One of my favorite parts of moving to the country and starting our farm has been fresh eggs. Not only the fact that you never have to buy another tasteless, old grocery store egg again, but the hens themselves add so much to our place. Despite what people say, chickens are not stupid and if you watch them closely, something I find myself doing often, they have quite a unique system of hierarchy.
Each spring we raise a new batch of hens from chicks along with our meat birds. The reason for doing this is that hens go through seasons where they molt, which means they lose all their feathers, and during this season they stop laying eggs. In healthy birds, this only lasts about 2 weeks. Also, some hens just get old and stop laying which always brings about the difficult task of deciding whether to 'do away with them' once they are no longer productive. Personally, if it were up to me, I would keep all of them, productive or not, but if you are feeding them any type of grain or chicken feed, it does become expensive to maintain hens that are not earning their keep through laying eggs.
Currently, we have 36 hens. Some of the hens from the spring of '06 are in a molt and not laying but we are still getting roughly 2 1/2 dozen eggs a day. This adds up quickly especially since we don't have an extra refrigerator to hold them in, so they are packed into our regular refrigerator and it gets very crowded. There are 4 CSA member families of ours that buy eggs weekly from us and that helps with the amount of eggs we have, however, the local food co-op contacted us and asked if we would be interested in selling eggs to them. This is a good for us on many levels. It's nice to have your farm name out there, free advertising and it helps get rid of our excess eggs plus the money never hurts. But while talking to the lady at the co-op, she asked me if we have a commercial kitchen that we wash our eggs in. Huh?!?
This is where my head explodes. Small farmers trying to sell their local food seem to be met head-on by this type of frustration often. Is there any way a small farmer trying to 'eek' out a living off their small farm can afford a commercial kitchen to wash eggs that they are receiving $2.50/dozen for? Not to mention, 'washing' fresh eggs is not a good idea as it wipes off the natural protective covering on the shell that helps keep the eggs fresh. We wipe ours with a wet rag only when necessary, like when a hen decides to lay her eggs in a pile of chicken poop, something that rarely happens and to be honest, usually we just keep those eggs for ourselves and would not put them in a carton we were selling!
Many small farmers have also run into this problem when they are approached by people who are interested in raw goat or cows milk. It is illegal to sell this as a way to 'protect' people, adult people that are capable of making decisions about their health, but the powers that be must protect us from ourselves sometimes, I guess. I have many issues with this line of thinking, however, this post is already bordering on a novel, so I'll refrain.
After discussing this at length with the lady from the co-op, she completely understood and agrees with my point of view and we came up with a plan. We will bring our eggs to the co-op and wash them in THEIR kitchen as it is an approved kitchen. This means a little more work for us, but not much and in return, we get an outlet for our delicious eggs and hopefully future business for our farm.
Maybe with the growing popularity of organic, local and raw food, the government will find a way to regulate us as small farms instead of lumping us in with the huge, multi-national conglomerate, confinement farms. Wishful thinking, right?
Have any of you small farmers run into similar problems and if so, how did you work your way around it?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Posted by Angie at 11:45 AM