SpringWood Farm sits within the beautiful, iconic farmland of Kinzers, PA. Known primarily for dairy production, the setting is what I would expect—a big old farmhouse, milking parlor, commercial kitchen, barn, several outbuildings, and a big golden retriever ready to greet farm visitors. However, I didn’t drive 60 minutes to look at cows; I came to see chickens. So, where are the chickens?
The chickens were in the pasture.
The first location I visited was home to 500+ beautiful and friendly birds. I don’t typically associate beautiful and friendly with animals on a production farm, but these hens were amazing. The chickens were completely feathered and clean, with no obvious sign of disease or illness. They looked better than my backyard chickens do at times! The birds had several acres to explore, digging for bugs and eating grass. A large mobile coop provided nesting space for egg laying, supplemental food, water, and roosting areas—all run by solar panels.
These hens are fed non-GMO, soy-free feed year round, supplemented by grass/pasture during the growing season. The inside of the coop was very clean, due to some nifty features. The nesting boxes close in the late afternoon and do not re-open until the next morning. If you have never raised chickens, well, this is amazing! If allowed, some hens will sleep in nest boxes, which results in manure buildup in a hard to clean area.
Farmer Dwight (my guide) wasn’t quite as enamored as I. He was troubled by the lack of production from this flock of young hens. A mix up in day length during the brooding period delayed their reproductive maturity, or in layman’s terms, they were late to start laying eggs. At the time of my visit, the entire egg production from the flock was down 100-200 dozen eggs per week. When my hens do this at home, I call them freeloaders. For Dwight, this was a major loss of income.
We continued on to a second location with at least 100 birds and two mobile coops. As we pulled up, two eagles flew across the horizon. About 20 hens quickly jumped up to visit with us, showing no fear. Shortly after, we discovered two casualties in the flock. Although a guard dog lives with the hens, he was nowhere to be found and predators had an easy meal.
But, back to the eggs.
I am the first to admit it—pastured, organic, grass-fed products are expensive and can be difficult to work into my food budget. So, my family did a blind taste test. We compared SpringWood Organic Farms non-GMO soy-free pastured eggs; Nature’s Promise organic eggs; and Giant store brand regular eggs.
Initial inspection proved some slight color variations in the yolks, but some of that can be the result of natural variation between breeds. The main difference in our visual observation was how the yolk held up. The SpringWood Farms egg held together in more of an orb shape, while the other yolks flattened out a bit. The shells of the SpringWood Farms egg and the Nature’s Promise egg were all but identical, while the store brand egg had a thinner shell which was easier to crack. During the taste test I slipped in an egg from my own backyard flock of Silkie chickens, just to see how it compared. Funny thing was, my husband thought the egg from our flock was the most flavorful! The eggs from the main trial all fared equally well; we didn’t notice a huge difference in one over the other.
The verdict: Raise your own chickens and enjoy eggs from the backyard!
First, you will learn how much work is actually involved with keeping chickens. Second, you will see that many times the eggs you raise will easily cost $4-5 per dozen (sometimes more). That being said, backyard chickens are not an option for many people. Thankfully, we have SpringWood Farm which is the next best thing. The selling point for me is how the animals are handled. While Farmer Dwight can’t go out and hug every chicken (like many people do with their own backyard birds), his hens want for nothing and look amazing. The eggs from SpringWood Farm show you what real food costs. I would rather eat an egg from a happy chicken than one that is crammed in a cage with six others and has lost half of her feathers. If you call Dwight, he might even let you come hang out with the birds for an afternoon and keep the eagles away. We never did find that guard dog!