Every business has to start somewhere. For Stanton Brothers, it began with a wide-eyed first grader, fawning over fluffy chicks in his classroom’s incubator.
Dustin Stanton, junior MU agricultural business major, first had six chicks in his family’s chicken shed. He fed and watered them daily and collected eggs for family and church friends.
“That’s how it started,” Stanton said. “At the time it didn’t seem like a business, really.”
Through middle school and junior high, the business remained the same. Stanton would carry out his farm duties to earn his allowance. A few birds got to know young Stanton pretty well, especially a nutty chicken named Cleopatra who followed him around all day.
Things changed Stanton’s freshman year of high school, when an FFA project grew from his hobby. He increased his size to 500 chickens and began selling products Saturday mornings at the Columbia Farmers Market.
The first week he sold six eggs. The second week it rained, and he sold a dozen. The third week it snowed.
“The first month of selling was terrible,” Stanton said. “But then it started picking up, I sold 40 dozen one week, and I thought that was pretty awesome. And it just kind of grew from that.”
As Stanton learned how to run his business he realized there was a local shortage of fresh eggs. He jumped at the possibility to move from the retail to wholesale market and pitched his sale across his hometown of Centralia. His first customer was Clover’s and Stanton’s eggs are now found in more than 40 weekly outlets, including all HyVee, Schnucks, Isle of Capri and the MU campus dining halls.
Stanton now owns 15,000 chickens and four – going on five – buildings to house them. His chickens produce around 6,500 eggs, or 500-600 dozen, daily. The same entrepreneurial spirit that drove his production expansions is now being applied to advancing his business technology.
“I’m putting up a new building right now, and it will be completely automated, which will be pretty awesome,” Stanton said. “Automatic nests, gathering, feeding and watering. And it will all be controlled by a smart phone. So I won’t have to be physically there to do those things. I’ll be in the back of class doing that. I love technology, and being able to use it in agriculture is terrific.”
He’s also changing the chicken house setup, to have more space for the chickens through a European style space – with higher nests, smaller slats and more run space underneath. Stanton said he wants to operate a business that is constantly challenging boundaries and looking for the best solutions to problems.
“[The new building] is a pretty unique design and outlay, everything is going to be state of the art,” Stanton said. “There’s actually only two other buildings like this in the United States and both are in California. … I like the science and math behind it – and the business.”
Jesse Lyons, extension associate for poultry in the MU animal sciences division, said that automated laying houses are currently the norm for larger layer operations. Many in production are also beginning to see the value in the incorporation of smart-phone technology.
“Cell phone alerts help the managers give timely response to power outages, fan failures, egg cooler temperature alerts, and some even monitor water usage and feed line operations,” Lyons said. “Incorporation of [automation] into Dustin’s operation will let him closely monitor his egg cooler in particular.”
Stanton said he’s looking forward to graduation, when he can focus on further enhancing the business – especially on the tech side. Currently, his time is difficult to manage between the chicken farm, classes and MU campus involvement, he’s under a lot of stress. Stanton said he is lucky to have a support system from his parents, Judy and Andrew, and brother, Austin. His father grows the chicken feed on the family farm, his mother does deliveries and his brother jointly manages the business. Although juggling school and his chickens can add extreme stress, Stanton said he would not be the same person without it.
“This business has changed everything about me in a sense. When I first started out I was really shy, and the farmers market really helped to open me up,” Stanton said. “It takes self-determination, if it doesn’t go right you still find a way to fix things. And it takes time management, with being able to prioritize your work and its daily tasks and still keep up with school assignments. … I get to believe in what I do, and that’s huge.”
Lyons believes Stanton understands how to run a business well because he sees the “big picture.” Stanton isn’t always sure of the choices he is making, but with trial and error, he said, the business became successful.
“It really doesn’t seem like you’re doing much at the start – when I had six chicks, I didn’t really think anything of it,” Stanton said. “You’ve got to not be afraid to make mistakes and switch it up. Most businesses don’t even make a dollar in the first two years, but in the end, it is worth it.”