By KAYLEE TRAVIS
OK Dept. of Agriculture
CHECOTAH — The weekends are for the birds – and the rabbits.
For Shelley McBride Lynch who owns 3F’s Poultry and Rabbit Processing, LLC, this is only partially true.
During the week, Shelley McBride Lynch is a farmer and raises 1,000 show and meat rabbits, about 1,200 laying hens and Cornish cross chickens, and 40 head of commercial cattle on the 3F’s Feathers-n-Fur Farm each year. On the weekends, she runs the processing facility with her husband Lee and their family.
Lynch’s love for agriculture, specifically poultry and rabbits, began at a young age. Her family always had a variety of animals. Lynch was involved in 4-H and FFA, exhibiting pigs and lambs. Her grandma, Miriam McBride, jokingly said she was born in a cow lot. She was on her dad’s horse, Shorty, at the age of 4. Although it was a scary instance at the time, it is now a funny memory.
“Dad [Elwood McBride] set me up on this horse,” she said. “They had been working all day, so he tied him up to the fence in the pasture and put a 4-year-old on this horse and went in the house. Well, the horse rubbed its bridal off, and it took off running out in the middle of this huge field.”
Terrified, as any parent would be, to their surprise, Lynch had things under control.
“When they found me, I was leading the horse back to the house,” she laughed. “They just kind of turned me loose on the horse after that.”
A native eastern Oklahoman, Lynch received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Connors State College in Warner. Shelley and Lee raised two children – Scott McBride and Liz Branchcomb – and countless birds, rabbits, livestock and vegetables. Her children were her main focus. The same year her youngest was about to graduate from high school in 2011, she also obtained her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. With her children pursuing their own goals, she followed suit.
It was a combination of several circumstances that led to the creation of 3F’s Poultry and Rabbit Processing, LLC. With an empty nest, Lynch began raising rabbits with her daughter’s retired show projects. Lynch noticed a need for a custom poultry and rabbit processing plant. If her children wanted to pursue the industry, their only options were to buy a broiler house, purchase some laying lens, or go work for a commercial operation. Lynch wanted her family to have the option of working for themselves and staying on the farm. Then, she watched a young 4-H member sell her chickens at the auction.
“I watched a little girl go through the auction with her Cornish cross chickens she had raised for the Tulsa State Fair,” she said. “They pay $2 each for them as baby chicks. Then they put $25 of feed into each one.”
The family could not find a place to process the chickens, so they had to sell them through the auction.
“They went for a dollar each,” Lynch said. “So that means she got 80 cents after paying commission, and I mean for us it was like, okay you wouldn’t feed a steer completely out and then just walk down and give it away. So there had to be a way. That really sparked us back into that thought of there has to be a way to help those 4-H kids and backyard breeders get their meat to their table.”
What started as a dream to market their own products became a facility available to everyone.
It took three years to open 3F’s Poultry and Rabbit Processing, LLC.
“When I think about the chicken plant, I always think about progress,” Lynch said. “This is a diversification of our farm, and so it’s a second job.”
The family bought the land, cleared it off, and got to work planning their future operation. With only four weekends in a month usually, it was all about progress.
“If it wasn’t for my goals and dreams, there wouldn’t be a chicken plant, but if it wasn’t for him [husband Lee], there wouldn’t be any progress because he does what I need done,” she said. “Without those two, there is not any success, so I think about progress, just slow, steady progress.”
Creating a business is never an easy task, but this one was especially challenging, simply because there are no facilities like this inthe state.
“Everything was an obstacle,” Lynch said.
There was nobody to answer questions or turn to for answers concerning the best way to build or run the facility. Lynch said many people doubted her plans. However, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry was a useful resource, Lynch said.
Finally, in May 2017, 3F’s Poultry and Rabbit Processing, LLC – a reflection of the original farm name and brand – officially opened for business. Less than a month later, the facility received custom exempt status, which gives the facility the right to process poultry and rabbits for home consumption. It is the only Oklahoma licensed custom exempt facility for poultry and rabbits.
Since it is a second job for Lynch who farms, her husband Lee who drives a truck, and her children, family and friends who all have other jobs, the facility solely operates Friday through Sunday.
“In agriculture anymore, you don’t get to just have one job,” Lynch said. “You have to have three or four.”
Fridays are drop off days, and Lynch accepts birds until Saturday morning.
“We’re real lenient on times because there’s no schedule in agriculture,” she said. “I’ve had people come at 4 o’clock in the morning or 10 o’clock at night, whatever was easier for them, but mainly whatever is best for their animals.”
Saturdays are for harvesting the poultry and rabbits, and Sundays are for distribution. The family harvests 300 to 500 animals each weekend, depending on the size of the animals. Lynch said this is what makes their operation more challenging than the commercial harvest facilities.
“We have a lot more variables,” she said, adding that they harvest all sizes, ages and breeds.
“As we go along, I can see our facility working five days, a regular week, … but I am a firm believer of growing it slow because I don’t want in over my head,” Lynch said. “We haven’t even begun to push ourselves to capacity.”
Customer service is important to Lynch, who strives to give each customer equal opportunity.
“I’m going to make time for you,” she said. “I have the time. This is my job, and this is what I’m doing… They’re people, and they deserve the time and effort that it takes to make them understand what we’re doing.”
The next big milestone is almost here, as Oct. 6 will mark the first harvest date as a state inspected facility. Before, customers could only use their meat for home consumption. Now, customers can sell their meat to the public, a major accomplishment for 3F’s Poultry and Rabbit Processing, LLC.
“I do enjoy helping people be able to get that meat back to their table and get that meat to their freezer, and I’m really going to enjoy helping them get it to the market,” she said. “That’s going to be something to me.”
Lynch said she is excited to say her family’s business was the first to become state inspected in Oklahoma.
“I think there’s no reason that anyone can’t do this,” she said. “I kind of broke the ground. I’m plowing the snow, and all you have to do is try.”
Lynch truly believes in agriculture.
“It will connect you to your family, to the land, to the animals, to what you’re doing, and those connections give you the memories,” she said.
For Shelley McBride Lynch, it is about leaving a legacy for her children and grandchildren.
“The farmer always wants to leave some kind of legacy,” she said, “and it doesn’t have to be a million-acre farm.”
Her grandchildren have grown up in the facility and truly understand where their food comes from. Lynch said it is “not much different than a father, son and grandson out combining wheat together.”
“There’s nothing that will bring a tear to your eye like seeing your whole family work together in something and making something,” she said. “This is going to be something. It’s going to be a family business, and they’re all in it. They’re all there. Your whole world is right there.”
Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture. The project is a collaborative program between the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and Oklahoma State University to recognize and honor the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of industry professionals.