House of Raeford to phase out turkey operations, 950 jobs

Posted March 14, 2013 10:30 a.m. EDT
Updated March 14, 2013 6:07 p.m. EDT

House of Raeford Farms announced Thursday it will close its Rose Hill turkey hatchery, Raeford turkey slaughter plant and turkey growing operations in eastern North Carolina over the next four to six months.

Citing declining turkey consumption, coupled with higher feed prices, the company said it will focus on increasing chicken production and expanding its fully cooked turkey and chicken product lines in the next several years.

The decision will affect about 950 workers at the slaughter plant. Thirty workers at the hatchery will be offered jobs at other company facilities.

“We’re grateful to the employees and growers who have been an active part of our turkey operation, and we are committed to helping each one of them during this transition,” Bob Johnson, chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Johnson said rising corn prices, declining turkey consumption, falling commodity turkey prices and projected industry losses factored into the decision.

Meanwhile, the company’s chicken business has grown to represent more than 90 percent of sales. The family-owned House of Raeford is among the nation’s top 10 chicken processors.

“We intend to further expand the chicken business over the next two to three years so that our increased chicken volume will replace the turkey production we are phasing out,” Johnson said.

The plant will be shuttered after the holiday production season. The company said it will offer severance packages, priority re-employment and other transition assistance, including counseling and training, for affected workers.

The turkey slaughter plant has been a community landmark for 50 years, providing a reliable livelihood for workers such as Earl Locklear.

"Yeah, it's clothed me, fed me, and I've raised a family and got a nice home from it," he said.

Locklear, who is 70 years old, has worked at the plant for 40 years. His brother worked there for 45 years.

"I never did think this place would close," he said. "I don’t think Raeford is going to be the same. It built Raeford up.”

News of the closing came on the eve of Jasmia Simmons' one-year anniversary with the company.

Simmons, a mother of two, said the impact of the closing will be felt far beyond the small town of Raeford.

"You've got people coming from South Carolina – more than 50 miles – just to come to work to find a job," she said.

Ryan Maynor started working at the facility after finishing college. The 24-year-old said he hopes to use his experience at House of Raeford to find another job.

"It's going to hurt because every guy needs the income, every guy's got to put food on their table," he said. "I'll make it. You just got to do what you got to do."

House of Raeford spokesman David Witter said the decision is not related to the federal sentence of probation and a $150,000 fine imposed two weeks ago for knowingly committing Clean Water Act violations. Prosecutors said the company discharged water containing turkey blood and internal organs into Raeford's municipal sewage treatment plant.