The case for cage-free eggs

Mohammed Mousa, pictured here, walks through of one of the outdoor patios at our Saranac facility where cage-free hens are free to roam about.

Since Herbruck’s inception, we have always led with one guiding principle: to put the bird first in everything we do. That simple idea has helped us to lead our industry in animal care, large-scale cage-free housing, innovative operations and environmental stewardship, to name just a few.

And for nearly just as long, we’ve stayed true to our humble roots, keeping our industry-leading innovations to ourselves — it’s just not the way we were raised. But now, we thought it was time to start saying a little bit about us.

Why? Because the bird. 

We figure if we start sharing some of the innovative work we’ve pioneered, maybe we can help our industry and our retailers see why the premium, humanely raised eggs we produce are the answer to how we feed our growing nation without sacrificing animal welfare — and that there is ever-increasing demand from consumers, too.

So, let us introduce our first ever incarnation of News from the Coop, where we interview our leaders about why we are the way we are.

First up: Mohamed Mousa, Vice President of Production. For nearly 20 years, Mohamed has been the champion of our chickens. A man with a true passion for animal care and more degrees than we can count, Mohamed has been the driving force in our evolution to run a fully cage-free operation, ensuring every step of the way that our birds get the best care, nutrition and housing. 

Mohamed talked to us about why we believe cage-free housing is the best answer, how we’ve evolved over the years and what consumers actually want in the egg aisle.

Why does Herbruck’s invest so much into animal welfare?

Well first off I like that you used the word invest — because that’s exactly what we do. A lot of producers consider the welfare of their animals to be simply an expense, an additional line item meant to increase profits — but through the years, we’ve found that the better we treat our animals, the better eggs they produce for us in return, ultimately allowing us to better serve our customers. It’s also, I should add, the right thing to do. The Herbruck’s have long believed that we should respect these animals that provide us with so much, and that’s reflected in the rigorous level of detail we apply to their care.

Is cage-free housing really the best option for egg-laying hens?

Absolutely. Cage-free housing ensures that our birds have room to move naturally about the barns, giving them the freedom to socialize, eat and drink, dust-bathe and fly. Cage-free housing is the best of both worlds: it gives hens the freedom to move around and exercise their natural behaviors while also allowing us to keep them safe, protected from disease and predators and surrounded by their fellow flock-animal friends.

What methods do we use to ensure the best welfare of our birds?

Herbruck’s has been a leader in the humane, ethical treatment of hens since the beginning — and that reputation has only evolved in the wake of increasing animal science research. To make sure that we’re always treating our birds with the utmost respect, we only employ experts in animal handling, health and welfare. Additionally, we’ve developed specialized training in procedures such as vaccination and laser beak treatment. These procedures are carefully reviewed each time they are carried out and our training programs are constantly evolving.

Why don’t we switch entirely to free-range or pasture-raised like other organizations? Don’t those seem more humane?

While there certainly is value in free-range and pasture-raised operations — in fact, we produce those kinds of eggs for consumers, too — we believe that cage-free housing is the best way to ensure that our large flock of hens are treated ethically, are kept safe from disease and that we’re able to meet consumer demand.

What about consumers? Are they actually demanding for more premium eggs?

In fact, they are. We started converting our operation to cage-free around the turn of the century, knowing that it would both be better for our birds and appeared there was a growing segment of the market demanding premium eggs. Today, we see our cage-free and organic segments to be our fastest growing, reflecting a changing tide in both consumer awareness and preference.

Several states around the country are starting to impose mandatory cage-free laws. How will those affect Herbruck’s?

Actually, they largely won’t. The Michigan state legislature recently passed a law requiring all eggs produced and sold in the state to come from cage-free farms by 2025. For many producers, that means drastic changes and seismic shift to the way they treat their animals. For us? We’re already on track to be entirely cage-free by 2023. Long ago we set ourselves on a course to go entirely cage-free – and we’re nearly there. We knew long ago that it was the right thing to do and that cage-free is what consumers want.

Will those cage-free laws affect the supply of eggs, too?

They very well could. Many states across the nation are starting to implement cage-free laws, which means egg buyers in those states will need to partner with organizations that supply cage-free eggs. For many operations, there’ll be some significant costs associated with transitioning to cage-free — but thankfully we don’t have to worry about that at Herbruck’s as we started this transition over 15 years ago.