IOWA ICON: Murray McMurray Hatchery

Iowa Icons don’t all hatch at the same rate.

It’s taken this one the better part of a century. But thanks to the recent, growing desire for locally-raised eggs and meat, its industry has caught a healthy second wind and this old Iowa company is now in full feather.

Fridays at McMurray Hatchery in Webster City will make your head spin.

“For the last few years, we’ve been running at full capacity; we’ve been producing as many birds as we can,” says president and owner, Bud Wood.

Today began with 164,000 eggs of all sizes and colors, 118,000 of them hatched and after a brief wakeup, they were inspected by the chicken sexors.

All chicks will be sorted, placed in special boxes and shipped out by the end of the evening. They’ll arrive at their new home by Monday.

“We sell 100 different breeds of chickens,” Wood says, “but the rare and unusual is what people come to McMurray Hatchery for.”

It’s been that way since 1917 when a banker named—get this–Murray McMurray bought one of the first incubators in Iowa.

“So he started hatching chicks and selling chicks out of the back door of the bank,” Wood says. “And then in 20’s, the bank failed.”

The hatchery became McMurray’s sole focus.

His rare and unusual varieties helped him outlast his competitors and when America’s appetite for locally-raised food returned in the new millennium, McMurray was—well—sitting pretty.

“Chickens are one of the easiest livestock to raise,” Wood says, “they’re very hardy; they don’t take a lot of care and a lot of management.”

McMurray has a celebrity fan in Martha Stewart, who’s both visited and hosted McMurray. But you’ll find their birds in many local flocks, too. They’ve tailored the business to meet all demands.

“Some people just want a rooster,” says hatchery manager, Kent Bahrenfuss, “they’re a lot of times more colorful and some people want the noise in the morning.”

Roosters are still frowned upon by most municipalities, but the list of cities which now allow hens grows every year. And it’s often the largest ones that relax ordinances first. Des Moines, Minneapolis, Chicago and more…

“I know for a fact that we have birds in downtown Manhattan,” Wood smiles.

A lot can change in 97 years. Something once scorned for its connection to rural America can become all the rage uptown and a peculiar name like Murray McMurray can become an Iowa Icon.

3 comments

  • jamie ray

    We used McMurray when I was a child – receiving 500 chicks every spring. I continued the tradition with my children ordering chicks every spring on a smaller scale. Now that I have grandchildren McMurray just sent my chicks this week. People ask why not buy elsewhere? My answer – It’s a tradition and I trust McMurray

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