Just over a year ago, one of Hayden Farms' new 43-by-600-square-foot chicken houses in Daviess County made history.
"We were the first commercial poultry operation in the country to have a viewing area," said second-generation farmer Daniel Hayden. "My wife, Danielle, came up with a grand idea that we could bring people in and show them how our chickens are raised."
The Haydens' unique chicken house features large windows on one side under the statement, "Raised with care by a family that cares." Members of a family farm in Georgia visited and installed a similar viewing area in one of their barns. Lincoln Premium Poultry in Nebraska, owned by retail giant Costco, also added windows to one of its barns.
"There's a huge negative misconception tied to the poultry industry," Hayden said. "We just tell our story and tell them how we raise our birds. We give them information; we don't try to influence their thought process, positive or negative. We just give out accurate facts on how we do it."
Hayden Farms is not open to the general public to protect the safety of its young chickens but welcomes private groups by appointment. In the viewing barn's first year, nearly 500 people from eight states stopped by to take a look inside.
"It's not agritourism," Hayden said. "Our main target audience is people of influence, such as teachers, because if we positively impact one person, we can impact many more."
Besides teachers, the farm has also hosted visits from bloggers, dietitians, doctors, groups of mothers, and politicians.
In an effort to attract a non-farm audience, Hayden Farms built an education center separate from the farm with a full kitchen.
"We host groups and programs that would never come to a farm, such as wreath making," Hayden said. "These are groups that would normally not be attracted to a farm, and we don't advertise the center as being attached to the farm. While they're there, we say, 'Let's take you up to the viewing room and show you how the chicken you eat is raised.' "
Hayden Farms raises six separate cage-free flocks totaling approximately 1.2 million broiler chickens every year in its eight barns for a large nationwide processor, Perdue. Broilers are raised for their meat; there is no egg production.
"We receive the broiler chicks when they're 24 hours old from Perdue chicken houses in Kentucky, supplemented by some from Georgia," Hayden said. "We keep them for 46 days until they're 6-pound birds, then we're idle for 14-18 days while we clean and disinfect the barns for the next flock."
Hayden Farms' four original barns, built in the late 1990s, were fully manual. "Curtains" on the sides had to be cranked open or closed to control the airflow.
The four new barns are completely enclosed, built upon a foundation, and equipped with state-of-the-art computer systems that control the heaters and fans. Feeding is done automatically.
Hayden's father started the farm 34 years ago as a beef cattle operation on the side while operating an electrical contracting business, Hayden Electric. A broiler operation was added 22 years ago when Perdue came to the area.
Hayden, 30, joined the operation after graduating from Murray State University with an agribusiness degree.
"I helped out in electrical in high school and college, but I really enjoyed farming more than anything," he said. "The ability to take an inconsumable product, grass, and turn it into the most powerful protein on earth, beef, struck a chord with me."
Hayden Farms' commercial cow-calf operation boasts a herd of 200 cattle, which they background on their own using Kentucky's Certified Pre-Conditioned for Health (CPH-45) program for feeder calves. The farm also slaughters 10-15 cows per year to sell as freezer beef.
Visitors can also tour the farm's cattle operation. To schedule a visit or for more information, go to haydenfarms.org.