Uneventful adventures can be a good thing. It’s not every day I find myself transferring 250 young chickens—pullets—from a semi-truck into our gooseneck cattle trailer at a rest stop on I-65. This qualifies as an adventure. There were no escapees, which is the event I was hoping to avoid. Nearly every year, I write about bringing new pullets to the farm. While the pullet-run treks I used to make to Wisconsin each spring are legendary, the story for this year’s iteration will be about birds, bird eggs and you. I do miss visiting with my Amish pullet-bison-asparagus farmer each spring in Wisconsin, though.
The Chicken Connection
The Plain Community west of Bowling Green has dozens of organic egg farmers associated with the organic feed mill in Guthrie, Kentucky. The mill also purchases organic grains from growers in the community and services the dozens of Organic Valley dairy farmers, and folks like us.
These egg farmers, with about 5,000 birds each, contract with a vertically integrated marketer that supplies their pullets from a farm in Pennsylvania in the beginning and, in the end, washes, grades and packages their eggs under various names, depending on where in the country they go.
I called that feed mill in hopes of finding the person who manages the flocks down there. With just one degree of separation, I connected with the person who said, sure, when they had a few extra pullets that they could send along with their scheduled deliveries, he would let me know. And he did, saving us the time, money and stress of hauling the trailer 650 miles to Baraboo, Wisconsin. Last year I was able to meet them at the Georgetown rest stop on I-75, less than 5 miles from the farm. This year we met the truck at the Shepherdsville rest stop on I-65—farther than Georgetown but 575 miles closer than Baraboo.
Our pullets come not only with a USDA Certified Organic certificate but FDA/USDA health papers, and a proprietary pedigree. Pullet development follows science-based ration adjustments to meet the young chickens’ nutritional needs as they go from chicks to young hens. From strong bones to good musculature with little fat, the diet changes numerous times during the 18-week period ahead leading up to the beginning of egg laying at 18 to 20 weeks. It takes a lot of care to get them to this point.
This type of relationship is what pulled me into the organic/sustainable ag community. Even though we sell the same product, we are glad to help each other along.
While the birds are structurally prepared to lay an egg every 25 hours for months on end, it takes several actual egg layings for their body—specifically the oviduct, cloaca and vent—to accommodate a fully developed egg. The egg’s protective calcified shell has little or no give, so the bird’s soft tissues must. These first few pullet eggs are small and the shell very dense and hard.
At market, customers would ask if pullet eggs are cheaper since they are small, at which I snicker and say they should be more expensive for being so special. More than just having a thicker shell, the egg itself seems more dense. When you crack it in the skillet, it is almost still egg shaped, and rich and robust. When I pull some out to take home, I look for the smaller ones—farmer’s select, if you will. Some of this year’s crop of pullet eggs will be mixed in with the others, while we plan to carton up pullet eggs by the dozens for the true believers in the mystique of pullet eggs. Find them as an option in your CSA share and in the online store!
On the other end of the spectrum, we have been enjoying the oversized heritage turkey eggs this spring. Because turkeys are better foragers, the yolks are orange like the sun, bordering on California poppy orange. It also seems like the yolk makes up more of the egg itself. Being seasonal egg layers, they are about done for the year. Mark your calendar to look for them again next April: They are a real treat.
Farm Eggs Taste Best
We have often heard customers say the organic eggs from the store are not as flavorful as Elmwood Stock Farm eggs. Our birds live on pasture, not just have access to pasture. It seems chickens that live on pasture eat more grass and clover and insects, and this not only meets the organic regulatory requirements but also imparts real flavor to the eggs.
Our friends in the organic egg markets are much more technically efficient at producing eggs than we are, as evidenced by our person-hour-per-egg numbers, which are off the charts compared to commercial operations. We just like the way we raise them, and apparently many of you do, too. —Mac Stone