Brand Farms started out as a dairy farm, but has expanded to include nearly 2,500 laying hens and a 12 acre apple orchard. Last year, Brand Farms washed, packaged, and sold nearly 13,000 dozen eggs at farmers markets south of the Twin Cities. They also sell wholesale to HyVee. We visited owner and operator Aaron Brand to learn more about his family's operation.
Minnesota Grown: Tell us about your operation.
Aaron Brand: Our family farm started with 50 birds in 2005 and have expanded each year. We now have 2,500 laying hens in this barn. We sell to the Farmers Markets in Eagan, Bloomington, Hastings, Fulton and many more. We also sell wholesale to HyVee.
MG: What do the birds eat?
AB: They currently eat corn, with soybean meal added to their diet this May. Feed comes on first thing when lights come on, then again one hour later. With this second feeding, birds will be enticed to stay in the nest and lay their egg in the nest and then move to the feeder. They are fed again afer five hours and one and a half hours before lights off.
MG: What are the features of your new barn?
AB: The construction for this barn started last May. It has automated feed, water, lighting, and the nest boxes automatically close at night to prevent hens from staying in there during the night. The birds are housed cage free and will be free range once they become accustomed to the barn. I wait until lunch time to let them out to avoid mislays. They need to know where to lay the egg and where to eat and drink. For the health of the birds, they are not allowed out in bad weather.
MG: Why is lighting so important to the chickens?
AB: We have LED lighting that are motion sensitive. Chickens are susceptible to light and only need fifteen hours of light per day. Bright lights irritate them as they will tend to start fighting if uncomfortable.
MG: How many eggs will a chicken lay per day?
AB: They will lay one egg per day in full production, which is the first four to six months. All birds need to be 3.5-4 pounds to uniformly be in full production. They are in production for one year.
MG: How do you wash and store your eggs?
AB: They are gathered on a conveyer belt from the nest. Next, they are placed on flats and washed. They are then sorted by size and placed on a towel to air dry. They are stored in a cooler. If they are going wholesale, the eggs are candled to check for cracks or bloodspots.
MG: Why is biosecurity important?
AB: The biggest bonus to biosecurity would be bird health, which leads to a quality egg. Once the chickens leave the barn, the bedding is scooped, the floor is power washed and disinfected, and finally left to air dry. Air quality is controlled through the automated ventilation system. Biosecurity is also very important to us because of the bird flu. We are very strict on who goes in and around the hens and the barn. Anyone we allow in the barn must wear plastic boots over there shoes. We go the extra mile to ensure our flock stays healthy.
MG: How has Minnesota Grown helped you sell local products to consumers?
AB: I have been a member for many years. Minnesota Grown has played an important role through the Directory and has helped advocate for buying local.