Sisu Farms State of the Egg Address

written by

Aila Holley

posted on

January 27, 2023

Sisu Farms Eggs

What about eggs at Sisu Farms? It has been a busy time for us. Since we have passed the solstice, we have one flock with an increasing lay rate as we approach spring and a second just about to start laying. If you have been buying eggs from us for a while, THANK YOU! If you are a new customer, WELCOME! We are glad to have you here.


If you are reading this from somewhere where you can’t get our eggs, please take this information and apply to finding eggs and other food from farmers in your area. Great resources for that include Eat Wild, Get Real Chicken and Local Harvest


First I want to touch on why we think having chickens and eggs at the farm is so important. Birds are natures balancer and when raised in harmony with nature as we do by having them rotate the pastures, they help balance and improve their ecosystem. They fertilize the soils, spread seeds of grasses, eat flies and other insects and spread the manure of the herbivores they follow. In the wild as well as on our farm, birds are a critical element in the ecosystem. Now in order for us to also use them to produce eggs, we need to have flocks bigger than what just the grasses and bugs in our fields can support, so we must feed them and in the winter, house them. Probably their greatest benefit is the amazingly versatile and bioavailable protein they produce in the form of eggs.


Even with the change in price, eggs are still by a good bit the least expensive, most versatile whole protein we offer. Ok, you can get pork trotters and beef bones for less per pound but you have far less options with those. A dozen large eggs is 1.5 pounds. You can use that weight to figure the price per pound of eggs compared to other protein. 


This is the second egg ‘crisis’ we have been farming for, the first was in the spring of 2020 when the movement and distribution of eggs was interrupted by covid. This is the first time since then that we have really taken a hard look at our egg operation. We did not look at or adjust our egg prices at all from fall of 2020 until fall of 2022. We have seen big cost jumps in all aspects of making eggs from chicks to cartons, feed, labor, insurance and the list goes on. Back a few months ago we made a price increase a bit blind, hoping it would actually be enough to cover two years of not increasing prices. I actually sat down with our current costs right after the new year and was shocked at how much change we have incurred since the spring of 2020. We realize now that we need to be sure we are covering our costs or end the eggs business all together. For the reasons listed above we really want to keep hens on our fields and eggs to offer too. It’s the only way for us to sustain and be here with eggs for the long haul. You are going to see a significant increase in prices, one that represents 2 years of carrying cost increases without adjusting our price to you. This is not something we do lightly and is something we aim to always communicate with you. 


We have also realized that early in the egg operation we implemented some procedures that have not scaled up well, so we are working to streamline how we are gathering and processing eggs.  Don’t worry this will NOT change how we pasture the hens. The birds being out on pasture as seasons allow, is one of the biggest factors we believe improves their health, life and quality.  We feel that all living creatures do better when they can experience fresh air, sunshine, grass and movement. The rotational grazing or movement of our animals will always be a key principle of our farm and where a majority of our labor is allocated.  


You will start to see the following egg changes at the farm.

1. We are now gathering the cleanest of our eggs and packing them directly from the nest. So there will be more unwashed eggs both in grab and go and when you order in advance. This reduces the number of times we have to sort and handle the eggs. The benefit to you is the eggs have their natural bloom intact, which means the egg will keep FAR longer than the washed eggs.  

2. You’ll see more ‘farm eggs’. My nephew once went home and reported to his mom ‘at Aunt Aila’s we only get to eat the funny looking eggs’ :) At times when lay rate is on the lower side of the demand for eggs, we will be packing the eggs that in the past we have reserved just for our family. These are perfectly good eggs but may have shell discolorations, funny textures or be of somewhat abnormal size. This is truly how chickens lay, though we rarely see them because any eggs that fall outside of a very narrow grading requirement never travel to the store as shelled eggs. They end up as processed eggs.  

3. We will be evaluating prices now and adjusting more often as our costs change. It won’t be weekly like the food products in the store but it will happen more often that we have in the past.  

4. We will be offering a discount for ordering eggs in advance, and we plan to launch subscriptions soon. Egg subscriptions will be discounted from retail prices. This will help us plan into the future things like how many hens to keep, which wholesale customers to bring on and guarantees you are the first to have your eggs when demand goes up at times like we are having now.  


Commercial Eggs

Now let me touch on eggs beyond the fields of Sisu Farms. My guess is unless you are only shopping with us (if you are, you can stop reading here :)) You are seeing empty shelves and high prices on eggs. The prices are changing there as well at even higher percentages than our changes on the farm, and it’s not because they ignored their input costs for two years. Lets face it, food prices at the store change weekly without warning or explanation.


The Avian flu has a lot to do with it. Colorado alone has lost 5.98 million laying hens between April 29-December 22. To put that in perspective that’s a loss of just over 68 million dozen to date, or a dozen eggs a month for each of the 5.8 million residents of the state of Colorado.  


One interesting thing to note is out of birds lost in Colorado alone, about 85% of our state’s laying hens, nearly 4.7 million were ‘depopulated’ before September of 2022. So why is it just now that the store shelves are missing eggs? Well, the ‘fresh’ eggs from the store can in fact be months old before they are packaged and sent out to the store. So it took many months for the stockpile of eggs to be depleted, that’s why we didn’t start seeing a shortage of commercial eggs until months after the hens that laid them were gone.  After avian flu hit these egg factories (I can’t call a place with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of confined birds, a farm) had to leave their barns empty for up to a couple months before hens could be put back in. Colorado was not the only state to face avian flu losses, Iowa has lost 16 million birds and as a country we have lost over 58 million birds from commercial and backyard flocks. That includes hatcheries that supply new chicks and pullets (young hens just starting to lay) to commercial table egg factories. It takes a chicken about 16-20 weeks to start laying eggs, so once places can start populating barns again, there’s still going to be a delay in building egg supplies back up.  


An additional change in Colorado is after January 1, 2023, all eggs sold in Colorado must be from ‘cage free’ farms. This not only means producers within Colorado will have to reduce the number of hens in a barn, but also limits the options for importing eggs from other states. To be ‘cage free,’ egg producers must give hens at least 1 square foot per hen and in the next 2 years they must convert barns to ‘Cage Free Housing’. These following requirements for cage free housing come directly from the Colorado Department of Ag. 


Q: What is a cage-free housing system? 

A: A "Cage-free housing system" means an indoor or outdoor controlled   environment for egg-laying hens to which all of the following apply:

  1. For an indoor environment, the egg-laying hens are free to roam unrestricted except by the following:
  2.    a. Exterior walls; and
  3.    b. Interior fencing used to contain the entire egg-laying hen flock within  the building or subdivide flocks into smaller groups if farm employees can walk through each contained or subdivided area to provide care to egg-laying hens and if each egg-laying hen in a multi-tiered system or a ratio of 1.5 sq. ft. per egg-laying hen for a system that does not have vertical space or elevated platforms.
  4. Egg-laying hens are provided enrichments that allow them to exhibit natural behaviors, including, at a minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing areas; and
  5. Farm employees can provide care while standing within the egg-laying hens' usable floor space.


The cost of making these adjustments to big barns will be added to the cost of eggs. My guess is we won’t see the prices of eggs coming down anywhere any time soon.  


We want to keep eggs as part of the farm, and we hope you stay with us through these changes we have to make. We will continue to communicate with you even when we have to make these uncomfortable changes. We believe that by keeping our food system local, we all have more power in the future of farming and food.  


It’s often said “No Farms, No Food.” Unfortunately that very belief may be changing. Quite frankly this has me WORRIED…but that’s a topic for next week.  


Please let me know if I can answer any questions. Thanks for being with us on this journey!


All the best, 


Aila


Eggs

More from the blog

The Future of Food

Do you feel overwhelmed shopping for food? So many labels and claims to sort through? *Natural *Hormone Free *Cage Free *Free Range *Grass-fed

The Tale of Two Chickens

This is a story of 2 chickens that hatched together but lead very different lives. The first chicken was sent off to a big city chicken farm and the other went to the country to a pasture based farm in the mountains.

What’s Up Wednesday

I'm starting a new blog/email called "What's Up Wednesday" where we'll share what's going on on the farm. This week we'll be moving the hens out the their summer campers The WinniEggos and they will start traveling the fields.