Poultry Industry Timeline

Before Chatham County was even settled by migrants moving up-country, the area has had a long Agricultural tradition. That tradition continued through the county's early days 250 years ago. In recent year, the Poultry Industry, in particular, has come to characterize the county's agricultural industry. Some of the early record of industrial poultry farming and production traces back to the Pittsboro Hatchery that according to the Chatham News & Record may have begun operations at early at 1939.

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(Chatham News & Record - August 8, 1976)

While the Hatcheries themselves were impressive, the county's poultry tradition would not reach its current level of prominence without the addition of poultry processing in the same county. Local processing operations started to crop up in the county until in 1986, the Townsends Company acquired poultry processing operations in Siler City. The introduction of the Townsends Company elevated the industry in Chatham county as a multi-state and even international poultry company which possess more resources than were often locally available. The expansive of Townsends operations in Chatham brought jobs and dignity to many in the area.

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(Chatham News & Record - August 4, 2011)

For the company as a whole, however, Townsends began to face pressures in the 1990s because they had difficulty competing with more centralized poultry distributors like Tyson and Perdue. While this created stress for the company, they were able to sustain their business through that period due to the flexibility of their international business. Eventually, the operations in Chatham became harder for the company to support as added pressure began to trickle down and put pressure on the workers in the early 2000s, a period which may have been what spurred a burst of union organizing around the facilities in the late 2000s (see Chatham News & Record - April 26, 2007). As the Recession hit American industry across the board, the company decided to take the opportunity to consolidate, closing their operations in Chatham in 2011.

For some time the poultry industry of Chatham and Siler City  entered a limbo, unsure of whether the industry was on its way out, whether there would be a return to more localized production and processing, or whether someone else would come to fill Townsends' place. The answer became that the Mountaire company came to fill that spot and even expand on Townsends' prior operations. Mountaire began work on constructing new facilities in 2017.

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(Photo Courtesy of Mountaire Farms)

Since Mountaire's introduction into the county, they have brought many jobs lost by the closing of the Townsends Plant back to the people of Siler City and the county as a whole. The company has also received press attention for acts of goodwill towards the community, like the donation of 1,000 holiday dinners (Chatham News & Record - November 17, 2019) and a successful job fair which drew hundreds in 2018. It is still early in the story of Mountaire within the county's poultry history, but many are glad at the very least that the industry still has a home in Chatham one way or the other. To learn more about poultry in Chatham today, and going as far back at the 1930s, feel free to read further in the collected images and news clippings below.

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(Photo Courtesy of Mountaire Farms)

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