Top Story, June 11, 2013
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
GALENA, Md. — On the farm, working along side your identical twin can have it’s advantages.
Having a trusted partner to share the workload goes a long way.
That’s the case for brothers and grain and poultry growers Olin Davis III and Allen Davis, the sixth generation carry their family’s farming tradition at Rich Levels Grain, Inc.
The two brothers both worked on the farm growing up, studied agriculture at the University of Maryland and returned home to eventually take over the operation from their father, Olin Davis Jr.
But when they are not together, one being mistaken for the other is not uncommon.
Allen said when either brother senses they’ve been recognized as the other, as much as they know about their day-today lives: “We can pretty much carry the conversation with out telling them.”
While the brothers may laugh off the instances of confusion in the community, their intentions on running a well-managed, viable farm are clear.
“We’re sort of sticklers for keeping things looking nice,” Olin said, during a break from paperwork in the farm’s office.
Growing up, the farm had dairy cows but when the brothers left for University of Maryland in 1973, the cows were next to leave the farm.
When Olin and Allen came back to farm full-time, their father was tilling about 500 acres and had converted some of the dairy barns for raising hogs.
After about 12 years into the hog business, Allen said the family faced a fork in the road: Make a major investment in new facilities and commit to hogs long term or change directions entirely.
“When we were coming out of the ’80s, grain farming was touch and go at times with droughts and other things,” Allen said. “We just needed something to diversify.”
In 1995, they put up four poultry houses and two more on the same farm in 2005.
When the first houses were built, Olin recalled tunnel ventilation was rare and companies were offering incentives to install nipple drinkers, now viewed as “a no-brainer for maintaining flock health.”
The poultry industry was growing at a brisk pase and the brothers thought it would complement their grain operation.
“Poultry dominates agriculture on the Shore and still does,” Olin said. “We felt like it’s the most efficient way to use corn and we could use the litter. The fit between growing grain and poultry, for us, has just been like a hand in glove.”
Allen Family Foods and ConAgra were willing to contract with them in the northern end of Maryland’s Kent County and they decided on Allens.
In 2011, the same day Allens announce it had filed for bankruptcy protection, the Davis birds were picked up, leaving some uncertainty when and if another flock would come in. They had also just invested about $100,000 in upgrades including new controllers in the houses.
“Fortunately, we barely skipped a step,” Olin said. While Allens waded through bankruptcy proceedings, the Davis’s got another flock with a guarantee for purchase and they’ve continued to grow for Allen-Harim.
Allen said while there were mixed opinions about a foreign company buying the company, he viewed it as a “tremendous shot in the arm for the industry,” not just for Allens.
“That’s worth a whole lot of piece of mind that someone from the outside would come in and invest in the industry,” he said.
Now the brothers, with three other employees including Olin’s son Chris, manage about 2,500 acres and the poultry houses. Though each brother is capable in operating any part of the farm, there are certain parts of the operation each has come to specialize in.
Each brother manages three chicken houses and Allen tends to manage the planting and grain storage parts on the row crop side of the farm.
Olin does the bulk of the harvesting and until recent years, did most of the spraying, a job Chris has taken over leaving Olin handle much of the paper and office work.
Promoting agriculture to the public is another job both brothers share.
Both serve on several boards and groups in and out of the farm community and rarely shy away from an opportunity to talk with people about what they do on the farm.
Recently, Olin visited the Montgomery County school where his daughter teaches second grade to show the students baby chicks and how they grow on the farm.
They’ve given several tours of the farm over the years to various groups and are expected to be featured in an episode of the much anticipated Maryland Public Television series on agriculture in the state.
“This is the missing link,” Olin said of the outreach efforts. “It’s something we’re committed too and we’re passionate about what we’re doing.”