Lititz farmer Darren Good sells his eggs for a premium price because he produces exactly what a niche market is clamoring for — brown, organic eggs from cage-free, free-range chickens.
Good’s eggs are marketed through Heritage Poultry Management Services in Annville, which supplies Pete and Gerry’s brand organic eggs. Pete and Gerry’s processes, packs and delivers the eggs to stores, where consumers are willing to pay $2 to $3 more per dozen for its eggs.
Good’s 40,000 hens have unlimited access to a spacious, grassy outdoor area. His eggs go to a processing plant in Greencastle, and they are sold in Giant, Weis, Costco and Whole Foods stores.
Good’s farm is one of more than 1,220 egg-producing operations in Lancaster County, which has at least 10.6 million laying hens, the largest concentration of any county in the U.S.
But numbers are not the only reason Lancaster County is a dominant force in the egg industry, according to Gregory Martin, who has a doctorate in poultry science and works out of the Penn State Extension office at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center.
The county’s egg farmers are supported by a close-knit infrastructure that includes feed manufacturers, truckers, processors, marketers, technicians, service people, equipment vendors, hatcheries and scientists like Martin.
Martin said he expects layer-hen numbers to exceed the 10.6 million figure taken from the 2012 census, when the next census is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture next year.
The number of layers in the county jumped by a third between the 2007 and 2012 censuses, while the number of egg farms rose from 983 to 1,220.Lancaster County’s egg production is a dominant force in the food industry, in part because it’s close to the major markets of New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.
People want their eggs to be fresh, Mar-tin said: “An egg laid in Lancaster County today can be in New York by tomorrow.”
Eggs are conveyed from the hens to a packing room on the farm where they are placed into flats. The flats go onto carts, which are trucked to processing plants, where the eggs are washed, weighed, graded, inspected and packed into cartons for grocery sales or flats.
Consumers take all of that for granted. What they’re becoming more concerned about these days is how the chickens are raised, another key to Lancaster County’s growing egg industry.
“We’ve got everything here, from small flocks raised on pasture to multi-tiered houses with 100,000 or more caged birds,” Martin said. “Our farmers produce brown eggs, white eggs, nutritionally enhanced eggs, organic eggs, free-range eggs — whatever the market calls for.”