Some Questions and Answers
We practice what we call an “integrated operation,” where we raise animals and vegetables in rotation on the same land. This type of operation transforms the waste stream of one type of operation as a resource for the other. Animal manures are used as fertilizer for the crops, crop residue and pests are used as feed for the animals. In conjunction, these two types of operations can be synergistic. It does take extra skill, attention, and effort to do so in a way that is beneficial and food-safe. But the results are worth it.
We believe the health of our hens and quality of our eggs emerges from the lifestyle we promote: including their breed, feed, housing, environment, and humane treatment.
Folks have so many questions about chickens and eggs (other than which came first). We love that! We’re passionate about caring for our hens. Learn more about our farm as we answer some of the common questions below:
We raise Vega Brown layers, bred in Davis by Vega Farms. We chose these hens because they are bred locally, have great temperaments, lay extra-large brown eggs, and are beautiful birds. Within hours of their hatching, they are on our farm and taught one-by-one to drink our blends of probiotics and herbs. Because they are bred locally, they are well suited to our Yolo climate, with large combs and light colored feathers to thrive even in the heat of our summers.
In other operations, most hens start their life with a stressful trip from one of the major US hatcheries, through a shipper or mail carrier. We hear from those breeders that chicks can live for three days on the nutrition provided in their yolk. Well us humans can live for three days without water, but we don’t feel very good on the third day!
Vega Browns lay eggs with brown-colored shells. Despite popular belief, there is no known nutritional difference indicated by the color of an egg shell. The breed of the hen determines the shell color. The hen’s diet and age influences the qualities and size of the egg.
Soy free? What is that? What do your hens eat?
Our eggs, and all aspects of our farm, are certified organic by CCOF. That means every component of their feed regimen must be certified organic, and therefore also non-GMO. We do not compromise when it comes to feed.
Most hens spend their lives eating mainly three foods: soy, wheat, and corn. The reason for this is two-fold: (1) chickens, unlike humans, do not have the ability to synthesize amino acids and therefore need a complete protein source to satisfy the metabolic demand of laying eggs, and (2) our society has come to view eggs as a food that should be provided cheaply, forcing producers to cut costs to a bare minimum (or beyond). Soy, corn, and wheat are the cheapest commodity crops to satisfy the basics of chicken nutrition.
After a two year, side-by-side experiment, we concluded that our hens are healthier when fed a diet free of soy. Based on our experience, we found that including soy in their daily diet seems to have some effect on their absorption of vitamins and minerals. We have since converted all of our flocks to a soy-free diet.
We work with Modesto Milling to produce a Say Hay Farms' custom blend of feed to meet our standards and address our hens' and customers' needs.
Our custom-milled feed includes:
Organic corn, organic rice bran meal, organic rapeseed, organic wheat, organic peas, limestone, organic sun-dried alfalfa, organic sunflower seeds, organic flaxseed, organic kelp meal, Redmond Sea Salt, organic garlic granules, organic horseradish powder, organic star anise oil, organic juniper berry oil, organic cayenne peppers, and other organic ingredients to balance the vitamins and minerals
In addition to this milled feed and rotation through various types of pasture, our hens have constant access to probiotic feed supplements, herbs, and tonics to promote robust immune systems.
Diversity is key. We believe that just like humans and soil, our hens are made stronger and more robust with the greater diversity of feeds that comprise them.
Where do you source your feed?
All of the feed components are grown domestically in the USA and are certified organic.
We work with the miller to have continually fresh shipments of milled grains to ensure the highest possible nutrient content.
While we aspire to someday raise our own feed, it is simply not an economically or logistically viable option at this time.
As an organic grower focused on humane practices, our best tool for healthy birds is that of prevention and proactive stress management. We believe that begins with a good genetic stock and is amplified starting with the moment of hatch.
Birds are prey animals. It is in their nature to hide signs of stress. It is our job to structure their farm lives in a way that limits stress and promotes health and happiness in our birds. Again, this includes attention to detail in every aspect of their lives: housing, environment, feed, and human interaction.
Eggs, like all foods, are seasonal. Seasonality affects both the abundance and availability of eggs and the color of the yolks. Egg yolk color changes frequently depending upon the hen’s diet. As a general trend, we notice the darkest colored yolks from November through April.
It’s also important to understand that the color of the yolk is not necessarily indicative of the nutrient content of the egg. We firmly believe that our hens’ eggs are exceptionally healthful foods year-round, regardless of the color of the yolk.
It is actually quite easy for producers to make egg yolks appear more orange through the addition of dyes to the feed. Since most people seeking high-quality eggs equate the dark color of the yolk with the quality of the eggs, many mass producers now manipulate the color of the yolk.
We suggest a quick study of the makeup and components of an egg yolk here. Note that normal, healthy egg yolks can range from nearly white, yellow through deep orange, almost blood red, and even olive green. We enjoy and appreciate the seasonality of our hens’ eggs.
A fresh egg has an upright yolk and albumin.
Our focus is on diverse, complete, natural feeds that promote the overall health and pleasure of our hens.
Why do you provide feed? I thought the hens were raised on pasture!
Our hens live their entire laying lives on pastures, roaming around and foraging outdoors, only to find a safe spot to roost at night in our custom-built mobile chicken homes.
Chickens have been bred to be Olympic avian atheletes, and producing eggs several days/week is a daunting metabolic task that requires a high-protein diet. The milled feed we provide free-choice ensures that they are offered the essential nutrients they need at all times. And they love it.
Raising hens without an option for a milled feed is cruel in our opinion. They might live – as your dog might live foraging for scraps or you might live foraging for miners’ lettuce – but we are all much healthier given the choice of an abundance of high-quality, diverse feeds.
Can we come visit your farm?
We would love for all of our customers to visit our farm and understand the enormous daily effort and skill that goes into producing your food. Unfortunately the demand of daily tasks limits the amount of time we can spend on education.
We offer this opportunity once a year as we set aside a day to share with you at our annual Community Farm Dinners.
We also have opportunities for guided tours.