Always building something
Expansion is the norm at Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Ionia County.
Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch made news recently when the Michigan Strategic Fund awarded it a grant to assist in its growth, but that really doesn’t mean anything out of the ordinary is going on at the nation’s 12th or 13th largest egg producer and the largest egg farm by far in Michigan.
More than 91 billion eggs were produced in the U.S. last year from about 340 million hens, according to the USDA, and big producers like Herbruck’s tend to keep investing in their production facilities.
“The fact is, we’re almost always building something somewhere,” said Steve Herbruck, one of four brothers who run the family-owned business based in Saranac and founded by their parents in 1958.
He said in mid-March the latest headcount indicated the business has 411 employees. It has more than 6 million hens and produces more than 1.5 billion eggs a year, according to Grainnet.com. The company does not reveal its annual sales revenues.
Many of the McDonald’s Egg McMuffins sold in the eastern U.S. are made with eggs produced by Herbruck’s.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. said in February that Herbruck’s would receive a $500,000 Michigan Business Development Program performance-based grant, for use in construction of a $2 million pipeline that will link it with the Lakewood Wastewater Authority.
“The company has opportunities to expand its egg production and processing facilities, investing up to $17.2 million and creating 55 jobs,” said the MEDC announcement.
“Herbruck’s Poultry is a mainstay of Ionia County, so we’re honored to help them grow their legacy. The expansion will help Herbruck’s to continue to be a leader in the egg production industry nationally while keeping its roots firmly planted in Ionia County,” said Jennifer Wangler, Ionia County Business Development Specialist at The Right Place economic development agency in Grand Rapids.
The Right Place announcement said the company is planning to put more than $17 million into three of its facilities — two in Saranac and one in neighboring Orange Township, but Herbruck said the real news is the grant for the sewer pipeline.
“Our previous expansion has required us to take a look at how we handle our wastewater,” he said.
The process of washing fresh-laid eggs prior to shipping them results in a lot of wastewater that legally must be processed before disposal, even though it is more akin to household wash water, according to Herb Herbruck, and does not contain chicken manure. However, there are no sewer mains from the Herbruck’s locations to the Lakewood wastewater treatment plant a few miles away near Lake Odessa, so it has to be trucked there — and that is far more expensive than pumping it through a pipeline.
The new pipeline “allows us to grow,” said Herbruck.
The wastewater authority agreed to waive the $405,000 connection fee and, in return, upon completion Herbruck’s will turn over ownership of the pipeline to the Lakewood Wastewater Authority, which can then connect more customers with it.
Steve Herbruck said the important thing to note about the pipeline is: “It’s part of our being a member of the community and community involvement. We are actively involved in a lot of areas”
There might be some employment growth at each of the five locations in Ionia County this year; however, Herbruck said there isn’t just one particular major construction project in the works. Instead, the $17 million will be invested in the almost-routine ongoing construction, such as the feed mill built last summer and a new barn for holding hens destined to be butchered.
According to Grainnet.com, Herbruck’s invested $11 million last year in what is actually a dual feed mill that produces two types of feeds, one for chickens laying conventional eggs and the other for organic egg production. About a third of the company’s 6-million-plus hens are organic egg producers, which also means they are “cage free” — not confined in individual cages.
The egg industry is experiencing increasing demand for organic eggs. Herbruck said their organic production has gone up about 60 percent in the last two years “and continues to grow. … We are finishing up an additional housing unit (for organic layers) right now.”
The U.S. egg market in general is pretty stable, he said, but there are changes. Demand is growing for organic/cage free, and for “nutrient enhanced brands” like Eggland’s Best, a company which is supplied by Herbruck.
In 2008, California voters approved a law banning conventional single-bird cages that were in use by egg producers there, and last year, Greg Herbruck told a U.S. Senate committee in Washington, D.C., that a national standard for commercial egg production is needed before state animal welfare laws are enacted that are inconsistent from state to state, and in some situations, unworkable for the producers.
The cage-free laying houses at Herbruck’s have reduced the density of the birds per square yard by about 40 percent, according to Steve Herbruck.
The new feed mills together produce about 7,200 tons of feed per week and enable the company to provide feed to the hen houses via conveyor, while in the past the feed was purchased ready-made and trucked in to the various Herbruck’s facilities. The company buys about 7 million bushels of corn and grain each year, which is a significant part of the agricultural economy in Michigan.
Each year, he said, they host a breakfast for the farmers they are involved with; this spring they plan to invite about 500 of them.