Egg production and the overall humane efforts to protect layer hens has been a hot topic among Willy Street Co-op owners over our long history-in the last year, even more so. The past several months of working relations with our egg vendors, which go beyond a typical grocer-vendor relationship, have been a reflective and educational time for all of us. Currently, Willy Street Co-op offers only five egg producers: New Century Farm, Phil’s Fresh Eggs, Yuppie Hill Farm (formerly Allmosta Farm), Organic Valley and Farmers Hen House. We’ve learned a lot about these growers in a way that typical grocers would be unlikely to ever consider.
Like many of the products we offer, local producers who can produce steady and consistent supplies play a key role in our mission to serve our owners while working within the Co-op’s product policy. Whether you like them scrambled, fried or deviled, eggs represent a large percentage of sales at the Co-op, and we’re happy to announce that all of our current egg farmers use only cage-free, humane methods and all but one are all located within a 150-mile radius of our fair city.
New Century Farm
Dean Dickel, co-owner of New Century Farm in Shullsburg, Wisconsin, made a stop at the Co-op on Earth Day this Spring and he gave shoppers an opportunity to check out his fully converted bio-diesel delivery truck. Exploring alternative fuel sources as a means to minimize his carbon footprint isn’t unusual for Dean, who has been actively pursuing sustainable and organic agriculture on his farm since the mid 90s. He and his wife Mary both began careers as journalists and have found that organic egg farming is a career they can feel good about while providing a valuable resource to the organic consumer community.
Managing the day-to-day operations on the farm with some help from their two children, Dean says they all play a role in the operation and he considers it an integrated system. The Dickels manage all of their own gathering, cleaning, inspecting, packaging and deliveries of the eggs in addition to addressing the sales and marketing needs of the company.
Several large, open barns house thousands of layer hens at New Century where pullets (baby chicks) are home-raised from one day old. Dean recognizes the benefits in cost and bird health by raising their own pullets, which he says helps to build a healthy immunity against common hen maladies. When the hens are ready to lay, nesting boxes lining the sides of the barn provide privacy and comfort for each hen to lay her eggs and the Dickels collect them from the boxes each day, normally in the afternoon. On the floor of the barns, chickens are free to mingle or move outside as per the organic requirement to provide access to the outdoors.
Purchasing raw organic ingredients, Dean roasts and mixes his own blend of organic feed, which provides a varied menu of soy, corn and other foods aimed at improving the overall taste of the egg. Birds are free to eat and drink water at their leisure and calcium-rich feed is also supplied at all times, allowing each bird to rely on her own instincts to take in as much as she feels is necessary.
Forced molting (removing feed to force the hen back into egg production) is not allowed under organic standards and New Century staggers their flock ages to keep a steady supply of eggs coming regardless. Their birds are never debeaked (debeaking is when the beak is removed to prevent pecking—an extremely inhumane practice) and neither are any of the birds featured in this article. When the birds have laid eggs for approximately 12 months, the eggs start to lose quality so they are then sold to suppliers for meat production.
Dean is currently preparing to build another barn for his operation and is looking forward to exploring alternative means of powering the new more innovative barn using either bio-based fuels or wind energy.
Phil’s Fresh Eggs
Phil’s Fresh Eggs is still a family-owned business and is managed by Phil’s son, Rod Wubbena, who has worked for the company for all of his adult life. While Phil’s Fresh Eggs is not a certified organic operation, two significant accomplishments give them and the animals they care for a significant advantage. Phil’s is the only egg producer in the country to currently hold two critical humane certifications; one from American Humane Association’s—Free Farmed program (www.americanhumane.org) and, more recently, from Humane Farm Animal Care (www.certifiedhumane.org). Having subscribed to cage-free growing since starting the company in 1959, the Wubbenas and their growing partners had to make virtually no changes to their operation to attain humane certification.
Under the guidelines for both humane certifiers, Phil’s chickens are provided an environment that allows them live and grow humanely under conditions and care that limit stress. They enjoy a healthy life. They benefit from disease- and injury-prevention and rapid diagnoses and treatment. They can readily access fresh water and eat a diet that maintains full health and vigor. They are allowed to express normal behaviors and live in an appropriate and comfortable environment that includes sufficient space, proper facilities, shelter, a resting area, and company of the animals’ own kind.
A network of five family-owned farms work in conjunction to produce the number of eggs needed to supply Phil’s Fresh Eggs. Company headquarters are located in Forreston, Illinois, and three of their farms are located near Madison in DeForest, Lake Mills and Cambridge. One other farm, the furthest from Madison, is located in Tampico, IL, still only 148 miles from Willy Street Co-op.
All of the farms growing for Phil’s use the same growing methods and, for reasons related to Avian flu, Phil’s chickens are never allowed outdoor access, but are allowed to roam free while living in a sanitary, controlled environment with access to plenty of space, air and light as directed by the animal science committees for Certified Humane and Free Farmed.
Each individual farm is supplied with Phil’s own specially produced layer hens and feed. With most of the grains grown on Phil’s land, a special mix of toasted soy, corn, kelp and other ingredients have been blended since 1959 to derive the superior taste and quality of their eggs. Exact feed recipes, it seems, remain a highly guarded trade secret with most egg producers.
In addition to the family farms they contract with, Phil’s employs roughly 24 people at their packaging facility, which boasts a long list of state-of-the-art equipment designed to clean, qualify and gently pack each egg through a multi-check system.
Yuppie Hill Farm
Lynn Lein, owner of Yuppie Hill Farm, has been raising chickens for nearly 10 years and sells eggs and meat at area farmers’ markets and through a meat CSA from her farm in Burlington, Wisconsin. Last year, Lynn purchased the larger operation from Allmosta Farm in Delavan, who had been supplying Willy Street Co-op with cage-free eggs. Now, the sole owner and employee of the entire Yuppie Hill Farm egg operation, Lynn is happy to have some help from her mother. Currently supplying eggs for the Co-op and 35 to 40 more retailers in addition to several area restaurants and farmers’ markets, it’s a wonder Lynn finds time to finish caring for the birds, collecting, cleaning, inspecting and packaging the eggs—all balanced on her very tight schedule.
Starter pullets are bought at a day old and raised on the farm. Not organically certified, but using only vegetarian feed and cage-free methods, Lynn purchases grain from her local feed co-op where they mix a special blend of ingredients made to order for her birds. This mix includes soy, corn, alfalfa and flax seeds to name a few. Birds are free to access food and water as well as other supplemental feed rations at will.
Yuppie Hill Farm’s chickens enjoy an open barn system with rollout nesting boxes designed to let the freshly laid egg to roll gently out of the back of the box where it’s later collected.
Turning over the barns every 18 months (removing the birds, cleaning and restocking the barn with fresh birds) means Yuppie Hill has to contract barn space with neighbors to house the birds and keep the eggs coming during the transition. Lynn cites this time as the biggest challenge for her.
Lynn is also very concerned with the threat of Avian flu and has chosen not to allow her “girls” outdoor access, noting that the presence of geese in nearby fields could lead to a possible contamination, but Lynn is determined that the hens still have fresh air and open windows.
We’re pleased to bring our shoppers and owners the finest our area has to offer and it’s a pleasure to thank all of our egg producers for their hard work to bring us their best.