Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Pasture-raised eggs, poultry, and pork
According to owner Matt Kautz, no pens means happy hens.
Offer a breakfast lover the choice of a perfectly fried, poached, or scrambled pasture-raised egg or one laid by a chicken housed in a conventional factory farm and he or she is likely to choose the former.
Not only do fresh, pasture-raised eggs feature beautiful, deep orange yolks, but the whites also tend to be firmer, enabling them to stand up better to almost any cooking method. They're better for your health as well. Several studies have shown that eggs from pastured hens have double the vitamin E and long-chain omega-3 fats than the eggs of commercial hens along with a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
According to Kautz, the flavor, texture, and nutritional superiority of pasture-raised eggs -- as well as pastured poultry and pastured, grass-fed pork -- is due to the pasture-centered life of the animals. "How an animal is raised is as important as what it eats," he says. "The welfare aspect of what we do here at Cottonwood Creek Farms is far superior to other farms out there. We pride ourselves in giving the hens as close to a real life-in-nature experience as possible."
Together with his wife and four young children, Kautz keeps between 4,000 and 5,000 happy hens in five mobile houses on 60 acres. They spread the houses out to allow the hens plenty of room to roam, relocating them throughout the acreage every couple of days.
"The birds stay on pasture year-round," Kautz says. "We let them out every day from sunrise to sunset, and they are protected within the hen houses at night. They always have food, shelter, and water. Basically, we give them everything they need to engage in natural hen behaviors."
The flock, which produces about 1 million eggs a year, enjoys Project Non-GMO Verified feed produced on Cottonwood Creek Farms' 600 acres of cropland. They are never given antibiotics, growth hormones, or chemical wormers, and they are never exposed to pesticides or herbicides.
Kautz says his family touches every egg the hens lay about three times. "We collect the eggs every day, between two and four times a day depending on the weather. We then wash, pack, and store the eggs ourselves, before delivering them to our distribution places. Only small producers can say they do that."
Cottonwood Creek Farms eggs are sold in Whole Foods markets throughout the Denver area as well as some Vitamin Cottage locations. "We are directly impacted by every purchase," Kautz adds. "We rely on the consumers to support us, so if you don't find us in your store, please request they get our eggs in."
Challenges: "Our biggest hurdle is always making sure that our supermarkets, distributors, and wholesale accounts continue to buy into the fact that local matters," says Kautz. "Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage have done that. He notes that some larger producers are recently changing their definition of pasture-raised, increasing the competition Cottonwood Creek Farms has to contend with.
"Pasture-raised used to mean a mobile coop that moves around every couple of days," Kautz explains. "Now they are defining it as a stationary building with access to the outside. That's basically just an elaborate free-range operation but they get to call it pasture-raised." He adds that it's akin to changing the rules in the middle of the game and has been pretty frustrating.
Opportunities: The growing health consciousness of Americans along with the increasing importance many consumers are placing on buying local. "Far more people are seeing that their health is directly related to what they eat," Kautz says. "And they recognize that animal welfare is important as well as supporting local products, whether that be eggs or wine. They're seeing that all of those things move the needle and really make a difference."
Needs: Kautz says he'd love to find an equally passionate farmer to join the team, "in the form of an employee we can depend on day in and day out. Oh, and an egg contract as well. But other than that, we're doing good."