among his studies as a full-time MU student, his efforts in FFA and his work as a businessman. More than 30 vendors buy eggs from Stanton Brothers, the business he owns with his brother, every week. Other vendors, such as grocery stores in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., buy every other week. Stanton also sells eggs at the Columbia Farmers Market.

His business started to take off when he was a freshman at Centralia High School.

“I used to complain when we got 20 dozen (eggs),” he said. “I thought 500 chickens was way too many.”

Since then, his business has only grown. Now Stanton gathers about 250 dozen eggs every day. The number almost doubles in warm summer months.

Barring cold weather, Stanton’s 8,500 chickens wander free on the 1,200 acres that the family farms. The chickens can be found almost anywhere on the farm, Andrew Stanton, Dustin Stanton's dad, said. They jump up onto cows' backs, and if there’s an open door, they’ll run through it, he said.

“We try to avoid that, but it happens,” Dustin Stanton said with a chuckle.

Equipped with a walk-in cooler and a refrigerated truck for deliveries, Stanton starts most days at 6 a.m. Each morning, he grinds the milo seed raised on his family's farm to make feed for the chickens, checks to make sure they have water and inspects the chickens to make sure they're in good physical condition. He also packages the eggs and prepares them for delivery. He tries to gather eggs twice a day.

"The funny thing about chickens is they have no off switch," he said.

Stanton said he usually works close to 70 hours a week with his time split between taking care of the chickens and processing and delivering the eggs.

“That’s what a business is,” he said. “You don’t expect to work 40 hours a week and be done.”

Stanton Brothers' buyers include Hy-Vee stores in Columbia, Jefferson City and Kansas City; MU dining halls; Columbia College; and Isle of Capri Casino. Most of his vendors approached him and asked to buy his product.

“All of his production has been driven by demand,” Andrew Stanton said.

For the Stantons, farming and family go together. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Dustin Stanton commutes from their Centralia farm to MU, where he takes classes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. On those days his parents, Judy and Andrew Stanton, and his 15-year-old brother, Austin, help pick up the slack.

“My favorite part is we are a team and we work together,” Andrew Stanton said. “It is a family thing.”

Dustin Stanton said he plans to remain in Centralia after graduation and continue chicken farming as a career.

“Growth is essential, and that’s what I’m trying for,” he said.

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