Free Range Ain't Free

New cage-free regulations Proposition 2 and AB 1437 go into effect on January 1, 2015

Free Range Ain’t Free

The new year brought a change to the poultry industry in California, the result of the enactment of Proposition 2 and AB 1437, also known as the Farm Animal Cruelty Act. This law requires that “calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.”

Egg producers across the nation must comply with this new cage-free law if they want to sell eggs in California, otherwise in-state producers would be at a distinct disadvantage. Consequently many out of state egg producers decided to stop selling eggs in California, and unless many of us swore off eating eggs in the new year, demand should remain steady while supply is dropping off. That equates to higher prices.

The new regulations require egg ranchers to provide a minimum of 116 square inches for each hen. There are two ways to do this: build new facilities and maintain the flock at current levels or reduce the number of birds. Either approach would have a potentially serious financial impact on the business. Unless, of course, you already had extra room, as is the case for Davis Poultry, a vendor at the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets.

“The new regulation doesn’t affect us at all because we had extra room already,” according to Paul Davis, co-owner of Davis Poultry Ranch. A few years ago Paul and his brother and business partner, George Davis, reduced the number of birds they had in production, and that is what gave them the extra room.

A higher market price for eggs will actually benefit the Davis brothers, according to Paul Davis. Any change in price, up or down, goes directly to the bottom line, so the increase in egg prices is helping at least one egg producer in California.

Another MBCFM vendor who sells eggs, Caleb Darron of Fogline Farms, lets his flocks wander through his orchard in true free-range fashion, so the new regulations don’t affect him at all.

Bob Blanchard of Old Creek Ranch in Cayucos uses a movable pen to house his chickens. “The birds earn their keep by eating ants, weeds and fertilizing the soil in our orange grove,” Bob said recently. “We move the pen around on a regular basis, and the eggs we sell basically cover our costs.”

Other farmers who offer free range eggs at our farmers markets include Mello-Dy Ranch and Pacific Rare Plant Nursery.