Did you ever wonder why our pasture raised eggs cost what they do? We don’t actually get this question a lot, but we aren’t selling at a farmer’s market where it might come up more.  I also believe people are just polite and we don’t hear from them after they see our price.  And that is the value of a free market!

In short, because:

  • Labor Intensive management system
  • High cost of feed
  • Low efficiency for egg collection and cleaning
  • Low utilization of economies of scale

I wanted to write this out though, so I could help you understand why we set our price where we do.  This is one of the main things all the farm classes/workshops out there on profitability, finances and direct marketing try to get through our farmer heads; set your price based on your expenses!!  Not on what your neighbor charges, they can have totally different expenses than you. 

This is not an easy task, especially with eggs.  And pasture raised eggs are not just any egg. Consumers are used to low cost eggs that are available in grocery and convenience stores.  Little do they know, is that eggs are a loss leader in most stores.  They are meant to get you in the door to buy the more profitable items, like a cup of coffee or a candy bar.  The stores purposely know they will lose money on the eggs.  Eggs, something most people buy regularly.  A way to get the consumer in the door regularly, ta da! 

I don’t think most consumers know how those laying hens who laid those eggs are being raised.  For a big company, factory farm, corporation or whatever you want to call those businesses, to make money they need to have thousands upon thousands of hens.  And the most efficient way to manage those numbers is in a building, with automatic waterers and feeders for low labor costs.

According to Factoryfarmmap.org, in 2012 Stearns County MN has extreme density for laying hens.  They state that 1,639,152 laying hens are in that county with an average of 409,788 per site!  Iowa has more counties listed with extreme densities.  How many buildings are there per site?  One or maybe three or four?  That is still 100,000 laying hens in one building if there are 4 buildings.  And if they are cage free, the beaks of the hens are trimmed off, like trimming off your finger to the first knuckle.  That is so the hens don’t injury each other in such close contact living environments. 

This includes all those trendy labels on eggs too.  Organic, cage-free, even pasture raised eggs.  Greenwashing it what that is called.  Use nice pictures like our farm, to promote corporate farms.  Use the words family farms in marketing to insinuate a farm like ours.  But how do you KNOW if you don’t KNOW the farmer? 

Well here’s one thing I can tell you, you can know me and I’ll tell you how MY laying hens are raised. 

1 dozen eggs with egg carton stamp
1 dozen of our eggs in our new carton design

We try to maintain a flock of 500 hens.  When Minnesota weather allows, (usually April – October) our hens are out on pasture in ¼ of an acre at a time in moveable electric net fencing.  So that is 21.78 sq. ft. per hen.  The shelter, water and feeders are all mobile too.  The hens get moved twice a week, to fresh pasture.  We have about 15 acres that we use right now for rotating our laying hens on pasture.  Each season we cover those 15 acres twice with the laying hen flock.  Other animal groups, like our broilers, may also be grazed here and we work around those groups.

Our eggmobile on pasture with our water trailer, egg coop and roosting shelters
Our egg train out on pasture, water trailer, egg coop and roosting shelters

During our Minnesota winters, we have a steel sided building to house our laying hens.  We call it our chicken house.  We use a deep bedding system of chipped or shredded wood and strategically placed peat moss to mix and compost the chicken manure through our long, cold MN winters.  (In a dramatic farmer’s voice.)  We put up one of our poultry electric net fences (no electricity during winter though) to enclose an outdoor yard for the hens that they have access to from the building.  And the hens do go outside, if it is not too cold or deep snow.  We have shoveled them paths or laid out hay, so they feel safe to walk on the snow.  We can also shut all the outdoor doors when it is -20° to conserve heat in the building. 

Winter housing and outdoor yard for our laying hens
Our winter hen housing setup

We raise our laying hen replacements from day old chicks.  We can then control how they are raised, with high quality feed and out on pasture.  It takes 4-5 months of feeding that pullet and moving her on pasture before she will start to lay eggs to sell.  It is more economical to buy ready to lay, or point of lay, hens.  It is hard to find a large pullet grower that does not trim the hen’s beaks, something we do not want.  And even if the pullets are raised on organic feed, it may not be high quality.  It is more than likely the cheapest, bargain by-products at the time.  Also, no pasture exposure when the pullets are depositing important nutrition that they will pass on in their future eggs.  So, until we can find and develop a relationship with a pullet grower that meets our needs, we raise our own.

Young pullets being raised for replacement laying hens in the brooder
Growing our replacement laying hens in the brooder

We feed our hens a transitional organic balanced grain ration that is optimized for their age.  It is a no soy feed that contains corn, field peas, alfalfa meal, Aragonite (a calcium source), fishmeal and Fertrell’s Poultry Nutri-balancer (mineral supplement).  Our feed mill uses high quality grains, that are freshly milled prior to delivery to our farm.  Our feed costs alone are 50% of our expenses currently.  There definitely is an advantage for the farmers who can raise their own feed.

We collect our eggs by hand, once to twice a day.  We try to keep it to once, just for labor efficiency.  That doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you have to collect 400 or so eggs and place them in a tray very carefully.  Collecting the eggs takes longer than the time it takes to feed our hens twice a day and then some.  Then we need to get those crates of trays out of the pasture and up into our cooler. 

Transporting eggs off pasture after collection
Transporting eggs off pasture after collection

We also clean our eggs by hand.  We do not have expensive, large, efficient egg washing machines to streamline cleaning because we are not that big of a farm. 

Lastly, we do not have the buying power to utilize economies of scale.  An example of this is buying egg cartons.  To get a good “deal” on egg cartons with all our farm info pre-printed on them, we would need to buy a minimum of 25,000 cartons at one time.  The best I can do is I bought a pallet worth of cartons, that is 3,750 cartons.  That will probably last us several years, because we can reuse our clean cartons.   We also need to label these cartons still with our farm name, address and phone number.

We take all of our expenses into account when we set our egg price.  And we are still doing all the above work for free.  Yeah, all that labor is not being paid for, yet.  So, we will keep pushing the edge of comfortable when pricing our eggs, demanding a fair price for our hard work. 

QUICK MATH TIME:

12 eggs at $5.50 = $0.458 per egg    

2 eggs for breakfast = $0.916    (12g of protein)  or 4 eggs = $1.832     (24g of protein)

2 pieces of bacon (from pasture raised pigs) = $0.78     (16 g of protein)

1 plain bagel = $0.78       (10g of protein)

5 oz. of whole milk, organic yogurt = $0.922     (8g of protein)

2 sausage links (from pasture raised pigs) with your eggs = $1.07     (10g of protein)

1 tall plain coffee = ~$2.00     (0g of protein, 1 g with cream)

4 oz. of grass-fed ground beef = $2.396     (21g of protein)

High quality, pasture-raised Eggs are pretty competitive cost-wise part of protein consumption. 

Cost of goods may differ in your area.

Rainbow over the hens out on pasture
Rainbow over the hens out on pasture