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JACK: A blog post about eggs & chicken sh*t

Jack DeCoster (right)

I know Jack (the man wearing the pinstriped shirt in the above picture).

Or I should say I knew Jack.

I haven’t seen (or thought of) Jack in years.

But while watching NBC Nightly News the other night, that changed. I saw Jack on TV. And the story about him wasn’t a good one. Jack, as in Jack DeCoster, is the man who’s been dubbed “A Bad Egg” by members of the press. Why? Because a half-a-billion eggs have been recalled. And according to reports, Jack’s chickens laid a good number of those bad eggs.


Like CEO, like chickens, perhaps?

I was four-years-old when I met Jack. Jack and I went to church together. (Yes, the church I wrote about in Churched.) He was a deacon, an usher, and the “man with the cash” who helped make most things at our church possible. When God didn’t listen to Pastor Nolan (name changed), Pastor Nolan talked to Jack. Jack almost always listened. And Jack made things happen, even when God couldn’t or didn’t…

A side note: I should also add that I knew Jack’s wife. Her name is Pat. For several years, Pat was one of the “untrained-at-teaching-but-still a teacher at my Christian school. She was my homeroom school teacher for two years. I also knew Jack and Pat’s four boys.


Other than churchgoer, the only other thing that Jack was better known for was chickens and eggs.

And long before NBC News reported on Jack, and the states of Iowa and Maine launched a variety of investigations (1990s to recent) into Jack’s business and farming practices, and a slew of people all over the country tossed their cookies because Jack laid a whole bunch of bad eggs, I witnessed firsthand how Jack ran his chicken/egg business.

And all I can say is that I would have never wanted to be one of Jack’s chickens. (More on that in a moment.)

Like I said, I knew Jack from church. In 1977, when my father helped start the Baptist church in Chestertown, Maryland, Jack was one of the other seven “charter male members” of the church. In fact, he was perhaps the most important of the seven members. Because he had the most money.


And Jack loved giving money to Jesus. Jack supported Jesus’s churches, colleges (Hyles Anderson College), students, and other ministries. And he did that with chickens and eggs. Back then, Jack was the wealthiest man I knew (by a long shot). His business, DeCoster Egg Farm, Inc. was one of the largest (maybe THE largest) farming business in Kent County.

DeCoster Gymnasium at Hyles Anderson College (Hyles-Anderson also has a campus dining hall named after him)

As a child, I took a tour of DeCoster Egg Farm. Because my father worked for the Soil Conservation Service (he knew every farmer in town) and because, like Jack, I too was a chicken farmer (I started with twelve Rhode Island Reds; four years later, I owned just over 100 chickens), my father hooked me up with a private tour.


At church, while Jack was rich because he owned a million chickens, I was known as the “Egg Salesman” at church–that’s because I actually sold eggs before and after the church services. Don’t laugh. (Eh, it’s okay; you can laugh.) However, believe it or not, my little chicken/egg business helped me save up close to $9000.00 over the course of four years (for college). Of course, it probably cost my father close to $10,000 over the course of four years. But knowing that he would eventually help me pay for college anyway, Dad believed it was far better for me to earn the money as opposed to simply giving it to me. So to Dad, even though it lost him money, it was still a good investment. And I have to agree; I learned a lot.


So, for a nine-year-old kid with his own egg farm, tour DeCoster Egg Farm was a huge deal.

And yes, I was excited.

When my father pulled up the driveway of DeCoster Egg Farm, it appeared perfect. Not pretty. Just perfect. Twenty or more of the largest chicken houses (like those pictured above) I had ever seen were neatly built amid fields of corn and soy beans.

Another side note: At church, anytime I came running into the auditorium with dozens of eggs, people sometimes made jokes to Jack about me. “You better lookout,” I heard people tell him, “there’s your competition.” Once in awhile I got called “little Jack.” Even my father called me that once in a while–you know, as a joke.


Jack always laughed when people called me the little version of him. And I did too… until I took the tour.

After the tour, being called “Little Jack” became no longer funny. It was an insult.

Jack’s way of chicken farming was different than mine. Of course, there were the obvious differences (And yes, I know now that, in many instances, they had to be run differently. But at the time, I didn’t know this)…

  • The size of our businesses. Jack made lots of money from his chickens. My dad lost money because of mine.
  • Jack had employees. I ran my business alone. Sometimes Dad helped. But mostly, I was my own boss.
  • The number of chickens Jack owned (millions!) compared to the 12 that I owned.
  • The color of the eggs we sold were different, too. Jack’s chickens laid white eggs and my chickens laid brown ones.

And then there were a host of other differences, less obvious ones, a list of things that I didn’t (at the time) expect… among those differences were…


  • Jack’s chickens were crammed like sardines into small wired cages. My chickens were in a cage, too, but one that was big enough for them to run around all day. Jack’s chickens couldn’t move around enough to flap their wings. (Even my father, not one to ever become emotionally involved with animals or birds, felt sorry for the chickens at Jack’s farm. He didn’t say anything, but that’s because Dad was crammed into the same deacon board with Jack.) Unlike Jack’s chickens, my chickens flapped their wings all the time. But…
  • My chickens also had all of their feathers. Most of Jack’s chickens had large featherless spots on their bodies. Some of them didn’t appear to have wings. They did, of course, just featherless wings.
  • Jack’s chickens laid small eggs, much smaller than the eggs that my chickens laid. (Sometimes my chickens were so healthy they laid double yoked eggs, which meant they were having a good day.)
  • I saw a few cages where Jack’s chickens sat in their own poop all day. My chickens walked around in their own poop once in awhile. But they didn’t have to stay there, and they never had other chickens sitting on top of them forcing their beaks into their own poop.
  • Some of Jack’s chickens were dead. I don’t think he knew they were dead, because they were still in the cages with the live ones. I only had one chicken die. A fox killed it.
  • All twelve of my chickens had names (SERIOUSLY!). And uh… Jack’s chickens were lucky to have feathers.

Touring was only permitted in two of Jack’s (20 or so) chicken coups. The other chicken houses were off limits. That was fine by me; I’d seen all I ever wanted to see. As we left DeCoster’s Egg Farm, Dad looked at me and said, “Hey Buck, let’s not tell anybody what we saw today.”


“Okay,” I said, and then I added, “Dad, I feel sorry for those chickens.” Which was true, I wanted to bring all of them home with me, so they could run around and peck and scratch in freedom.

(Far far away from Jack’s chicken shit conditions.)

Dad and I didn’t say much on the drive home. As we pulled into our driveway, Dad spoke what I was certain he’d been thinking about all the way home. “Now, remember, don’t talk about this, okay? Just tell everybody that you had a nice time.”

Dad got silent again until we pulled into the garage.

“I don’t want to make Jack look bad,” he said. “That’s all. You know, because he gives a whole bunch of money to the Lord’s work.”


I nodded. “I won’t say anything, Dad.”

“And because I’m on the deacon board with him.”

“Okay, Dad. I know. I won’t tell a soul.”

And we didn’t. Nobody ever said anything bad about Jack.

Because at our church, giving large amounts of money to the “Lord’s work” always forgave a multitude of sins, and in Jack’s case, a multitude of chicken shit…

…now, only time will tell whether or not “giving to the Lord’s work” also helps people forgive a half-billion bad eggs…

Comments read comments(40)
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posted August 24, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Wow, very interesting.

You said shit. hehe. :)

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posted August 24, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Matthew, thanks very much for this post. It unsettles my stomach just to hear about the way those chickens lived and, worse, to know that these practices are pervasive around our country.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 2:19 am

You’re probably going to Hell for having shit in your post…..and I’m probably gonna see ya there for typing it. So, my name is Toby….in case we run into one another.
Great read by the way. I haven’t heard much about the egg fiasco. Being in Germany I don’t hear much about anything…..I kinda like it, but this was interesting none the less……almost put an emoticon there til I remembered your disdain for them in the CaffeinatedFaith podcast :D<<oops, dangit….old habit!

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posted August 25, 2010 at 5:21 am

I’m not sure what’s most unsettling: the way factory farms mistreat their livestock or the idea that “giving large amounts of money to the “Lord’s work” always forgave a multitude of sins”.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 5:35 am

Unfortunately, in many churches–fundamentalist churches, mainline churches, conservative churches, liberal churches—a lot of money does forgive a multitude of sins.
I have seen churches give all authority to one or two trustees who had the money and let them run the church into the ground. Anyone who tried to dethrone them were threatened.
And we wonder why no one wants to come to church any more….

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posted August 25, 2010 at 6:47 am

What a great and sad peek into the mindset of Extreme Fundamentalist Baptists. Telling, very telling.

Thank you for writing this.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 6:54 am

I’m confused, is Jack going to Hell or not?

I assume that Jack’s chickens are.

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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted August 25, 2010 at 6:55 am

    Jack’s chickens are already in hell.

    Jack probably is too….

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      posted August 25, 2010 at 7:35 am

      I don’t think any sinner’s prayer is going to be redemptive for Jack.

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Dorcie Lewis

posted August 25, 2010 at 7:04 am

What Joel said plus the idea that a parent asked a child to keep secret, something so disturbing. I have done the very same thing by not speaking out against injustice in my own church. I’ll never forget the shame I felt after a party of the more affluent members as they verbally slandered a handicapped member of the church. I sat there with my mouth shut and cried the whole way home. I learned an important lesson that night. It takes a lot of courage to speak your truth! Thank you for this post.

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    posted August 25, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Standing up for truth when the power structures are wrong is a very dangerous thing – Voltaire (is paraphrased from faulty memory).

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posted August 25, 2010 at 7:17 am

“the most important of the seven members. Because he had the most money.” All too true, and extremely sad.

It saddens me too when I think of the conditions, not just for these chickens but most ‘factory food animals’. Yet, I still buy the eggs and eat them. I wonder how many of us have eaten Jacks’ eggs?

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posted August 25, 2010 at 7:31 am

So MPT …lets just say your post hit REALLY close to home…Decoster attends the church my family goes to here in Iowa…I’ll tell him you said, “hi!” (;
Oh the stories I could tell…

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posted August 25, 2010 at 8:34 am

I totally would have bought your eggs over Jack’s stinky eggs anyday.

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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted August 25, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Haha! Thanks Traci.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 8:56 am

Holy Cow, I know that Guy, not THAT GUY, but our church has one too.

He doesn’t own Chicken Slums though, he owns people slums, Rents these terribel appartments out to people. Gets sued alot: Even has some Child abuse issues on his record (Discipline in Baptist Circles) but he throws money at everything, so he gets to teach Children’s church and do pretty much whatever he wants.

It is a crappy (i want to Say Shitty but I don’t want to come under condemnation) situation.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

Wow. Wanda sees this as an indictment of fundamentalist Baptists?
That’s a bit of a stretch.
It’s true of nearly all churches (and I say ‘nearly’ in hopes that there is at least ONE exception out there) that large donors get, whether officially or unofficially, some special treatment at the ol’ church house. Churches cost money to run. It costs money to keep the lights on. It costs money to pay a staff. Blah blah blah.
Although this is a tragic (yet well-written) tale, and I know this guy has had other issues with the law, it points out that none of us is perfect in our pursuit of a Christ-like life. This has nothing to do with denominations.
By the way – I suppose investigations will reveal what sort of negligence or whatever caused the salmonella outbreak, but does anyone think that chicken farms not owned by Jack treat their chickens any differently? There are a handful of free-range places, but this is “industry standard.”

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posted August 25, 2010 at 9:28 am

So how does the church love the Jack’s in our midst? Why don’t we rebuke and encourage them the same way we would a poor member whose giving is insignificant? Because we follow the same idolatry that Jack does. Money. Failing to confront Jack when you see this kind of sin, is failing to love him.
Now that he has fallen in front of the world, putting his sin on display is hypocritical. Rebuke privately, defend publicly.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 9:39 am

Thanks for posting this. One of themes I read, the treatment of what we purchase is one that has been a struggle for me. I believe that we while we have been given “power” over animals, that they are God’s creation and so should be treated with respect. Whether you chose to eat them or not, I think we’ve lost sight of what you saw as a child, that those conditions where wrong. Even more so is our justification of such conditions in light of what we claim to believe about God and his creation.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 10:01 am

When I first started getting interested in where the food I eat comes from, I was shocked to find out the way all animals are treated, and because of it, I not buy a lot more local, ethically produced food. I know the farmer’s supplying my food. I visit their farms, and unlike your experience, I see the animals treated with respect.

I feel for Jack, but at the same time, he and other farmer’s like him are ruining our food supply. Confined feeding operations, eggs…the loopholes in the USDA regulations…it all adds up.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 10:02 am

Just one of the things that we are LESS than fundamental about. Qualifications for Deacons, 1 Timothy 3:8 “…not greedy for money…” How exactly is this less important than the need for a woman to “maintain her good looks for her husband?”

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posted August 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

Wow, this just makes me ill…seriously. We are very selective in our eating and only eat locally farmed eggs, but having grown up fundy baptist I recognize everything you’re saying. And what would be the church’s response if an unsaved person lost their life to salmonella? Does that make his giving any less saintly?

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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted August 25, 2010 at 11:42 am

money can’t cover the multitude of sins that includes money itself.

I hate the idea that farms just pack livestock into tiny areas as if they are nothing but an object.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 11:52 am

Couple of things come to mind.
1. Though many of us are aware of the horrible way animals are treated, we still rise up to defend our current practices of consuming McDonalds, steak, eggs, milk, chicken…Logan’s, ice cream…you get the picture. Seems odd. Maybe if we stopped consuming things of unknown origin (aka not locally farmed by people we know use humane practice) like Jack’s eggs, Jack wouldn’t be so rich, and there would be a lot of happier chickens (or they wouldn’t have to be born).
2. I hate to see that kind of hypocrisy in the church, yet by choosing to consume factory farmed animal products (or even animal products as some would argue), we are padding the pockets of these people. Who are the hypocrites now :)
Just some thoughts.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 1:00 pm

BTW, I was talking about this with a co-worker at lunch, and caught myself re-using the “half a billion”. I think this guy is despicable, and should be shut down & probably jailed, but using terms like “half a billion” (or quarter billion to describe 250 mil) is a rhetorical way to get the world billion into a story, and would prefer just call it 500 million eggs if that’s how many it is, cause 500 million is still an incomprehensible number of tainted eggs without sneaking the B word in. IMHO.

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    posted August 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Sneaky is probably the wrong word, but it is backdooring the word billion into the story.

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posted August 25, 2010 at 2:05 pm

OK, so after reading that, I’m thinking, “Awww…MPT was nice to his chickens.” :) And it warms my heart a little.

Jack, however, does not warm my heart. And the way he treats his animals makes me want to egg his house with his own stinky eggs.

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Rick Presley

posted August 26, 2010 at 5:24 am

Proverbs 12:10
Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

My family and I drive past Buckeye Egg/Ohio Fresh Egg every week on our way to church. This operation has been in the news for years and years for their mistreatment of chickens. The verse above comes to mind every time I see a news article like this: because these men, however much money they throw at church, are wicked in the treatment of their livestock.

My kids are in 4H and are raising turkeys again this year. We only have six, but they pretty much get free range of the surrounding field and the kids get daily admonitions to make sure they take care of them. Sure, they are going to be processed after the county fair next week, but while they are here and in our care we are making life good for them. Selfishly we do it to result in a better poultry product, but as a Christian we do it because we are known by how we treat the weakest among us. Domestic turkeys may not be the weakest, but if it weren’t for us, they would never have made it this long. As a sheep in God’s pasture, I not only look to Him for an example, I also hope my kids learn to emulate him in His care for His own.

Too bad DeCoster and Glessner never learned to love God’s creatures more than they did money.

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posted August 26, 2010 at 10:13 am

Although I agree this guy appears to be a phony, let’s not lump all “rich” people into this category. God blesses many people so they can be a blessing to others. Not all rich people are greedy.

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posted August 26, 2010 at 10:14 am

I am surprised that no one has commented on how he treats workers. He is also in violation of labor laws. The ammonia in one coop was so bad that it made inspectors physically sick. He also hires illegal immigrants. They are a good source of cheap labor and don’t tend to complain to authorities about mistreatment.

Let’s focus at least some of our concern on the humans he has harmed.

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    posted August 26, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Main reason to employ illegals is to abuse them and get away with it (pay sub min wage, no taxes, no benefits, no chance of unionization, and will never ever ever report you to authorities). I’m not sure if he treats humans or chickens worse, and wish him the same treatment he’s doled out to each over the decades. I know supposed to forgive, I can’t forgive taking advantage of people (or animals) that are in that much of a powerless position.

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posted August 26, 2010 at 12:23 pm

As I type this, I’m sitting about 20 mins. away from Hyles-Anderson College. Those who know of them around here (and aren’t drinking their Kool-Aid) know they’re about a step away from straight cult-status.

If that was your upbringing, so much of what you have to say makes so much more sense. I mean that in a non-sniping, non-judgemental way.

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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted August 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    My church was started by a Hyles-Anderson graduate. My two older sisters attended H.A.C… so yeah, that’s my story.

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      posted August 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm

      I knew “Pastor Nolan” had been a HAC drone. “Fyles Sanderson” in Churched wasn’t hard to figure out. Didn’t know your sisters had gone there. It always saddens me to find out someone had to bear the burden of attending there (even the ones that “enjoy” it, shouldn’t have to have lived through that).

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posted August 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Wow! I missed this post originally. I would rather call your post an essay than a blog post. This is good stuff, Matt. Thanks!

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posted August 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm

My mom lived on a farm and to this day she won’t eat eggs from a store because they don’t “taste right”… I always thought she was just being picky but as an adult I came to understand why she won’t do it. It’s absolutely horrifying what we do as a society in the name of money. Even worse, what we do as “Christians” when we allow our fellow man to be such awful human beings. Thanks for sharing your story!

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