October 16, 2012 | By Jackie Roembke

Forward Vision Drives Peco Foods Out of Its Shell

Eighth largest U.S. poultry producer solidifies its place in Mississippi broiler market with new feed mill

Family-owned Peco Foods, a fully integrated, privately held poultry grower, processor and marketer, has worked hard for generations to occupy its position as one of the largest poultry producers in the United States, a competitive market wrought with slim margins and ever-evolving demands. Though headquartered in Tuscaloosa, AL, the company has placed a significant stake in the poultry business of neighboring Mississippi; a strategy made apparent with the recent acquisition of three outfits – a feed mill and two processing in South-Central part of the state.

Once the foundation was in order, Peco Foods then focused its sight on bridging the three operations with a common bond.

[Why did the company acquire the MS operations? What, where, when?]

The [who owned it previously?] feed mill, a nearly 50-year-old metal mill located in Sebastpol, MS, presented the most obvious room for improvement. Located on a dead-end short track rail line, the outdated site had a rate capacity of 60 tons/hour and 5,000 tons/week – adequate at one time, but not one that aligned with Peco Foods’ vision for future growth. [RE Sebastpol: What’s happening on the site now?]

Shortly after penetrating the market, Peco Foods recognized its need for a new, leading-edge feed mill in the area; however, the looming possibility the Sebastol site, which is located on a dead-end short track, may one day lose rail service, prompted the company to seek out a new location for the investment. Having surveyed various properties, Lake, MS, proved to be the ideal site for the facility because of the land availability adjoining the main Kansas City Southern (KCS) Railroad and the site’s proximity to the company’s grower bases.

“The company decided to build a new mill to replace the volume of the old mill and to allow for access to a loop track that would deliver unit trains on the main line,” explains Steve McLaurin, live operations manager, Peco Foods. “We were aiming to have the least amount of miles between the mill and the local broiler farms and producers.”

Choosing Lake, MS, as the site for its new mill did not come without unique challenges. The soil type in Scott County is comprised of Yazoo clay, a composite of small particles and high plasticity, which shrinks and swells with moisture, making foundation work a bit more involved. The mill’s receiving and silo foundations were built on 189 bell piers; the mill’s tower, 260 auger cast piers.

(What was done that make this a unique installation?)

Peco Foods selected Younglove Construction to design and construct the xxxx-sq. ft. feed mill, noting its appreciation for the firm’s valued-added engineering, e.g. the design of (electrical fields - more on this?).

The concrete slipform mill was erected in 18 months. Shortly after its completion, Peco Foods shut down the Sebastopol mill and started running a single shift in early February 2012 producing non-medicated feeds; and began full production of all feed types in early March.

Less mill, more volume

To save on the cost of new construction, Peco Foods opted to build a high-output mill with a small footprint.

“We didn’t give up storage — finished feed or ingredient — we didn’t lose anything by gaining in the cost-savings with footprint,” says Gerald Noland, Lake, MS-feed mill manager, Peco Foods.


The new Peco Foods mill received its first load of Midwestern grain – what specifically? – in early November. In line with its goal to secure rail service of raw ingredients, the company installed a XXX-foot loop track designed for 110-car unit trains and 35-car soft stock; a Shuttlewagon NPK model B600-090 hard car unloader to manage the cars on a loop track.

“The loop track is nothing different than what other poultry manufacturers may have, but it puts in the same competitive grain rates as the competition at the same cost as the other companies,” says McLaurin.

Rail receiving incorporates two high-speed unloading legs moving grain at a rate of 25,000 bushels/hour with a total capacity of 50,000 bushels/hour. Corn and other grains are delivered into the silos via Intersystems conveyors, flowing along the Intersystems legs via Tapco elevator buckets. Grain passes though Bunting Magnetics magnets on its way to the Hayes & Stolz distributors and turn heads before entering into one of the designated bin. Aircon Equipment collects waste and dust inside the facility.

When the mill is preparing to manufacture one of it XXX formulations, grain is pulled from (one of how many?) silos into the Roskamp Champion (HM44-56) hammer mill. The grind corn then enters the mill tower, passes through the Champion Gyro Sifter Feed Cleaner, before it is batched using Beta Raven Mill Master control system. A 20-bin, two scale Beta Raven Micro System delivers the necessary ingredients to the formulation before being sent to a 6-ton Hayes & Stolz Mixer. The mash is then sent to the CPM Pellet Mill (9042-12) and CPM Double-Pass Conditioner (C30LTB16), which is powered by a Cleaver Brooks 500-hp boiler. After passing through the CPM Cooler (HDHC 7D63) and CMP 90-ton-capacity Crumbler (CMK16008455), the feed is delivered to finished feed storage.

In addition, the facility has 2,860 total tons of finished feed storage using 20 bins feeding through two load outs; and it has 10 bins totaling 1,430 tons that may bypass the pellet mill. (Why? Using what?)

The new feed mill produces 85 tons/hour.

[More about truck load outs: Peco Foods utilizes two finished-feed loadout bays using a Weigh Load system to load the trucks?]

The Lake, MS, feed mill employs 10 full-time employees; and [How many?] drivers who haul 365 loads of finished feed per week to producer farms within a 70-mile radius of the site.

Speedy grain receiving

To entice local grain haulers and farmers, Peco Foods made sure to invest in an efficient scale house and dump pit.

A scale house greets trucks with full-loads of grain at the entrance. All incoming truck ingredients are weighed in, probed and tested for moisture and aflatoxins at the receiving shed.

“At receiving for new crop corn deliveries, we can unload trucks faster than we can run tests,” Noland says. “We can scale a truck in, do a corn probe, pull a sample -- it takes 10 minutes to test, but we can get him ready to unload in 6 to 7 minutes. We don’t have trucks back up in our yard because it’s not blocking the pit. Within 15 minutes, they are gone.”

The staging area will hold 40 trucks, but they never have a truck sitting out there because it can test them as fast as it can unload them.

“The turnaround for local grain is a big plus for this mill,” says Billy Perkins, plant manager, Peco Foods.

Outgoing trucks scale also get weighed at the scale after the have unloaded, and a ticket is generated by XXX software on their way out.

The mill’s design includes plenty of ingredient storage to meet production needs: 750,000 bushels of corn storage (21,000 tons); 2,400 tons (bushels) of soy storage; 19 dry bulk ingredient storage bins totaling 2,400 (bushels?) tons; and mash storage over the pellet mill is four 106-ton bins equaling 424 tons (bushels). Ingredients are moved using a Laidig unloader and circulation system; Bin Master bin level indicators and micromotion sensors monitor the conditions inside the corn and soy silos.  

The sites liquid storage included: two 20,000-gallon designated fat tanks, a 10,000-gallon Choline tank, a 14,000-gallon Synermax, 10,000-gallon liquid Methionine tank, and 10,000-gallon stand-by diesel.

Planning for future demand

As part of Peco’s vision for the future, the mill was outfitted with enough space to easily double its capacity, including the ability to accommodate additional storage capacity (designed for an 18,000-ton bin), as the “dirt work had already been conducted in case they want to add another soy or corn tank.”

“You just don’t add on to a slipform feed mill and have a smooth flowing mill. Knowing this, we built the footprint big enough accommodate machinery in order to double capacity should the need present itself,” Noland says. Currently the mill runs at a capacity of 8,800 tons/week; however, it could easily double its capacity to 17,000 tons if the company needed the volume. Within the design itself, these provisions were made in batching, mixing and pelleting.

The new mill provides a critical step in the integration strategy between the three plants. “The new mill gives the company the ability to evolve, to take advantage of main line rail ingredients and to obsolete a feed mill on a dead end rail,” Noland says. “We can maintain our capability to feed birds and grow in the future. I think a lot of this hatchery and feed mill investment is part of a strategy from upper management as a way to integrate three different acquisitions.”

Peco Foods’ forward vision includes a deeper penetration into the Mississippi market by leaving its options for expansion.

“Management has a forward vision and they never want to limit themselves in ability to change in the future because they didn’t plan for it,” McLaurin says.

In addition to the Lake mill, Peco has two additional feed mills in Mississippi: Philadelphia and Bay Springs. The Lake, MS, feed mill, however, feeds birds for its three grow-out divisions, including [What are the “grow-out” divisions? The Philadelphia mill feeds birds killed and processed in Sebastopol.] It delivers to 125 growers within a 60-mile radius. The company also operates two additional feed mills in Batesville, AR, and Gordo, AL.

“At the root of it, if you’re going to raise chickens, you have to feed them,” Noland concludes.

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