EGG-CELLENT ENTERPRISE

Poultry farmer sees egg business take off
By: 

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Eggs are kept in cold storage as they wait for distributors to pick them up. The coolers, along with other equipment in the processing facility, are powered by 12-volt energy provided by solar panels.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski More than 7,000 hens are on the main farm for Milo’s Poultry Farms. There are an additional 4,000 hens on the other farm, and neighboring farms provide eggs from another 8,500 hens.

Wisconsin is known for its dairy farms, but there is one farm in Amish country near Bonduel that has found amazing success in the egg business.

Milo’s Poultry Farms, owned and operated by Milo Bontrager, processes more than 42,000 eggs daily and provides them to three major distributors that send them to stores, restaurants and other businesses all over the state. The eggs are certified organic and are non-GMO, Bontrager said.

The processing facility, which is state-inspected, employs five people to help process and get the eggs into cartons while Bontrager and his family collect the eggs daily from their hens.

The eggs roll along a conveyor belt and are candle-inspected to ensure the eggs are quality. The eggs continue to a digital scale and are weighed to see what size carton they should go in.

At one point during a tour on Monday, Bontrager stopped the belt to adjust the scale, noting that an overabundance of medium-sized eggs were collecting in one compartment.

Setting the scale allowed for two compartments to collect medium-sized eggs in order to prevent waste.

“The minimum they allow me 56.6 (grams) for the large, but I always set it at 57,” Bontrager said. “I always like to give the customer a little more.”

The facility is powered through hydraulic and 12-volt power, which moves the conveyor belt, powers the scale, powers the coolers to store the eggs until distributors can pick them up, provide lighting in the henhouses and even operates an inkjet printer that prints the expiration dates on the cartons.

The henhouses are homemade, with artifical nesting turf installed to help provide a comfortable area for the hens to lay the eggs.

“They really seem to like that,” Bontrager said. “I’ve got it slanted so the eggs just roll out. Then we just collect them.”

Bontrager’s biggest customer is Certco, a Madison-based distributor that provides food products to the Woodman’s chain of grocery stores. He also does a lot of business with Trust Local Foods in Little Chute and Vern’s Cheese in Chilton, the latter providing eggs to Charlie’s County Market and the Festival Foods grocery chain.

Bontrager started his farm in 2004 with 150 hens, but he now has 7,000 hens on his home farm, another 4,000 on a secondary farm, and over 8,500 hens from neighboring farms.

“I always like birds; I always liked chickens,” Bontrager said.

Bontrager’s farms and the other farms that make up his business feed the hens an organic feed that has flax seed, which provides Omega-3 nutrients, from Premier Co-op in western Wisconsin, and that feed produces higher quality eggs, he said. He also makes sure that the hens have plenty of space to roam, letting them out into the pasture after lunchtime, as the hens tend to do most of their laying in the morning hours.

The original plan was to provide a variety of products, including meat chickens, but the egg business took off so well, Bontrager has found little time for any other enterprises.

“I had named my business Milo’s Poultry Farms instead of Milo’s Eggs because I was going to do a lot of other things — I was going to raise broilers and I was going to sell stewing hens. I was going to make canned chicken soup,” Bontrager said. “The egg business just kind of took over, so I just ended up concentrating on that.”

The egg market has been tumultuous for other companies, Bontrager noted, but he has managed to keep his production steady even as larger businesses have closed their doors.

“Everybody was overproducing,” he said. “My Wisconsin state market stayed pretty strong all the way through. It could have something to do with there being a strong demand in Wisconsin due to fewer egg producers.

“Local is also a big thing to a lot of people. They want to support local farmers,” Bontrager said. “Because I’m from Wisconsin, Wisconsin people are more apt to buy my eggs than something from out of state.”

Wisconsin is not the easiest state to produce eggs due to the big swings in daylight and darkness. He knows his hens tend to produce eggs with a richer yolk in the spring and fall months, when lighting is sufficient and temperatures are comfortable.

The eggs have paler yolks in the summer months due to the heat, he said, and fewer eggs are produced in the winter due to the short days, although the lighting in the henhouse helps the hens to produce more in January and February.

“We focus on flock health and try to produce the best eggs possible,” Bontrager said.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT: Milo’s Poultry Farms

WHERE: W3783 Valley Road, Bonduel

WHEN: The farm is open for customers to purchase eggs from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

ONLINE: For information, go to www.milospoultryfarm.com.