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Iowa family continues chicken farming tradition

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 03/20/2013 9:04 AM

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ORANGE CITY, Iowa — The egg continues to amaze Mark Fedders -- he is continuing in the family farming tradition of chickens. Back in the 1960s, his grandfather Marinus maintained a 5,000 bird flock, which was considered a large flock for the time.

Mark's father, Marlo, expanded to a 10,000 bird flock 20 years later. In 1983, the family built their first 80,000-layer barn and added a second 80,000-layer eight years later. The chicken industry underwent major consolidation during that time. Today less than 300 producers supply more than 90 percent of the eggs consumed in the United State.

Hens arrive on the Fedders farm at 17 weeks old when they are about ready to lay. The birds are raised by the Anderson farm near Sioux Rapids. The Andersons purchase day-old chicks from Hyline International.

"It doesn't take today's layers very long to get into production," said Fedders. "By twenty-two weeks they are into full swing."

Fedders gets a new flock annually. One barn and usually both are always producing eggs. Around age 65 weeks, hens go through a forced moult. The moult is caused by changed lighting, reduced caloric intake and salt removal.

"Moulting is natural to chickens," said Fedders. "Normally it occurs in the winter months when there is less natural light and chickens have had to work harder to find food. Light stimulates the pituitary gland to produce hormones that begin the egg process."

Chickens are fussy eaters. Hens notice when elevators change from old crop corn to new crop.

Nutrition is extremely important, he said. Younger chickens need more protein and calcium. Amino acids and a correct ratio of calcium to phosphorus are necessary to get the right egg size.

"Each egg has the same amount of calcium in the shell," said Fedders. "Too large of egg is more difficult to ship besides having a thinner shell."

On an average, he gets 120,000 eggs daily from his 160,000 hens. In full production, 1million eggs can be produced on his farm. Four times a week, the eggs are trucked to Estherville Foods, an egg processing plant.

Fedders works with one employee and the next generation of Fedders — Matt, 18; Adam, 15; and Luke, 12.

Matt does much of the maintenance work, ensuring that the 13,000 nipples in each building are working. He keeps in mind the poultry basic law of FLAWS — feed, light, air, water and space — that are necessary for consistent egg production and bird health.