Delaware entrepreneur gets an early start

5/21/02

By CAROL KINSLEY

The chicken business was his mother’s idea, says Mark Rieley, a poultry farmer in Millsboro, Del.
From the time he was 8 years old, he’s been helping in his mother’s two chicken houses. In fact, all of his nine brothers and sisters who are old enough, have rotated through poultry related chores on the farm.
Their father, John Rieley, grew up in the city, and “chickens are not his cup of tea,” Mark said.
His two older brothers haven’t helped since they were 16 and 14, Mark added, but he has stuck with it because he enjoys the work.
After two years experience in setting up the farm for arriving chicks, Mark began working off the farm for two neighbors. He’d help set up and wash down chicken houses, and in the summer, hang fans in the houses. It helped that he and his siblings are home schooled, making a flexible schedule possible.
At age 9, he had decided he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. But why wait?
“After about two years, I started thinking about building my own chicken house,” he explained. “Why wait until I’m older?” he said. “I might as well build a house now and get it paid off while I’m young.”
He expected he’d have to wait several years because of his young age, but he and his mother, Lou Ann Rieley, approached Perdue, the company she grows for, to see if they would consider giving Mark his own contract. To their surprise, Perdue agreed.
Following the lead of his mother, Mark contacted Telmark about financing.
“They had no problem with lending me the money, so we borrowed the money from them,” he said.
Warfel Construction Co. had built his mother’s chicken houses, so Warfel was his logical first choice as builder.
“After searching around, I decided that Peninsula Poultry Equipment Co. was my best option for supplying my equipment,” he continued.
Construction started in June, and he got his first flock in October 1999. He was 14.
With the help and advice of his mother and his grandfather, Edward Dorey, who lives next door, Mark was a top producer from the start.
His first two flocks of roasters earned him back-to-back Top Producer honors for the Georgetown Complex at Perdue.
By this time, several other farmers had heard about the services provided by Mark and his best friend, Dave “Champ” Clark, and the two were staying so busy they decided to go into business in a formal way.
“Soon we were incorporated with cards and flyers and were steadily seeking new business,” Mark said.
The young men wash down, clean out, set up, disinfect, put down litter treatment ... “whatever the farmer wants us to do,” he explained.
By the end of 2000, they had to spend some money for tax purposes, so Mark invested in a Case skid loader to start cleaning out houses. He still wasn’t old enough to drive a car.
Fortunately, Dave’s a year older.
The next summer, they were busy cleaning out houses for some of the farmers Mark had helped years earlier. He and Dave have about 30 houses to crust out between flocks. Dave’s brother, Jonathan, who is almost 14, has been hired to help.
Nancy LeCates, who manages poultry houses in Laurel, Del., for John Adams, is happy with their work.
“They are the best ones so far. I showed them the first time, but they know now what to do. They do everything.”