Eggs are a staple ingredient in so many of our favorite dishes, from protein-packed breakfasts to comforting chocolate chip cookies. South Dakota hens lay almost 700 million eggs a year to fill that spot in our refrigerators, but rarely do we stop to think about how they’re raised.
One farmer who spends a lot of time and energy taking care of those amazing birds is Jason Ramsdell of Dakota Layers in Flandreau. His family-owned farm processes about 1 million eggs every day. Leveraging technology helps the farm be more efficient, which keeps the operation sustainable and boosts the quality of life for his chickens.
For farmers like Jason, sustainability is an important part of doing business. It means continuous improvement and doing what’s right for the environment and the birds he cares for. Many farmers strive to leave the land in better condition than they received it to benefit future generations.
“We make sure nothing is wasted,” said Jason. “We have water lines feeding into each of the barns, so the chickens have just the right amount of water readily available to them. We also feed them out of a trough, so they don’t have the opportunity to waste any of the feed by scattering it on the ground.”
Dakota Layers isn’t the only environmentally friendly egg farm. Since 1960, American egg producers have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, used 32 percent less water and about half the amount of feed today as they did back then.
Advances in technology help farmers waste less water and feed, but improvements in the quality of feed have also made a big difference. Today’s chickens are fed protein-rich soybean meal, corn, distiller’s grains and added vitamins and minerals. The eggshell is made out of calcium, so chickens need a diet rich in that nutrient in order to create healthy eggs.
“Anything that’s taken in by the bird is used to produce the eggs,” explained Jason. “Since eggs are one of the best sources of protein out there, layers need a protein- and calcium-rich diet.”
Everything Jason does, from choosing a blend of nutrients to feed his hens to designing barns to house them, is centered around creating healthy, safe food for your family.
“One of the most interesting things many consumers might not pay attention to is how our grandfathers moved hens from a cage-free environment to cages specifically to keep them healthier and to ensure the safety of the eggs,” Jason stated. “Because our hens are in a closed environment, we can keep a closer eye on their health.”
Newer chicken facilities have what’s called “belted high rises” that ensure manure is quickly removed from the cages via a conveyer belt. This improves air quality and reduces the chance of cross-contamination between manure and the eggs.
Laying facilities also have temperature controls to make sure hens are comfortable. Farmers like Jason are constantly checking the temperature of their barns, as well as the air quality and the amount of water and feed available to the chickens to make sure their hens are healthy and happy.
Want to try Dakota Layers eggs? You can pick them up at Hy-Vee or County Fair Foods locations in the eastern part of the state. After you pick up a carton, check out this tasty egg bake recipe to fuel your morning.