Thursday, August 14, 2014

Northwest Iowa Livestock Tour: Center Fresh Group

As one of my last adventures with Iowa Corn this summer, I traveled with the Animal Ag and Environment Committee to Northwest Iowa to tour the livestock industry. In that part of the state, livestock is a huge customer for our corn farmers. Monday night, we enjoyed dinner and conversation with influential members of the beef and pork industry. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their experiences and insight while making the connection with economics and business classes I've been taking at Iowa State.

Our group was made up of livestock and corn farmers from across the state, but none had experience raising chickens commercially, so it was a learning experience for everyone.

Tuesday morning we got up early and started the day off at Center Fresh Group in Sioux Center, Iowa. Center Fresh is a shell egg and egg-product producer with over 30 million layers in total. Jim Dean severs as the CEO and president of the United Egg Producers. The business began with eight family founders that pooled their resources to begin their entrepreneurial journey.  

Upon arrival, we heard a detailed explanation of the egg industry and their operation from Complex Manager Mark VanOort. Later, he gave an excellent tour of the cracking facilities. I took an entire page of notes and was embarrassed I had no idea how huge the egg industry was in Iowa prior to our visit. Somewhere I'd heard that Iowa is #1 in egg production in the United States, but I had no clue that a hen could lay 264 eggs per year or that 1 bird will eat 1 bushel of corn per year.

During his presentation, Mark did a wonderful job of describing the housing facilities for their hens. We weren't able to go inside because they want to keep their chickens safe from any diseases we could track in on our shoes, but their system was explained so well. To me, the outside of the barn look similar to hog confinements, long buildings that stretch the length of two football fields. Giant fans at the end keep fresh air flowing for the animals inside. The birds live in groups in cages and are happy to live in each other's close company. The manager explained, the breed of birds that lay for them are living the life they want. Just like some people prefer the country, while others would rather live downtown New York City, chickens aren't any different. These hens love to be with each other, and actually don't perform as well when they are in more spacious conditions. 

Our tour was so interesting and filled with surprising facts about the egg industry.

Another thing that amazed me about the company was their ability to turn bi-products into useful things, turning cost centers to profit centers while being more environmentally responsible. Substances like manure and shells that would normally be thrown away are now purchased by local farmers to spread on corn and soybean fields. The manure eliminates the need for some chemical fertilizers and is a great way to recycle. Shells from the cracking facility can be applied to control the pH of the soil instead of limestone.

Kurt Hora and Wayne Humphreys examine a product made with egg shells.

Accompanying the AAE Committee to Northwest Iowa was one of the highlights of my summer so far for sure! I'm so thankful for the businesses that took time to share their story with us. Stay tuned to learn more about Bar-K Cattle and Multi-Rose Dairy. Thanks for reading! 

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