Iowa Cage-Free: Adding birds

Goldfield expansion to be complete by March 2018

-Photo by Dawn Bliss This photo at Iowa Cage-Free LLP., near Goldfield, is looking east. The field in the foreground has had some site preparation done for the company’s planned expansion. Work is expected to resume this spring.

GOLDFIELD — A Wright County cage-free egg producer and agribusiness is expanding its operations near Goldfield.

“Consumer preferences and demands are changing,” said Craig Rowles, chief executive officer of Iowa Cage-Free LLP. “They are looking for greater transparency and systems that are more animal welfare-friendly.

“As those demands ripple through the market, producers are striving to be responsive and changing how they do things. Cage-free is the wave of the future.”

With the future in mind, the company has updated its permit and planned an expansion that will increase the number of birds allowed at the Goldfield location.

Ground work began in fall 2016, but construction won’t truly ramp up until the spring and summer months, Rowles said.

-Photo by Dawn Bliss An aerial view shows the origianl footprint of Iowa Cage-Free LLP, near Goldfield. The expansion will occur in the field to the right of the campus.

He estimated it will take until March 2018 before the project is complete and the site can be fully populated with layer hens.

The current complex includes six layer buildings, two manure storage buildings and a processing building where the eggs are packed for shipment.

It houses up to 600,000 birds, but the expansion will enable the company to add another 540,000 birds at the site, bringing the number of hens there up to around 1.1 million.

Iowa Cage-Free LLP also has a second site south of Creston near Clearfield where the company recently finished a similar expansion project.

That site now houses 1.5 million layer hens.

A cage-free facility typically means the birds move freely within the facility, congregating on the barn floor during the day where there is usually a place for them to scratch and dust bathe. Then, the hens move to a second level of the barn to perch, feed, nest and lay their eggs.

It’s a system the company believes meets the expectations of its customers, Rowles said.

However, cage-free does present a challenge. Managing and caring for the birds is more labor-intensive than battery cage production, and labor is in short supply at the moment.

Jobs open in cage-free production include positions such as a house walker who moves through the facility not only looking for randomly laid eggs and cleaning, but also checking heaters, feeder trays and waterers to ensure they are working properly and the chickens can easily access them.

Iowa Cage-Free’s eggs are not sold on grocery store shelves, Rowles said. Instead, the company produces for contracted customers who use the eggs in their own finished food products.

Iowa Cage-Free began its venture in 2008 at the Goldfield site. In 2015, they received an unspecified investment from Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partner LP, an investment fund formed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Investment Program.

However, Rowles said, Advantage Capital Agribusiness is no longer invested in the company.