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Finding a roost in Franklin County

FRANKLIN LIVING—

Mar-Jac Poultry closed the books on its first full year of operation in Franklin County at the end of 2018, and as a nod to its success the area, the hatchery and feed mill company was named Industry of the Year at the 2019 Franklin County Partnership Awards Banquet.

“I would like to think it’s our involvement with the community through our sponsoring of the Phil Campbell Hoedown and other things we’ve done to help in the community since we started building these two facilities up here,” said Keith Martin, live operations manager for the Spruce Pine-based operation. “We’re a very community-minded company, and we’re very grateful to be here in Franklin County. The community has been very welcoming and open to us, and we like to give back whenever possible.”

Mar-Jac first broke ground for the feed mill in 2015, and hatchery construction followed in 2016. Full operations at both commenced in November/December 2017.

“We’ve gone through some bumps, as you do with any new facility start-up, but the feed mill is moving right along as expected, and the hatchery is making progress every day,” said Martin. Now that Mar-Jac has its first year under its belt, Martin said a current focus is shaking the “under construction” image. “We’re trying to shift our focus from inside the building to the outside – looking at our grounds and things like that. We’ve already got shrubs and plants, and at the entrances and we have our signs up, but we’re looking at the total grounds, wanting to plant better grass and, from there, try to keep on looking outward. Our goal is to be one of the places in the county you can drive by and say ‘Wow, that’s really a well-kept facility.’”

For Mar-Jac’s 70-75 employees at the Spruce Pine facilities, production output is a key focus. The feed mill produces the necessary feed to supply all Mar-Jac operations in Alabama, some 150 poultry growers across the state plus a few in northeast Mississippi. That’s about seven thousand tons of seed per week, Martin said, produced with ingredients that arrive at the facility on 18-wheelers. At the hatchery, Mar-Jac hatches all chickens that then go to Mar-Jac broiler growers – 1.7-1.8 million chicks a week.

“Our industry is driven by large numbers; it takes those numbers to feed the people,” Martin said. “You probably eat our chicken more than you realize. If you eat at a local fast food restaurant, you’re more than likely eating Mar-Jac chicken” – not to mention the Mar-Jac product widely available for purchase in grocery stores. “It’s fun for me to be involved with it – to go to a restaurant and sit down and realize, ‘I had a part in this making it to here.’ There’s a level of satisfaction that comes with producing a local product.”

Although Martin described the Spruce Pine operations as largely automated, with the hatchery being one of the most automated hatcheries in North America, still, “it takes a lot of people and a lot of moving parts” to make it happen, from unloading trucks, to mixing and pelleting feed, to delivering feed to farms and aiding in all stages of the process at the hatchery. “The feed mill typically runs around the clock during the week,” Martin added.

A number of Franklin County residents are employed at Mar-Jac – “We have several people who have come in and become an integral part of our operation who literally live down the road,” Martin said – and he added Mar-Jac is always ready to hire good employees, especially as it eyes potential future plans.

“We are always looking for growth opportunities as a company,” said Martin, although adding Mar-Jac is focused for now on settling into a solid daily and weekly rhythm at its Franklin County operations. “Whenever you’re starting up a new facility, there are going to be things you run into that you might not have previously run into in other jobs in the industry, but we’ve been able to work with the company we purchased equipment from and the contractors we used to get through those trouble spots, and we’ve also been able to work with the area utilities and things of that nature to build a positive relationship and work through any problems that arose there. For the most part, everything is operating fairly well. We are able to keep a good ample supply of all ingredients and materials we need.”

Martin said people who are interested in working at Mar-Jac can contact the company’s HR department at the Jasper facility by calling 770-531-5007.


PHOTOS BY APRIL WARHURST