Returning to my farming roots

NCPC member Bill Hawkins shares his background, farm operation, family and history of his fulfilling farming career.

Our farm is located in Deep Run, North Carolina, and operates as Trent Farms Inc. Our operation consists of hogs, turkeys and cattle. We began with the turkeys in 1984, and added the hogs and cattle in 1991. We have six finishing floors where we place 5,400 pigs contracted with J.C. Howard Farms. The Howards are not only our business partner but our neighbors as well. We can look from our home and see the mill that manufactures the feed for our pigs.

In addition, we have six turkey houses where we place approximately 27,000 toms contracted with Butterball. We have a cow/calf cattle operation consisting of 60 brood cows. We do no crop farming except pasture and hay for the cattle.

A bit of a background

I grew up on a farm located in Cove City, North Carolina, in Craven County. On this farm tobacco was the primary crop. As did most farms in the area, we also raised corn, soybeans and had a small number of hogs, cattle and chickens. Despite coming up on this type of farm, livestock and poultry operations always interested me.

A nearby dairy farm was of particular interest to me. During my high school years, which is now 50 years ago, I was able to work on a dairy farm after school and during the summer. This just increased my interest in animal farming. But, despite my love for animal farming, I was not able to get into it as a 20-year-old.

Accounting is another area that I found interesting. I enjoyed the business classes in high school and helped my dad with the farm recordkeeping. I pursued this field and received a degree in accounting from Atlantic Christian College. I worked in accounting for about 18 years. During this time I became involved with data processing and computer programming.

Although I learned a lot about business from the good people I worked for during this time, my interest in animal farming had not gone away.

A rewarding occupation

In the early 80s, I began to seriously look for a way to get into animal farming. With a small amount of savings and a lot of faith in ourselves and the turkey industry, North Carolina National Bank (NCNB) loaned us the money to build our six turkey houses.

With the help of my wife’s parents, we were able to operate the turkey farm and continue working away from home. After two years of operation, my wife, Gina, came home to the farm. She and her mother took care of a great deal of the work on the farm. In 1991 we built the hog farm, and animal farming became my sole occupation. It was, and still is, a dream come true.

My son, Barry, came back to the farm almost three years ago. Hopefully the farm can continue operating for many years with his presence and love for farming. For certain there have been challenges along the way, but they are present in any rewarding occupation.

A typical day

My day usually begins at about 7 a.m. Our first task is to make certain that feed, water and ventilation are operating properly in all houses. Other tasks include:

• Inventorying and ordering feed

• Reporting information to integrators as needed

• Make certain all animals are checked and treated if needed

• Repairs where needed

• Pumping and recording irrigation events

• Mowing, trimming and spraying grass on farmstead

• Pest control

• Managing pasture and hay fields

• Harvesting hay when needed

• Maintaining electric fencing, and tractors and equipment

• Maintaining financial records

We try to find a stopping point around 6 p.m. for the outside work, and we do office and paperwork at night.

Taking a stand and a bit of advice

An industry issue that has always been around is the challenges by various groups that we do not operate in an environmentally responsible manner. As with any industry, there can be some bad apples. When we have some, I hope they are dealt with quickly and forcefully.

Too often these groups make statements that are not backed by scientific fact. I know we, and I believe most farms, operate with great respect for the environment.

To young people interested in farming, I would advise to find someone successful in what you are interested in, and ask how they got started. Ask to observe their operation and possibly to get some hands-on experience. I think most will be glad to share their experiences in becoming a successful farmer.

A personal side

All my life I’ve enjoyed playing piano and organ, with organ being my greatest interest. I’ve been blessed to be our church organist for nearly 30 years. I’m also an active member of Deep Run FWB Church where I’ve served as organist and treasurer.

When younger I enjoyed tennis, basketball, and quail and dove hunting.

Something I really enjoy is hopping on the ATV and riding over the farm soaking up the beauty of nature and the sights and sounds of the farm. Last, but definitely not least, I enjoy spending time with my family (wife, son, daughter, three grandchildren and daughter-in-law).