Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs unveils new cage free production
In a growing movement to provide consumers with healthier natural products, Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs is now offering cage free eggs. Frank Hilliker, the third generation owner of this ranch, invited the public to see the results of its new “state of the art cage-free chicken house.” More than 60 people showed up and asked plenty of questions at its unveiling on Aug. 22.
Hilliker reminded the crowd that in 2008 California citizens voted for Proposition 2 that mandated that chickens have more room to live. He said the mandate did not say “how much room” per chicken. Hilliker had some problem solving to do, thinking he may need to move his business out of state. This decision would have a significant impact on his business and he admitted it would have been easier to flee.
After much researching and worrying, he decided to stay in California and wanted to remain in Lakeside. He concluded to make the transition from caged chickens to cage free. He attended a farm equipment event in Atlanta to see new equipment that would pertain to his egg production business. There he saw a lot of automated equipment he thought might work for him. He had three companies come to his ranch in Lakeside to demonstrate the different machinery, and then chose the one that he thought would work the best in his space.
Big Dutchman, a German company, had his equipment of choice, with several layers of space, up and down, for the hens to move about and it had automated conveyor belts that would move the eggs twice a day. Another belt served chicken food, and another removed the manure. An automatic drip watering system is available for the hens to drink. A special egg laying space is provided because the hens like privacy when producing an egg. Twice a day eggs are put into flats and taken to the processing plant for cleaning, sorting, packing and refrigerating.
This upgrade of space cost Hilliker $200,000 per building, which included purchasing the equipment. He raised the height of the old hen houses by three feet and replaced old beams, making each building safer and easier to clean. This took 10 months from start to finish for the first building. When all is done, there will be five hen houses.
Fred Taylor, a Hilliker delivery driver, said he works 10-hour days, with three trucks and one van delivering eggs from the ocean to Julian and Escondido. He said California has strict codes on how eggs are inspected and handled, whereas other states are not as stringent.
Hilliker’s Egg Ranch began with his grandfather in Encanto in 1942. When the city was encroaching on the ranch it moved to Lakeside in 1952. Harold, the son, took over the business until his passing in 2009. It is still a family affair with sister, Lara Woliung and mother, Lisa Hilliker still work at the ranch. Now the city is encroaching again and houses have been built just a few feet from the five-acre property that is full of various chicken related buildings. The new neighbors had to sign a release form stating that they knew they were moving next door to an agriculture zone, but still complain.
Julie Walker, President of the Farm Bureau, said Hilliker needs the cooperation of the public to make it a success, and he has a “can do and willing” attitude. She thanked him for helping agriculture in San Diego County grow and said he has introduced state of the art technology with agriculture.
Robert Davila, President of the Lakeside Chamber of Commerce, said Hilliker used a local bank to secure loans, hired local workers to rebuild the hen houses and now he has hired a local student to work on his ranch.
“This project has come full circle”, Davila said.