As a freshman at NC State, Paul Talley knew a thing or two (or a thousand) about what it took to run a successful farming operation.
After all, his family’s business, Talley Farms Inc., is one of the state’s largest turkey producers, turning out nearly 1.5 million meat birds and seven million hatching eggs a year.
But the 1986 graduate of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science says that, although he came to CALS with a wealth of agriculture experience, his time here led to new knowledge, improved skills, lifelong connections and, as it turns out, his future wife.
Did you always know you wanted to be a turkey producer?
I said I’d never go back to the farm, and I went straight back. My father was a poultry science graduate, so I always had NC State on my mind. During the time I was in school, I decided I could become a farmer and do it myself.
What led to that decision?
Farming is what I grew up doing, and it’s what I knew. And it’s been good for me.
How did your NC State experience help prepare you for your career?
I learned a lot about the technical aspects of farming and the life sciences. Running a successful operation means more than just putting out food and water. NC State gave me the ability to think through different situations. I had several favorite professors … Vern Christensen comes to mind. And Dr. John Brake and Dr. Carm Parkhurst were also favorites.
How has Talley Farms changed since you graduated?
Both of my brothers graduated from NC State also. It was destiny, I guess. When I got out of school, my father was producing commercial turkeys for meat on his own, and he had a little feed mill. Then my younger brother and I started a turkey breeder division to produce turkey hatching eggs, and we’re still doing that. Right now, all of our production goes to Prestage Farms right here in North Carolina. We also continued to grow the commercial side – the meat side – and got into a niche producing antibiotic-free natural birds. Right now we’re producing about a million and a half birds. On the hatching egg side, we do about seven million eggs a year.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I don’t go to work and do the same thing every day. I enjoy that most of all. And I look after the row-crop side of the business. We grow corn, soybeans and wheat, and that’s mostly done in Robeson County, so I do a lot of traveling. I’m outside, not stuck in an office all day. It’s very nice.
Why is it important to you to remain connected to CALS as the chairman of the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Board?
When I left NC State, it followed me, through Extension and some of the trade organizations I’m involved in. Dr. Peter Ferket, in fact, has helped us out a lot in our business, especially with nutrition. We’ve worked closely with him for the last 30 years. Serving on the N.C. Agricultural Foundation Board is a great way to stay connected and give back.
And NC State is a family affair, right?
All three of my kids graduated from State. Jessie, my oldest daughter, studied animal science; and my middle daughter, Logan, studied mechanical engineering. My son Will, who is the youngest, graduated from poultry science. After he graduated, he worked for Butterball for about a year and a half. I told him he shouldn’t come straight out of school and work for us. I didn’t want to be that dad who made his son come back to work for him. It was Will’s decision to come back, and I think he made a good decision. My wife, Patti, also went to NC State and studied poultry science; that’s how we met.
What piece of advice would you give a student thinking about studying poultry science in CALS?
It’s a great experience. Enjoy it while you’re here. It stays with you. In the poultry industry especially, there are a lot of NC State graduates. I’ve known many of them my whole life. It’s like a big family.