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A Brief History of Hickman’s Family Farms

Narrated by Glenn Hickman

Hickman’s Egg Ranch started in 1944. Our beginnings are owed to my grandmother, Nell Hickman. When the Hickman family settled in Glendale in 1944, my grandmother acquired a few hens so they could have fresh eggs for the family. She was from rural Kansas, and it was quite common for a housewife back there to maintain a small flock of chickens in order to produce a little extra money for the family. In 1944 the practice wasn’t quite as widespread in Glendale, so my grandmother continued to add to her flock as neighbors heard about the eggs being sold off her back porch. My grandfather had a full time job as an ironworker, and didn’t have the time or the patience to spend his spare time helping care for a growing flock of backyard chickens, so he built my grandmother an enclosed house, or coop, and as an early innovator, built individual cages in order to more easily care for the hens. The hens performed much better, and the little flock grew to 500 laying hens by 1957 when my grandmother’s son, Bill, married my mom, Gertie.

Our current processing capacity for shell eggs is ¾ million eggs per hour.

 My dad had a full time job managing a Glendale service station, and his new wife had time on her hands, and experience working in her father’s local dry goods stores. My dad bought my mom 500 baby chicks to match my grandmother’s flock, and the two women were 50-50 partners in the new business. Soon egg production exceeded the back porch sales, so my mom started selling eggs out of the back seat of my dad’s ‘55 Ford coupe to local cafés and grocery stores.

Business was so good that in two years the flock had grown to 3,500 hens. My older brother Matt was born in 1959 as well, so as soon as the insurance company paid the hospital off, (yes, medical coverage was a big deal even back then), my dad left the service station to run the egg business full time.

In the next 10 years, from 1959 to 1969, Hickman’s Egg Ranch grew to 100,000 laying hens on 10 acres on 67th Avenue and Missouri. Maryvale was also going great guns and for the first time we experienced urban encroachment.

With a little foresight and luck, my dad had purchased 40 acres way-way-way out on 91st avenue and Orangewood in 1968. He first built our family home there in 1970, and then got started building hen houses to expand and eventually relocate the 67th Avenue farm. We expanded over the years, adding barns and a processing plant. Eventually a feed mill was built, the barns were expanded, the plant expanded, etc., etc. By 1997, we had a processing plant capable of grading 72,000 eggs per hour and a feed mill running around the clock supplying not only our feed, but feed stores around the state — and 350,000 laying hens. And we were out of room.

We bought our first piece of ground in Arlington, Arizona in 1997. For those of you who don’t know where Arlington is, it is a suburb on the west side of Buckeye. In 1997, its lone operating retail establishment in what passes for downtown is a bar. In fact, it still is.

We bought some more land in Arlington, and since have expanded our operations. We built and bought farms in other areas as well. We haven’t really stopped yet.

I’d like to share a few factoids, from where we started with a backyard flock of a few hens to what will be almost 5 million layers by the end of this year:

  1. Our buildings now cover 2 million square feet, equivalent to 7 football fields;
  2. Our processing capacity for shell eggs is ¾ million eggs per hour;
  3. We are able to break, pasteurize and package 100,000 eggs per hour;
  4. We can boil, peel and package 50,000 eggs per hour;
  5. We have hens and pullets in Arizona and Colorado, egg processing and distribution in Iowa, and distribution warehouses in Las Vegas, Nevada and El Centro, California;
  6. We service customers located from Iowa to Hawaii;
  7. We consume the production of approximately 50,000 acres of grain products a year. (That is 78 square miles.) Another way to think of it is, we use a train of grain, one mile long, every month;
  8. Our feed mill makes a 26-ton semi-load of feed every 18 minutes;
  9. We repurpose everything possible – including 800,000 lbs. per day of chicken manure. Our fertilize division ships organic, dried, pelletized, bagged or bulk fertilizer throughout the state and southern California;
  10. We have about 300 full-time employees.

We have crossed the hurdle from hobby to viable business. My grandparents lived to see their grandchildren actively engage productively in the family business. And my parents have been able to observe their grandchildren helping in the family business. We have been fortunate to grow our family business continually now through three generations.