Eggs are a wonderful and desirable food, providing nutrition for so many. But the commercial production of eggs has led to absolutely brutal practices. In my effort to find out what it takes to bring good quality eggs to a large market I looked around for a local farmer producing eggs on a commercial scale while embracing humane practices and creating a good living. My search led me to Mr. Myron Horst, owner of a large family farm in Dickerson, MD. His eggs can be found at MOM’s organic market, local co-ops and some local restaurants. Mr. Horst graciously shared his experience with me.
Here are excerpts from our conversation…
KJ: How did you get into this industry?
MH: We started out with nine hens, with more diverse goals and gradually moved into a larger number of laying hens, focusing on the one goal of egg production. In order to make a living, we had to have a large enough flock to afford good prices on feed, while still managing our labor and maintenance costs. We didn’t want to get too big, because we didn’t want to compromise on quality. I had worked previously in a larger operation that had 75,000 chickens in three houses. There was so much dust, manure and chicken droppings that the farmers were often sick with a chronic cough. While the chickens in a large, enclosed facility like that are protected from outside predators, they have no access to the outdoors and live in a very artificial environment.
KJ: How do you manage predators?
MH: We certainly do have occasional predators like foxes, owls and hawks. We keep birdhouses on the property and nests of barn swallows as well as the occasional bottle rocket to discourage hawks. The chickens are brought inside at night so they roost in a protected area and have less exposure to nocturnal predators.
KJ: So they do spend time outside?
MH: Oh, yes. We have two acres of land per flock of chickens so they can roam freely. Foraging chickens scratch and peck at the earth, so we rotate the plots frequently to let the ground recover.
KJ: Is it true that chickens raised in a better environment produce better, higher quality eggs?
MH: Definitely. Chickens are one of the best-fed animals. They have a short life span and a lot is known about their nutritional needs at different life stages. The amino acids they need have been well tested and documented. Genetic testing has helped to breed chickens for better growth and egg laying capacity. Well cared for chickens produce tastier and nutritionally superior eggs.
We support that by mixing and grinding our own feed every 3-4 days. Once grains have been cracked through grinding, the vitamins begin to leach out. Fresh grinding leads to better nutrition for the chickens. By spending enough time out in the pasture they get a complete diet from natural sources.
KJ: In order for people to get this quality of egg, you have to have a good quality of life also! Has this business been good for you? Is it growing?
MH: Yes. We love our life style and we have been growing steadily over the past ten years. People are more aware of the problems with commercial farming, want higher quality of food and like supporting local farmers. At the same time, it’s hard to compete with the very large-scale operations that can produce at a much lower cost. However, once people taste our eggs, they really notice the difference. Then they are more willing to pay a little extra.
You can find Mr. Horst’s excellent eggs at MOM’s organic market under the name Jehovah-Jireh Farms. Please support your local farmers!