The almost-ready-for-primetime layers prepare for the export egg market

PO’IPU — The island’s only egg farm, with its natural product in nearly every store big and small on the island, may soon be looking east and west for new markets.

Kaua’i Farms, not Medeiros Farms, on 10 acres of land leased from Grove Farm for 10 years near the old Koloa mill, comes with it Lanny Bruder, who has a lifetime of egg-farm experience in Michigan, California and New Mexico.

Medeiros Farms’ still has eggs in local stores, but they are O’ahu-raised ovals re-packaged with the Medeiros name.

With the island market nearly covered, Kaua’i Farms, which from the start has stressed quality over quantity, is looking to make a splash in O’ahu and Japan markets.

While a firm decision hasn’t yet been made, a broker tells the family operation that Japan is a ready market for its “free-range” (chickens are in fenced-in pens rather than cages), “natural” (the birds are fed grass and grain mixtures with no added fats or animal byproducts, and are hormone-, antibiotic- and drug-free) product.

“Actually, the market could go anywhere,” said Anne Bruder, 56, wife of Lanny. “There are possibilities,” and the family has had inquiries from Japan, she said.

The long-term decisions on future markets will fall largely to daughter Danielle Bruder, 25, and her husband-to-be, Edward Speyer. They’ll be married the middle of next month, and are preparing to take over the operation from semi-retired Lanny and Anne Bruder.

While the chosen natural process means more expense in the raising of the chickens, the end product is one the family is proud of, they said.

“It’s astronomically expensive to produce eggs this way,” because the chickens aren’t in cages and get gourmet-style meals compared to other operations, Anne Bruder said.

But local acceptance from stores and consumers has been positive, even though the product on shelves sells for over $5 a dozen, compared to 99 cents a dozen at times for Mainland eggs.

“People don’t mind paying the extra price to get a good egg,” Lanny Bruder said. “It’s a gourmet egg,” Anne Bruder added.

Now that it has been discovered that the cholesterol in eggs is the good kind, and that the food is a “most perfect source of protein,” Anne Bruder said, people are less hesitant to feed them to their families.

Eggs have nutrients, anti-oxidants, and vitamins, all in one contained package, she added. And it’s a versatile food, whether eaten fried, poached, scrambled, in omelets, as an ingredient in baked goodies like cookies, cakes and brownies, or in any other number of ways.

“People are more conscious about what they’re putting in their bodies,” said Anne Bruder. And the feedback they’ve been getting, particularly from consumers, mirrors their own feelings: Once you’ve tasted Kaua’i Farms eggs, no other egg will do.

The eggs are generally bigger and more dense than regular eggs, with deeper yellow yolks. Bringing in specially blended feed (which the company buys with Medeiros Farms) helps, and eggs from free-roaming birds seem to taste better than regular eggs, Anne Bruder feels.

Lanny Bruder, forever the tinkerer, designed in the back yard of his Po’ipu home portable chicken houses, which can easily be moved via tractor from one part of the farm to another, to provide the chickens ample grass to munch on, and different ocean and mountain views.

He recalls with a laugh how the neighbors must have reacted when he started building what may have looked like a small ‘ohana dwelling unit in his back yard.

The chicken houses are moved about once a month. Chickens, they said, are productive layers for around three years from the time each starts laying eggs.

While other egg farms look to get the cheapest feed and conditions to produce the largest amount of eggs, Kaua’i Farms is different. Their birds get highly nutritious feeds, and eat grass and other stuff chickens in the wild survive on.

It also is a more humane way of raising chickens for eggs, versus the jam-packed, condominium-style, caged setting most chickens lay in.

The result, they feel, is a superior egg. It is also fresher into the stores, sometimes still warm from the chicken by the time it is sanitized, processed and packed.

In California, the family had an operation with 500,000 chickens. Lanny Bruder, 63, grew up on a farm in Michigan that had an egg operation as a component, and it is the family’s 30,000-bird, natural egg operation in New Mexico that paid for their Po’ipu home and $120,000, so far, into the Kaua’i Farms operation.

In New Mexico, the family was the first natural operation to break into major chain stores.

Hopes are to break even by the end of this year, and begin to show a profit within two years, at the operation here.

Currently, there are 2,400 chickens in the operation, the first of which were chickens born and raised at Medeiros Farms’ Kalaheo operation.

Medeiros Farms has concentrated on the chicken fryers market since Hurricane ‘Iniki, the Bruders explained.

Kaua’i Farms eggs are packed in containers made from 100 percent reclaimed paper. The company also collects, recycles and sells chicken manure, and has regularly donated eggs too small to sell at market to the Kaua’i Food Bank.

There used to be egg farms dotting the state, nearly 20 at one time.

Now, one of just eight egg farms in the state (and one of only two “natural” egg operations), Kaua’i Farms’ owners knew coming in that the high cost of doing business on the island and in the state was going to make surviving difficult.

But it’s really the only business Lanny Bruder knows, and knows well. And this is the place they want to live and do business. “It is a local business,” Anne Bruder said.

And as much as possible, the operation buys materials and supplies locally.

But the price of eggs, unlike other commodities, hasn’t risen much over the years, because of mass production. In fact, Anne Bruder commented, the price of eggs on store shelves is the same today as it was in 1943.

“Eggs are a real good bargain,” she said.

Besides the four family members, there are two part-time workers in the operation.

For more information, call 635-7823, or 742-7823.

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