The Goshen facility hatched and processed turkeys up through 1974 and then it sat empty until 1978. It was at that point when the Miller family started hatching chicks and has been ever since. By the mid-90s, the business had purchased and begun work on the Orland processing plant and the Goshen property was completely converted over to only hatching chicks.
Building the Business
Before Miller Poultry bought the plant in Orland, it had been a small custom operation that processed some tray-pack poultry products for local grocery stores and for owners of “backyard” flocks who did not want to butcher their own birds. The week before Miller bought the plant it processed 24,000 birds. During Miller’s first week of ownership, the plant processed 20,000 birds and the next week 16,000. “It wasn’t going the right way,” Miller says. “Fortunately, it bottomed out at about 15,000 or 16,000 a week.”
“I think more of our history has been identifying what customers we would like to partner with and going down that path,” Diehl says, “and then upping production to the level we need to service those customers more so than having goals of certain numbers and trying to force it out into the market.”
Miller adds that while running at 100 percent capacity is often looked at by business as the most efficient and cost-effective way to operate a facility, focusing on customers and sales has kept Miller’s growth in control. “Right now, for example, on our first processing, we’re at about 75 percent capacity,” he says. “We don’t really want to grow that until we know there are secured sales for that additional volume.”
Stephen Shepard, vice president of live operations, came to Miller Poultry from the poultry industry and shows much enthusiasm for the location, company, culture and most importantly, the difference between Miller and the larger players in the industry. “We love our jobs,” Shepard says, and adds that the true teamwork he experiences with Miller provides security and peace of mind. Shepard’s current task is getting the breeder program started, the last piece to Miller Poultry being self-sufficient. He says it should be up and running by March of 2018.
But while company culture, teamwork and personnel contribute to Miller Poultry and its success, it also represents the company’s biggest challenge.
Goshen and Orland, Indiana, are situated in a region considered a hotbed of recreational vehicle (RV) manufacturing and has been since the mid-1960s. This makes procuring and retaining skilled labor in the plant difficult. The plant itself resides in a low population area with most coming from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and Michigan.
“Labor is by far the largest issue that we face on a daily basis,” Diehl says. “From that point, I think the next biggest challenge we face on a daily basis is the product segregation of the antibiotic free, non-GMO and organic. That’s a continual struggle.”
Miller utilizes an employee mentor program for new workers on the plant floor in which a senior employee is assigned to the new one and acts as a mentor. The mentorship includes everything from introductions to others, job training, help with navigating the plant and more. This lasts about two weeks until the new hire is comfortable.