New Scheme Showcases Egg Farming to the Public

MICHIGAN, US - Mary Rottschafer of Critter Barn in Zeeland Township has set up a small scale battery house on her farm to help educate children and other visitors what this type of farming is really like.
calendar icon 29 June 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

Egg producers nationwide have been under the gun for years from environmentalist and activist groups claiming so-called battery cages, in which most laying hens spend their lives, are inhumane, according to Holland Sentinel.

The outcry has gotten so loud, said Mary Rottschafer of Critter Barn in Zeeland Township, that many poultry farmers have simply closed off their facilities to the public.

"It's all kept pretty quiet," she said. "The people that raise the birds that lay eggs for grocery stores and McDonald's, they are not out there tooting their own horns because they have received a whole lot of criticism over the years."

Ms Rottschafer believes much of that criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the egg industry. She has recently opened a new facility at Critter Barn in Zeeland Township to educate about egg farming.

Last week, she unveiled a 24- by 10-foot building called the Hen House, a look into modern egg farming. The Hen House features a scaled-down version of an egg-producing facility, with 72 leghorn hens in 12 cages, stacked three high.

Each layer features a feeding trough, a watering system and a egg-collecting conveyor belt, in a climate-controlled environment. The equipment was donated by Big Dutchman Inc., one of the world's leading manufacturer of poultry systems.

"It's very good for educating the public on where their food comes from. It's something that Mary teaches out there, and I think that's good," said Charlie Parker, vice president of operations for Big Dutchman. "I think [egg producers] have gotten a bad rap. The egg industry has come a long way in the last several years."

After trying unsuccessfully to partner with several egg producers over the years, Ms Rottschafer saw her dream of the Hen House start to come together about two months ago.

It represents a partnership between Critter Barn, Big Dutchman, Sunrise Acres Egg Farm in Hudsonville, Schipper Poultry in Overisel, Herbruck Poultry Ranch in Saranac and Vande Bunte Eggs in Martin.

Cal Schipper, owner of Schipper Poultry, hopes the display will give children and parents a clearer understanding of how eggs are harvested and marketed.

"I think we as an industry decided it was a good thing to get kids, and/or their parents, to know where the food comes from, and the cage system we put over there [at Critter Barn] shows how safe everything is," Mr Schipper told Holland Sentinel. "The birds are cages because they are safer that way and it brings in more eggs that way."

Ms Rottschafer said the Hen House stands in stark contrast to the traditional chicken coop found at Critter Barn.

"I want to give the kids a chance to see how it is handled, because I think it's flat-out fascinating," Ms Rottschafer said. "The idea is not to get political or take sides; I just want to teach about it."

She said the first groups to go through it were "stunned" by the operation.

"The adults started asking question after question after question. The kids were kind of frozen. They were amazed. They had never seen anything like this."

With 72 hens laying about one egg every 27 hours, Ms Rottschafer has found herself with a surplus. She is selling them for $2 a dozen.

Ms Rottschafer said ideally she would find a donor to underwrite the operation of the Hen House so she could donate the eggs to a food pantry without taking a financial hit.

"I thought there could be a loftier goal for those eggs. It's a serious effort to do something special with these eggs."

Holland Sentinel adds that the grand opening for Hen House display, a mini version of a commercial egg producing facility will take place at Critter Barn, 9275 Adams St., Zeeland between 10:00 and 15:00 on 1 and 8 July. A dozen eggs will be given to first 10 families to arrive each day, and there will be an egg toss contest with prizes, donkey rides and special guests. For more information, click here.

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