Meet the Modern Farmer: Tom Whiting - Modern Farmer

Meet the Modern Farmer: Tom Whiting

Tom Whiting puts a premium on plumage.

Matt Nager

Most chicken farmers prize prolific egg layers or broilers with meaty breasts. Tom Whiting puts a premium on plumage. The 59-year-old oversees around 100,000 birds, raised to produce feathers for fly-fishing lures, on three ranches in western Colorado. “Fly tyers are extraordinarily picky,” he says of his clients, which include lure-making firms in Australia, Singapore, and South Africa. “The feathers have to be absolutely perfect.”

Whiting ensures perfection – and claims 70 to 80 percent of the world market – by breeding his own birds. Since earning a Ph.D. in poultry science (with a specialty in genetics) from the University of Arkansas in the late 1980s, he’s developed dozens of breeds, including the Coq de Leon, Brahma Hen, Spay, and Whiting Grizzly (above).

At about 50 weeks, the chickens are butchered and their feathers harvested. (Removing them would be painful to the bird.) The rest of the chicken is then composted for use on farming fields. “It’s a funny niche business,” Whiting allows. “But I’m actually designing new chickens, which is vastly more satisfying than I ever imagined.”

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Farm Favorites
Read the latest reviews on our favorite products.
Immigrants Feed America

Immigrants Feed America t-shirts are back – find them at the Modern Farmers Market

Things We Love: AKUA Kelp Jerky

If you told me there was a jerky snack made out of kelp - yes,... (more)

Things We Love: CleverMade Snapbasket Cooler

It can keep up to 50 cans chilled for up to 36 hours and collapses... (more)

Things We Love: Republic of Tea Daily Greens Single Sips

It's like green juice: but way easier.

More shopping