It all started six years ago. He was 11 years old and purchased a little black chicken at the county fair. In middle school, he joined the Mason County Vocational Future Farmers of America. He soon started raising more hens for egg production.
The national Future Farmers of America organization recently chose Davis and the free-range egg business he developed as a national top 10 Agri-Entrepreneur. Davis, a senior at Point Pleasant High School, will receive a $1,000 award at an Oct. 23 ceremony in Indianapolis.
Judges selected Davis' project from 150 FFA entries in which students created a business plan for a supervised agricultural business. The 2011 award is the fourth national FFA award Davis has received.
"For me it was chickens. I decided to create a business plan and see where it took me. My plan was to produce fresh, free-range eggs for local consumers. I looked for opportunities to sell eggs and found a lot of niches," Davis said.
His plan succeeded. He started with 30 hens in a small storage shed and expanded to 350 free-range hens that produce 280 eggs a day. Davis supplies all nine Mason County schools with eggs and delivers eggs by the dozens to nearby homes twice a week. The eggs cost $2 a dozen and produce a profit of $1.25 to $1.35 per dozen and are regulated by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. After he subtracts the cost of feed, Davis makes about $150 a week from his self-sustaining business.
His father is an industrial maintenance specialist and his mother a secretary. They don't farm. Their son's interest in chickens and hens baffled them, but they supported his efforts and let him build a neat, efficient coop and compost facility on a corner of the two acres surrounding their home. They live on a county road, but are only two miles outside the Point Pleasant city limits.
Davis credits the FFA with some of his success. He's the president of the state FFA, the first high school student to hold the office since 1929. A college student usually serves as president.
A $5,000 business loan that Davis secured himself covered initial start-up costs in 2008. Two years ago, he received a $14,000 grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and added a concrete pad and composting facility.
The "girls," as Davis calls them, roost in the protection of a large, open-air coop, but peck their way around a fenced portion the family's yard during the day. Davis supplements the food they forage with carefully researched and selected feed.
Free-range eggs taste different from commercially produced eggs. They contain three times the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids and 15 times the iron, Davis discovered from his extensive research online and from agriculture classes he took through the Mason County Career Center.
"I read all the time. I always have a book in my hands," Davis said.
The Red Sex-Link hens arrive as chicks after Davis orders them in the spring. He keeps them in a warm, sanitized brooder house, then gradually moves them outside to adapt to cooler temperatures. Mature laying hens require 16 hours of sleep. As the length of the day shortens, an automatic lighting system in the coop compensates, so the hens continue to lay eggs throughout the winter.
The science of lighting, feed, exercise and laying practices interests Davis, as do fun chicken facts. No matter where they are in the yard, the chickens' homing instinct brings them into the coop to roost for the evening. No herding required. Chickens have good hearing and respond quickly to sound, Davis said. Right on cue, the clucking in the coop died down and all the chickens' heads swiveled in the same direction toward a sound obvious only to them.
They also lay more eggs during warm weather when they hear birdsong and insect noise. Davis plays the radio for them when nature's noise quiets down in the cooler weather.
"When I first started, I just knew they needed food and water," he said.