Archive | February, 2014

Small Scale Egg Packing

17 Feb

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It’s still winter here but the days are getting longer, which means that the chickens are kicking the egg-laying into gear in anticipation of spring. We’re currently getting 3-4 dozen per day, up from 1.5 dozen eggs at the beginning of the year.  By the time it really starts to warm up we ought to be up to 6 dozen per day.

With that in mind I thought I’d give a quick run-down of our egg packing procedure and all the pertinent laws/regulations that we follow.

So first up, we’re in Minnesota, which means we’re under the jurisdiction of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and having less than 3000 laying hens we do not have to register with the USDA’s Shell Egg Surveillance program.  In order to sell our eggs directly to consumers we have to register with the MDA.  The one-time registration is free and is on the same form [PDF] as the on-farm poultry processing registration, so you can get both knocked out at once.


When they send you the certificate they also include a hardcopy of the USDA Egg Grading Manual [PDF].

Now that all our paperwork is done, it’s time to do the actual egg packing.

First, as required by the MDA [PDF], we candle our eggs.  About the only thing that candling is going to catch is cracked eggs, which you can usually see without candling, and eggs that have been incubated, which we don’t have.


We set aside the cracked and hard-to-clean eggs for our own consumption.


The rest of the eggs get cleaned up and packed in cartons. In Minnesota, there are exactly two permissible ways to clean eggs, according to the MDA.

Option 1 is a multi-thousand-dollar commercial egg washer that’ll do 30+ dozen eggs per hour.

Option 2 is a sheet or two of sandpaper. We chose the 120 grit, as it’s the only affordable option at our scale.

Cleaning the eggs without water doesn’t get them looking as nice, but it does keep the natural film of “bloom” intact, which prevents bacteria from getting into the egg. Egg washers have to be operated within very specific temperature ranges to prevent bacteria from entering the egg. So buying an egg-washer means you’re gonna have to be prepared to keep meticulous records of water temps, chlorine levels and your HAACP plan.

Once they’re all cleaned up, they’re off to the carton.


And here’s where we get to the MDA’s labeling requirements.  You can re-use egg cartons in Minnesota, as long as they’re in good shape and as long as you’ve gone through and crossed out all the information from the previous producer.  That means crossing out the egg size, grade, pack date, USDA shield logo (if present) and producer name & address. The safe food handling instructions should be left visible.

With all that crossed out, we apply our own label to the carton and write our own pack date.  The MDA requires the pack date in a three-digit Julian format, with the “sell by” date (30 days from pack date) in MM/DD format.

Our label provides the other required information: our farm name & address, egg grade and size.

All ready to go in the commercial (NSF-certified) refrigerator at 41°F.

Winter doldrums

16 Feb

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February is drawing to a close, but we can’t seem to shake this whole winter thing just yet.
The animals are going stir crazy from being around the barn so much.  The humans are going stir crazy too.

We haven’t had any really big snowfalls this year, just plenty of small ones and enough cold temperatures and wind to pile the snow up in inconvenient places.

The snowdrift on top of the hill is getting a bit out of hand as my 6′ tall father demonstrates. (He’s got his hand on top of a T-post that’s driven into the ground)


It’s a good thing there aren’t as many chores to do in the winter, because the snow makes everything just a bit harder.  Feeding the pigs involves lots of shoveling on account of all the snow that somehow accumulates underneath the feed bin.


In other news, the last of the winter calves was born about a week ago, completely without incident. His mother picked a relatively nice day to give birth to him, plus she’s one of our most experienced mothers.

A crowd of onlookers gathered to sing him happy birthday.


Say hello to Paint Jr.


I guess he’s not technically Paint Jr. as he’s actually Paint’s brother, but he’s a pretty flashy lookin’ fella nonetheless.

The Great Farrowing Disaster of 2014

11 Feb

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So about two weeks ago we had three pigs lined up to farrow their first litters. Hooray!

Until we realized that one of the younger pigs wasn’t looking that pregnant.  No big deal if she wasn’t, as she was quite young when she was bred (I didn’t realize that pigs could start cycling that young when we introduced a boar).  So only two pigs were gonna have babies.

I was keeping a pretty close eye on the girls in the leadup to their farrowing as it was cold outside and this is the first time they or I have done any farrowing.  But we had them in some nice bedded pens in the barn with heat lamps available for the little ones.  We were good to go.

Or so we thought.

The first to go was the one Large Black that got pregnant, Margo.  Margo was pretty freaked out by the farrowing process and wouldn’t stay lying down like a sow is supposed to.  She was up and down throughout the whole thing, straining quite a bit and pushing out the piglets (all two of them) quite slowly.  After she was done giving birth she quickly sought out her new piglets and positioned them around her face.

Not good.  The sow is supposed to just lay there and let her piglets find her belly and nurse.  She was having none of it.  If a piglet would so much as think about grabbing onto a nipple she would freak out, jump up, reposition them and lay back down.  Neither piglet survived the night.  She laid on both of them.  From what I’ve read it sounds like Gilt Hysteria, but without the savaging.  Not fun either way.

Margo gets one more chance to redeem herself before she leaves the farm permanently.

Next up was Dottie, the big spotted gilt.  Dottie had a very big belly, so there was no doubt she was carrying quite a few pigs.  I was relieved to see that, precisely on her due date, she was lying perfectly still giving birth to her pigs.  I saw the first 5 or so pigs being born, but then I decided to leave her alone, as my “help” was causing her to start to get up and move around too much.

The next morning I came out to find her with 3 piglets.  By the end of the first day she would have none.

She gave birth to 15 piglets, of which one was stillborn.  She laid on all the other 14 piglets.

What a depressing way to kick off the year.

Needless to say we’re not going to try farrowing in the winter again anytime soon.  That and we’re looking pretty hard at some farrowing crates.


Back to the feeder pig auction…