The Buckeye State’s proximity to an abundance of corn and soybeans as well as to a huge customer base makes it an ideal location for egg production.
The Ohio egg industry ranks second in the nation and contributes 9,388 jobs annually and $255 million in earnings. However, Ohio farmers’ commitment to producing safe, wholesome eggs by ensuring excellent hen care through innovation will keep the state at the top, says Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association.
“Hen care is paramount,” he says. “Every morning, the first thing these farmers do is take care of the hens, because the hens are the ones who take care of us. Part of that is looking at optimum housing for hens.”
“The new systems we’re looking at are still a caged environment, but there are these enrichments placed in cages that provide a better quality of life for the hens and allow them to represent their natural behavior,” Chakeres says. “They include features like perches, scratch pads, nest boxes and additional space. Those things all combine together and provide for a more optimal environment for the hen.”
Although these practices are not yet mandatory for farmers, Trillium Farms, which produces both shell eggs and liquid eggs, began to install fully enriched cages in 2011. Trillium populated the new cages in August 2012.
“Going beyond compliance drives innovation and success in every aspect of egg farming, and it is consistent with our core values of stewardship, quality and integrity,” says Doug Mack, chief operating officer of Trillium Farms. “We want to be proactive because it makes us better, giving us the foundation to do more than what is expected, to farm responsibly at all times and to instill our values in everyone on our team.”
Trillium employs more than 400 people at two farm locations, and the company is in the process of expanding its operations, which will bring more jobs and revenue to the state’s economy. When the expansion is complete, it will have about 13 million hens.
To run a large layer operation, compliance, innovation and honesty must be priorities, says J.T. Dean, Trillium vice president.
In addition to cage enrichments, Trillium has installed belt battery systems in barns, which allow for swift drying and removal of manure, reducing odors and providing greater control of pests. The company sells its manure to area farmers as organic fertilizer.
“Our family has deep roots in egg farming, and making smart investments for the future of our Ohio farms reflects our commitment to continuing that heritage,” Dean says.
Four generations of Weavers have built a business committed to growing responsibly. Weaver Brothers supplies eggs to Eggland’s Best and also produces a variety of niche products, such as organic, cage-free eggs and brown eggs. The company markets eggs in 16 states and also grows corn and soybeans as well as its own replacement stock.
Another company embracing these new technology systems is Weaver Brothers Inc. As the business expands, all of its new houses will feature cage enrichments, says CEO Tim Weaver.
Weaver Brothers also works with smaller farms to distribute eggs. No matter how much the company grows, Weaver says he will always stay connected with smaller farmers and hold his family-owned business to the highest standard.
“The farms in Ohio are of all different sizes,” Chakeres says. “But the primary focus for each farmer is animal care, safe, wholesome food and caring for the environment.”