Courier staff writer
VALLEY — Commercial organic egg production is being proposed in Rio Grande and Saguache Counties.
David and Candace Toews and Royce and Tamara Nickel, Saguache County, and Merlin and Rachelle Yost, Rio Grande County, have submitted conditional use permits to produce eggs for the Wisconsin-based Organic Valley Co-op.
The Toews and Nickels have been farming in the Valley for a combined total of 24 years, according to the Saguache County Land Use conditional use permit application. The couples were introduced to the Organic Valley Co-op in 2012 and “after careful consideration and due diligence feel that the opportunity to produce eggs for them here in the San Luis Valley would be an excellent opportunity for the small ‘family farm’.”
The farm would be a phased build out of 10,000 Bovan Brown hens, requiring 1.75 square-feet per bird with an additional five square-feet per bird of outdoor access, according to the Saguache County permit application. Plans include a 17,500 square-feet barn with an additional 1.15 acre pasture area, brining the total barn and pasture footprint to approximately 1.55 acres located at Saguache County Road 43 and E.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture (USDA) will certify the hen housing and pasture, and it will also meet Organic Valley Co-op specifications, according to the Saguache County permit application. The hens will not be confined to cages, but rather allowed to “free range” inside the barn and outdoors in the pasture comprised of native grasses and alfalfa. During the winter, the hens will only have access to the pasture if weather is conducive, but will have access to natural light due to required barn windows.
The flock will eat certified organic feed, which a semi-truck will deliver from outside of the state, according to the Saguache County permit application. The 10,000 hens should consume 480 gallons of water per day compared to 45 beef cows consuming 525 gallons per day. Total water use would be less than 1.75 to 2 acre-feet annually.
Organic Valley Co-op will market the eggs, according to the Saguache County permit application. The company has an established Denver and Front Range market. Once a week, the company will have a refrigerated truck pick up the eggs and deliver the product to its Denver location. There, the eggs will be processed, graded, washed and packaged for delivery to grocery stores. A small amount of eggs might be rejected due to extra large size, which could be sold at local Valley markets.
Chicken manure, which is considered a valuable chicken by-product, will be collected and transported to a compost area, according to the Saguache County permit application. Hen manure is high in nitrogen and will be used as organic fertilizer on Valley farmland.
“I, together with my family, are enthused about this opportunity and we see it as a long term and sustainable method to provide income here in Saguache County, as well as the rest of the San Luis Valley thru the agricultural way of life that we all so much appreciate,” wrote the Toews and the Nickels in their application. “...I invite your to share in the enthusiasm needed to provide new ideas and energy to implement them for the enjoyment of us all.”
The Saguache County Planning Commission will hear the proposal on Thursday, March 28 at 5 p.m.
Yost, a construction contractor, intends to run a similar, but smaller, operation, according to the Rio Grande County Land Use conditional use permit application. He plans to raise 5,000 hens using a 9,000 square-foot barn with an outdoor pasture, bringing the total footprint to three-fourths of an acre located at North Rio Grande County Road 6 West in Del Norte. Its water use is comparable to the consumption of 23 beef cows.
On Tues., March 12, the Rio Grande County Planning Commission recommended the Rio Grande County Commission approve the application. The commissioners will review the application on Wed., March 27 at 11 a.m. in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room at the county courthouse in Del Norte.