A Tupelo couple creates an organic chicken farm from what started as a hobby-sized affinity for feathered friends.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Alyssa and Steven Estes rode the bus together when they attended Mooreville junior high and high school. They were acquaintances, but their lives took them in different directions. But in 2020, they reconnected, started dating, and then married two years ago.
She’s a sales manager covering a multi-state area for Waste Management; he once drove a truck for the same company, and he has spent time doing construction work in the Bahamas. But talking with one or both of the Esteses quickly leads to the discovery of Steven’s passion.
“He has always loved chickens,” said his wife.
It’s true. While still living in their Mooreville home, Steven dabbled with a small number of chickens as a hobby. But as hobbies sometimes do, this one morphed into something more serious.
In 2021, the couple purchased 11 acres of farmland in Tupelo, just off County Road 1001. They sold their house in Mooreville and moved a recreational vehicle to the property to serve as home and office while they build their new home on the farm. Today, Steven is a full-time farmer at the family’s Southern Layed Organic Farming.
It’s not just the two of them. Southern Layed is lovingly made up of their blended family — 14-year-old Braxtn Harris, 12-year-old Bella Harris, 11-year-old Emma Estes and 7-year-old Elaine Estes — children from previous marriages. All six are represented on the farm’s logo, designed by Steven, which features four baby chicks bookended by a hen and a rooster.
It takes only a moment for any conversation with the Esteses to turn to chickens. Alyssa’s words convey great pride in her husband’s love of what he does each day. Steven peppers his farm talk with gratitude for his wife’s enthusiastic support in this endeavor.
“She’s the brains in this outfit,” he said of his wife, more than once.
Her response is always the same. “This is all him. He knows so much about what he is doing here. It’s amazing.”
His knowledge of all things poultry is vast and impressive. The 31-year-old did not sit through any university classes on domestic fowl; most of his knowledge is from hours and hours of research done on his own.
Accompany him on a tour of Southern Layed, and he will share farm facts and figures so fast you’ll need pencil and paper to keep up.
In the hatchery on any given day, there might be 1,700 eggs (more or less) in incubators. Steven charts the progress on a calendar and separates trays of eggs depending on breeds. On the 18th day, eggs are moved to another incubator for the lockdown period. On day 21, he will see the new baby chicks and vaccinate them.
At that point the chicks are moved to another hatchery where their temperatures are monitored. At 2 months, the chicks are moved to the pole barn where they will stay until they are 4 to 6 months old and are fully feathered. Then, the chicks are moved to their breed-specific runs for free-range living.
Southern Layed has grown from 15 chickens in the early days to around 2,000 now. There are eggs aplenty in a multitude of sizes and colors, depending on the breed.
“The Cream Legbar lays blue eggs, the Whiting True Blues lay green eggs, and the Ameraucana lay blue eggs,” Steven said with the ease of reading a grocery list. “The eggs of the Australorp are pointed and longer and a light brown.
“Right now, there are 18 breeds, paired, a male and a female. Next spring, we will be fully loaded with babies.”
He can tell you at what age the Buff Orpingtons lay, that the Lavender Orpingtons are his wife’s favorites, that the Polish Roosters have little mullets and which chicks have five toes instead of three. He can also list the primary predators from which he has to protect his chicks: hawks, owls, raccoons, possums, foxes and even the family pit bull pup Lotus.
Some of the chicks have been given names. There’s Sunshine, a Buff Silkie; Cranium, a wounded Black Breasted Game Bantam hen Steven is treating; and Lucifer, a rescued rooster with a mean streak who takes pleasure in chasing two young family members — Bella and Emma — across the pasture.
The farm’s a peaceful place, but for the roosters. And since Steven rescued 30 roosters last year, the noise level is high. At Southern Layed, the hens rule the roost. When the male population gets out of control, a rooster often finds its way to the family’s dinner table.
“Anytime you put too many males together in one place, you’re likely to have problems,” he said, smiling.
The family has opened its growing farm to the community, especially to kids, for fun and educational events. And they have plans for more of this in the future. Kids can learn not only about chickens and eggs but also about the other animals that live at Southern Layed these days. There are four goats, 14 sheep, a peacock and peahen, and some turkeys.
A typical day on the farm can be long and exhausting. After all, Steven is the caretaker of more than 2,000 chickens. That means he feeds and waters, takes care of illnesses and wounds, builds new runs and coops, and so much more. He also builds and designs chicken coops to sell to the public. But he said he has no regrets.
“Honestly, I have so much more I want to do here,” he said. “And I am the happiest I have ever been.”