Iowa is a top producing state of many commodities, but much to many Iowans’ surprise, Iowa leads the way in egg production. Eggs produced in Iowa are more than the second and third place states combined. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention eggs are the number one protein that’s eaten in my house. At around $.15 per egg, they are affordable and happen to be one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D. They also have 6 grams of high quality protein, contain 13 essential vitamins and minerals, and can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. Over easy or over hard, deviled or shown off as fluffy angelic clouds of meringue, eggs are a staple in all cuisine and something I wanted to learn more about. Not only did I want to know more about the eggs themselves, but the farmers who are behind every dozen in the grocery store.
Recently I caught up with Brett Pickar who works in the egg industry in Iowa. He was nice enough to answer all of my questions, because if you know me, I want to know all about any types of farming I can! I’ve never gotten a chance to connect with an egg farmer (and do they call themselves that?) so here’s what we chatted up, and how this abundant protein source keeps this agriculture loving guy and his family busy throughout the year.
Brett Pickar grew up on a third generation dairy farm in south central Wisconsin. He was the only son of three children and started his dairy career at the age of 10, feeding protein and mineral to the cows. He started chopping silage at the age of 11, with his grandfather sleeping in the tractor with him as he worked to keep his mother from worrying about such a young hand working such a big job. His family also raised purebred Hampshire and Berkshire hogs. “Farming was my life and I never thought of anything else. We always had chickens, turkeys and ducks around the farm. In the early 90’s we quit dairy farming and converted many of our barns to raising meat chickens and ducks for specialty markets,” he stated.
Pickar picked up some poultry courses in his college studies at UW Madison to learn more about the birds he was raising at home. While at college he met an extraordinary professor by the name of Dr. Mark Cook who forever set Pickar’s path in the egg industry. “Within in a very short time I double majored in Poultry Science and started working in Dr. Cook’s research lab,” Pickar said.
After college he started his career in the egg laying industry in northwest Iowa as a production manager of a small egg laying farm. “I have had the pleasure to watch the farm and the industry grow to where it is today. May 10th will mark my twentieth year anniversary of being over the same farm with the same employer. A lot has changed but I still love my job,” he said.
This Sunday school teacher is involved in his community in many ways and thoroughly enjoys getting out in the public and spreading the good news about eggs in Iowa. “People with a few hens will always stop and ask me about feed rations and other things. I spend a lot of time explaining to people that being a good steward of the birds is accomplished by meeting their needs. Our farm’s caretakers are taught “F.L.A.W.S.”, (Feed, Light, Air, Water and Security). Our most important task is doing the best job we can to supply the birds with these essential needs.” Even though we raise different types of livestock, Iowa farmers can all agree on this concept.
When asked what the most common misconception about modern egg farming, Brett replied, “Many people think that our industry is not challenging or a place to start a long career. The modern egg laying facility is full of advanced technology from electronic egg counters to robotic arms for packaging eggs. Maintaining high quality care for a sizeable number of birds takes advanced equipment and intelligent people to operate it. There is a wide range of skills needed in my line of work and it comes with a lot of responsibility, but with responsibility comes amazing opportunity.”
Want to work in agriculture? Snag one of the 8,800 plus jobs available in egg production in Iowa! “Tech schools and community colleges offer a lot of options for young people to gain some practical knowledge that is valuable to any agricultural operation. But one thing you can’t be taught in a tech school or university is that farming work ethic of long days, aching back and never-give-up attitude. The job isn’t done till the cows are fed and the tractor is in the shed,” he said.
I think Iowa farmers can all agree on that Brett!
Thanks to the Pickar family for letting me feature them on my blog. If you have more questions about modern egg production, send me a message and I’ve got just the farmer to hook you up with now. PS: Don’t forget the thick cut bacon to accompany your eggs!
5 of my Favorite Egg Recipes!
Basic Vanilla Custard via: IncredibleEgg.org
Bacon Avocado Tomato Deviled Eggs via: Me!
Top 10 Quiche Recipes via: Taste of Home
Aunt Tootsie’s Classic Lemon Meringue Pie via: Crazy for Crust
Overnight Egg and Cheese Strata