A family farm in Cookville, Texas, has successfully transitioned from raising chickens for food to growing hemp.
Mercy For Animals, an international animal protection non-profit, supported the farm through the transition.
It’s part of the charity’s ‘TransFARMation’ initiative, which assists farmers in updating their animal-based farming models to plant-based ones instead.
“When it became obvious that the business was not something that made financial sense, we decided to bite the bullet and shut down the chicken houses and look for some sort of a different option,” said the late Bo Halley, who ran the poultry-turned-hemp farm.
Halley had been farming chickens since he was 14 years old. For thirty years, the family raised six groups of chickens per year, with 192,000 birds in each group.
As well as the financial difficulties that came with poultry farming, the family suffered injuries and health complications from their work in crowded chicken houses. One instance saw Halley needing a partial amputation of his finger after developing an infection from a chicken.
“We decided that we would grow hemp and go from killing animals to growing something, from destroying things to creating things,” he said.
With the support of Mercy For Animals, the Halley family planted their first acre of hemp in July 2020.
Less than three months later, in October, they were preparing to harvest for the first time.
Sustaining the land and families
Leah Garcés, President of Mercy For Animals, was on site to help harvest the plants.
“This is the very first successful TransFARMation,” she said at the time. “There are 12 chicken houses, and they used to house tens of thousands of suffering animals, and now they’re going to dry hemp.”
“I want the farmers to know I’m really with them. You know, I really am going to get my hands dirty. I’m going to sweat. I’m going to work hard to make the chicken houses turn into something that they can make money off of, that can sustain the land and their families.”
The first harvest was a ‘beautiful’ moment, she said on the day, acknowledging ‘the possibilities that can come, when people come together and try to find solutions’.
“All [the Halley family’s] kids are coming back out, and the brothers and sisters are back together. Everyone’s back here. And it’s such a moment of creation and growth rather than destruction and death.”
Growing something ‘changes your heart’
Hemp farmer Evan Penhasi supported the family through the move, too. Growing hemp is a ‘great opportunity’, he said.
“Growing something just changes your heart, compared to killing something. And this whole process has transformed a family that really, I think, was in despair for a very, very, very long time and has transformed it into something now that is thriving and is connected and close,” Penhasi explained.
To learn more about the TransFARMation project, see here.