I recently had the pleasure of touring Coyote Creek Organic Farm and Feed Mill in Elgin, Texas with their general manager, Cameron Molberg. Here I saw chickens living in luxury, out on the pasture, taking shelter in protected mobile coops, including shade structures, and get this – refreshing misters to keep them cool on the hottest of Texas days. The coops are moved periodically so that the chickens will forage for bugs and groom the grass, plus their poop fertilizes the soil on this diversified farm where livestock will graze the pasture and eat the replenished grasses. To ensure a healthy diet for chickens and optimal nutrient profile for the eggs they produce, Coyote Creek carefully turns mostly local grains and supplements into feed through the first certified organic feed mill in Texas and one of the few in the US. They even have a soy-free formula and sell soy-free eggs, which ‘real foodies’ like me appreciate.
I was truly impressed with the care put into this operation, from the extensive quality control and data collection, to the mission statement and the staff’s dedication to a healthy and just food supply. These eggs, sold as Jeremiah Cunningham’s World’s Best Eggs, taste amazing and have a nutrient profile found only in pasture-raised eggs. To find out more about the farm, and where to buy their eggs or feed, check out the Coyote Creek Organic Farm and Feed Mill website. Below, Cameron answers my questions about the farm and his work there. Doesn’t it sound like a place you’d want your eggs to come from?
Tell us a little about yourself and what drew you to your job.
I have always had a passion for healthy and nutrient-dense foods, and I have always loved cooking. After studying animal science and food technology in college, I quickly realized that my passion only extended to the organic side of the industry, and that I had no interest in the conventional (chemically-intensive and genetically-modified) food model.
What are some of the founding principles and goals of Coyote Creek Farm?
Coyote Creek Organic Farm and Feed Mill is focused on providing the highest-quality, most nutrient-dense eggs and feed available. We do this by teaching small family farms how to be profitable on their 10, 20, and 40 acre lots. We want to strengthen our local economies by repopulating the rural middle class farms that the conventional industry has long since forgotten.
How many chickens are raised on the farm, and how many eggs are sold each year? How many pounds of feed are produced and how far will they travel?
We have 10,000 chickens on our farm. That’s about 3,000,000 eggs produced on our 90 acre farm each year! From our organic feed mill, we service over 150 small family farms in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
How are the chickens at Coyote Creek Farm raised and what do they eat? How do you define pasture-raised?
Chickens raised on pasture are pasture-raised. This doesn’t mean they live in a stationary barn with a little door, this means they truly live outside, forage and hunt, and are 100% free to express themselves as chickens naturally would in the wild. We train them to lay their eggs in nest boxes, and we provide them feed for optimal health and nutrition. 30% of their daily diet will come from our nutrient-rich organic grasses.
How is this different than a traditional egg operation?
Chickens are social creatures, and they are curious animals. They know each and every worker on the farm as if they are part of the flock. They call and engage us, and we engage them. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We love our chickens. Conventional poultry producers produce widgets – disposable and never regarded as living creatures with feelings or emotions. That’s why our eggs are noticeably of a higher quality.
How are ‘Jeremiah Cunningham’s World’s Best Eggs’ eggs more nutritious and a safer product than regular grocery store eggs? How is this measured and how is it connected to raising chickens outside on the pasture?
Our hens are given everything they need for a healthy lifestyle: the best organic feed, nutrient-dense organic grasses, continual care and attention, sunshine, and a no-stress environment. Each one of these factors plays a huge part on the quality of the eggs.
To produce our certified organic eggs, we have four organic certifications. The land has a certification, the hens, the feed, and finally, the distribution of our eggs. We ensure the integrity of the eggs from the grains being planted that eventually feed our hens all the way to the eggs being placed on your local store shelf. We can verify that our eggs never come into contact with harmful pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, animal by-products, hormones, or GMOs, so basically everything that makes up the conventional agriculture. Most consumers aren’t aware that the organic certification program also has strict animal-welfare guidelines. We go above and beyond their requirements.
Consumers should be aware that the terms free-range and pasture-raised are not regulated. So it’s incumbent of the consumer to do the research. Call the farm, ask for a tour, and tell them you want to know your farmer. If they decline, then they might not be living up to their promise. The organic certification, however, is highly regulated. Defrauding the organic seal is a felony, and they mean business. So consumers can rest assured when they see it.
What are some of the economic and institutional obstacles organic and pasture-raising farmers face in this business? How can consumers help our farmers be their most successful?
Consumers can help the movement be asking grocers for more pasture-raised options. If the retailers don’t respond, take your dollars elsewhere. Also, support your local farmers market! Retailers may not always respond to the average consumer, but your farmers will.
What is one interesting thing about the farm that you’d like us to know?
At one point in time, Coyote Creek Farm was a hippie commune!