Volume 8, Week 40, May 23-31, 2015
This week: Heriberto and Benina Montes have grown their small farm alongside AHO for over four years. Here’s a look behind the scenes at their fifth generation family farm.
Surrounded by ample fields of green grass, doting guardian dogs, and skilled farmers, the laying hens at Burroughs Family Farms couldn’t ask for a more picturesque setting to do what they do best. Caring for the flocks are Heriberto and Benina Montes, son-in-law and daughter to Ward and Rosie Burroughs. (You may have seen Ward and Rosie on Organic Valley milk cartons in years past.)
The Burroughs family’s farming story began in the Midwest over 100 years ago with Great-Grandpa Benjamin Burroughs, who was a dairyman in Illinois. Benina’s father Ward was the one who brought the family dairy business to the rolling hills on the eastern edge of the Central Valley. In this fifth generation, all of Benina’s siblings and their spouses have found a niche on the family farm.
For Benina and Heriberto, it’s eggs. In 2010, they took the reigns for the pastured egg business from Benina’s sister, Christina, and her husband Brian, who run Full Circle Dairy, a grass-based dairy on the family’s home place. The egg business was very small at the time, just a few hundred birds sharing pastureland with Full Cirle’s dairy cattle. As they’ve grown the business, the dairy’s excellent pasture continues to be the year-round home to the Montes’s hens.
The Montes’s have grown their flock of certified organic, grass-eating, bug-hunting, sunshine-loving laying hens from about 350 to about 3000 over the last five years. They’ve also transitioned their almonds and olives to organic production and added two daughters and a son to their own growing family in the same amount of time.
“Our family is into organic and because we already have the cows on the pasture, we understand the importance of grass-based products,” Benina said. “Grass-fed is my preference for eating—now more than ever with the kids. You need to give them the best possible start that they can get, and this is it.”
Caring for the animals is an everyday job, all year round. Checking water and feed, and collecting eggs happens two or three times daily; moving the eggmobiles (cotton trailers that have been up-cycled into barn-red mobile chicken houses) to a patch of new grass happens either every day or every other.
Heriberto’s sister, niece, and nephew help wash, pack, and collect eggs. Blanca, Santa, and Margie, the Great Pyrenees/Anatolian guardian dogs, patrol the grounds to keep coyotes, raccoons, and other hungry wildlife at bay.
The chickens get about 30 percent of their feed from foraging in the grass and the rest is a mixture of layer pellet ration, with some scratch and oyster shell periodically.
In last few years, the Montes’s have been taking steps up as the economic viability of their egg business balances out with their high standards.
“We’ve been trying to develop economies of scale. We used to hand wash everything. Then we got a small egg washer, and then we got a pretty good-sized egg washer that has cut down our time washing. We upgraded to a walk-in refrigerator, and that’s just been nice. It’s figuring out what we need, how we get there, and finding the money to be able to do it,” Benina said. “The customers of Abundant Harvest Organics have been able to see our full progression, and that’s been really fun.”
The Montes’s eggs, almond butter, and chocolate almonds are up as add-ons right now.