Sustaining tradition on the generational farm


Farming is a time-honored tradition that stays with some families generation after generation. The word farming doesn’t necessarily mean putting a seed in the ground and waiting for something green to pop up. Bradley County’s Farm Family of the Year specializes in eggs.

Nathan and Jodi Harrod, along with their three children, Kaysen, who is nine, and their twins Kenzley and Kouper, who are seven were chosen as the 2024 Bradley County Farm Family of the Year. They run Spring Branch Farms and are in a partnership with Nathan’s grandparents James and Barbara Johnson and they specialize in breeder hens.

Nathan is no stranger to farming or hard work. As a kid, he helped on his family’s tomato farm.

“I started driving a tractor when I was probably way too young,” Harrod said with a laugh. “We were driving trucks around the farms since we were old enough to walk. It’s all I’ve ever done.”

Nathan credits his dad, Matt for getting him into what he calls the chicken side of farming. 

Matt Harrod had grown chickens for Tyson for years and when Nathan was 18, he worked with the broiler side.

Barbara Johnson, Nathan’s maternal grandmother was working at Potlatch when she said she received a call from Nathan.

“He said what do you think about chicken houses,” Johnson said. “I told him, Nathan, I don’t think I’ve ever thought of them.”

At the time Nathan was 19.

Barbara then said that’s when they decided to go for it. They only had chickens at first and then Nathan started cleaning out other farmers’ chicken houses.

“That’s really needed thing because it takes a lot of labor,” Johnson said.

Commercially cutting hay was another venture that Nathan wanted to try. In one year, he cut 3,000 round hay bales.

“The thing about hay is that you can’t coordinate the weather and hay needs,” Johnson said.

She also said that people would call saying that they wanted their hay cut, but then rain would ruin plans.

After four years, Nathan decided he was done with cutting hay and sold all of his equipment.

Another reason that he decided that cutting hay wasn’t for him was because he used some of the same equipment to clean out chicken houses. The workflow for cutting hay and cleaning out houses did not work.

Nathan continues to clean out chicken houses for other people. Barbara said that the litter side of the business has grown in a way that no one expected it to. What started out as a few houses for Nathan has turned into 150 houses a year; and because it has grown at the rate it has, Nathan stays busy. Spring Branch Farms sells approximately 15,000 tons of litter that they haul and spread each year.

“That inspires Nathan to continuously work,” Johnson said proudly.

One thing he is very careful about is keeping all of his equipment cleaned and sanitized. In order to keep from bringing possible illness-causing bacteria back to their farms or other farms, they clean and sanitize their equipment after each use.

“We go through a few pressure washers each year,” Johnson said.

While Spring Branch doesn’t specialize in cattle, they do keep a few. Nathan said he loves taking care of cows, but because they stay so busy with the chicken litter business, they simply don’t have time. Another reason they don’t have more cows is because they don’t have enough land.

In 2014, they built four chicken houses, and a few years later they started leasing another farm. They now have eight chicken houses dedicated to eggs. Together they have 80,000 breeder chickens and 8,000 breeder roosters. Each chicken produces 12.5 dozen eggs per year and that comes to a total of one million dozen eggs each year. The eggs are collected by a conveyor belt, but each egg is graded and possibly cleaned if needed. The eggs that come from Spring Branch Farms are fertilized and after they are collected, they are sent to Mexico to be hatched. After that, the chicks are then sent back to the United States to be raised in broiler houses where they are picked up and then sent from processing for grocery stores. Spring Branch Farms is contracted through Bachoco/OK Food which is located in Fort Smith, Arkansas. When Spring Branch’s hens are no longer laying, they’re picked up and the houses have to be ready to receive more chickens within a few months.

Nathan and Jodi understand that owning chicken houses isn’t just a job.

“It’s a lifestyle,” Harrod said. “It takes all of us to make this work.”

Barbara has a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting and an MBA and keeps the books and payroll for both Spring Branch Farms and SBF Cattle and Farm Services. Jodi has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture; Nathan has a degree in mechanics, and both oversee the farm activities. Jodi also helps in the office.

Often, Nathan will drive a vehicle down to James and Barbara’s house because it isn’t working the way that it should. James, who is retired will end up going out to his shop to help Nathan fix whatever problem that the vehicle may be experiencing. James uses his knowledge to help Nathan with mechanical issues.

“He has the experience we need, and he is our consultant,” Harrod said.

While Nathan and Barbara were explaining the different aspects of the farm, James saw quietly and listened. But after a little time had passed, he started talking about the history of the farm. In the 1940s, Hagard and Ethel Trussell Johnson purchased the farm from Ethel’s father. Hagard built a groundhog sawmill where he cut the lumber and built the farmhouse where Nathan and Jodi currently live. Hagard would cut the lumber for the hothouses and cold frames for the farmers of Bradley County. He and Ethel raised cotton, cattle, and corn. Later, they started raising tomatoes. James worked at the groundhog mill, with the cattle, and the crops. He and Barbara married and together they continued to raise tomatoes and live in the farmhouse until they retired. Both James and Barbara retired from the Potlatch Corporation. They considered selling because their children had no interest in farming. But when Nathan suggested chicken houses, they agreed to a partnership and now they have the fifth generation farming the land. Nathan and Jodi’s children are already very active in farming. Kaysen, Kenzley, and Kouper are also active in 4-H and FFA. They have farm duties, which include picking up floor eggs and showing and caring for the animals.

Spring Branch Farms employs seven people full-time and additional temporary employees as needed. They own two tractors, two spreaders, four skid steers, a loader, several buckets, two 18-wheel trucks, a lowboy, and two litter trailers. They also own five farm trucks used by owners and employees.

Nathan and Jodi, along with Barbara and James, are examples of how hard work really does pay off. They are a true family operation and well deserved to be called Farm Family of the Year.