Brothers Build Childhood Business into Largest in the Nation

Dec 30, 2015  | 8 min  | Ep4120

Dustin Stanton, Stanton Brothers Eggs: “The business actually got started in the first grade through a 4-H incubation project. The class incubated 6 baby chicks and from that project one of the kids got to take them home and I was the only kid that wanted those baby chicks until the very last day and then another girl also wanted them. She put her name in the hat to try and win them and she did win them and I came home a little teary eyed but my uncle was here, and I told him my predicament. He ended up buying me my first 6 baby chicks and that was how it started and it was just an allowance at that point.”  

Dustin’s first attempt at raising chickens included an old chicken shed that had fallen in, some five gallon buckets, and a set of old chicken feeders. Since then, the operation has grown nearly to 20,000 layers in 5 buildings. And recently the pair built a state of the art structure along with the help of their father.

The brothers prefer, Brown Highlines and Bovans as their breed of choice because they are easy to handle and convert small amounts of feed into large eggs.

In 2007, Dustin joined the FFA and bought 500 layers to use as his SAE, or Supervised Agricultural Experience project. Following the leap in egg production, the brothers decided to jump into retail selling their bounty at the Columbia Missouri Farmer’s Market. For the first three weeks they faced horrible weather and low sales. By the fourth week they were ready to quit, but they ended up selling 40-50 dozen eggs. The bump in pay was enough encouragement for Dustin and Austin to continue traveling to Columbia, Missouri every Saturday morning in the summer for the past decade. The pair sell an average of 400-500 dozen eggs every week.

Corrina Smith, Market Manager for the Columbia Market has worked with the brothers since beginning her position as the manager for the past 3 years.

Corrina Smith, Columbia Farmer’s Market Manager: “I think customers have kind of the same feeling about them as I do. You know they appreciate that the boys started this when they were younger and have worked their way up to as successful as they are now and they all love their eggs too.”

Their farmer’s market stand is visited mostly by returning customers who look for the iconic giant stuffed chickens.

Dustin and Austin also count college dining halls, numerous senior care facilities, restaurants, bakeries, and supermarket chains among their customers. Weekly rounds include HyVee, Schnucks, and Dustin’s alma mater, the University of Missouri. 

The Stantons got their product onto the shelves of a Missouri HyVee after customers recommended their product to the store management. Sarah Bartow-Fuller is the assistant merchandise manager at the Broadway HyVee in Columbia, Missouri. 

Sara Bartow-Fuller, Asst. Merchandise Manager: “They’re our number one selling egg for sure. They even outsell our HyVee health market brand, which I’m probably not supposed to say but they are a very good selling egg.”

The Stanton’s have lived within a mile radius of their original homestead in Boone County, Missouri since the family emigrated from Ireland in 1845. Although the details of the Stanton’s lineage are murky, Dustin and Austin have been either the 6th or 7th generation to be involved in farming in mid-Missouri and have a desire to remain on the family farm for as many years as possible.

Dustin: “It’s not really the business as a goal, it’s just staying on the farm, that’s been the main goal for both Austin and myself. We’ve always wanted to stay on the family farm, and it literally can’t sustain 3 families in the future, both our parents, Austin, and myself. So to kind of diversify and get away from it I’ve kind of counted the egg business and the Stanton brother’s side of thing as our off farm while being on the farm income. So we’re still able to help on the farm with the daily things, with the cattle, the crops, the mechanics, and things like that, but the eggs are what keep us here.”

Diversification and expansion are always on their minds. The brothers were intrigued by their ancestor’s involvement in the potato industry and Austin spurred a transition to expand their operation.

Austin: “My brother had a paper he had wrote for his, I guess senior year. So I found his paper and I was like “potatoes, that’s a great idea!” so I ran with it. And it also goes back to ancestors whenever we came from Ireland, we came from the potato famine and they grew potatoes in Ireland so why not grow potatoes now?”

The Stanton brothers are kept busy with more than just eggs and potatoes. Both help their father manage 400 acres of milo which is used to feed to their flock. They also help with the families 80 head cow/calf operation and recently the brothers expanded operations to include a honey based ice cream which they sell at local retail outlets.

Dustin: “As far as splitting everything up, Austin is very hands-on, he’s actually going to school for an Ag systems management degree, which is a more hands-on degree and so he does a lot of the production side of things and I do a lot more of the book and record keeping side of things.”

The two are well aware their success was made possible with the help of their parents Andrew and Judy Stanton, as well as their three part time employees who help with day to day operations including: egg collecting, washing, packaging, processing, and distribution.

Almost all of their business expansion has been by word of mouth, as was the case with HyVee, which has given the boys more time to spend on other aspects of their business.

Dustin: “I’m at that point where I’m kind of just focusing on the business and I have been out of school for almost a year now and I come to find that I have less time now than I did when I was in school. So a lot of my goals is just focusing on the business. For me it’s more of the micro-manage stuff to get everything fine-tuned and tweaked so that it does work a little bit more efficiently and that we can gain a little bit of time in the day and things like that.”

But even as the business continues to grow and expand, their true success lies with the bonds cultivated through generations of dedication to family and farming.

Austin: “Working as a family farm is, it’s a very cool thing to do because whenever you’re thinking about a family business you think everyone works together and whenever you sit down to eat or go on a car ride you all know what’s going on in each other’s lives. So it’s just really good because you get to build that communication with your family, get to know what’s going on with their lives and you also get to work together. So it’s really a neat thing to do.”

For Market to Market I’m Delaney Howell. 

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