Deborah Kalkowski didn’t get into the egg business on purpose.
Kalkowski said her children first talked her into adding chickens about a year ago at their 50-acre Groveland farm, Red Tail Ranch, where they already kept horses. They built a coop for 16 chickens, which helped keep the bug population under control and provided fresh eggs for the family.
Kalkowski said she started giving extra eggs to friends and neighbors, and an enterprise was born.
“It’s a lot easier than I thought it would be,” Kalkowski said last week. “I can’t keep up with the demand. Groveland is a small community. Word of mouth gets around pretty quick around here.”
Kalkowski will soon be one of a handful of farmers in the county who produce and sell fresh eggs to local customers as a side enterprise or part of a running farm. She registered her business name in recent weeks and is in the process of adding about 32 chickens to her property so that she can keep up with demand.
Kalkowski’s chickens are free range and roam the ranch during the day. She said her customers like the free range aspect of the operation, as large-scale poultry farms are often associated with small cages. California voters had a say in that association in recent years when they approved minimum cage sizes for poultry farms.
But Kalkowski also said it often comes down to the taste.
“I think right now, a lot of people are just paying attention to what they eat,” she said. “I can tell the difference when I scramble the eggs. The yolks are yellower, they’re richer tasting.”
Kalkowski said she is looking into selling at farmers markets, though she’s still “toying with the idea.”
In order to do that, she’ll have to be registered with the state Department of Food and Agriculture as an egg handler, according to Tuolumne County Agricultural Commissioner Vicki Helmar. Last week, Helmar said five local egg producers are certified to sell eggs at local markets. There are about 15 known small egg producers in the county.
Helmar said all the egg producers in Tuolumne County are small farms, many of which, like Kalkowski’s, sell their extra eggs to friends or neighbors who want the fresh products. The county tries to keep aware of who is producing and selling eggs and inform them of the state regulations.
The state Department of Food and Agriculture monitors quality, grading, size, storage and production. The Tuolumne County Department of Agriculture has brochures and contact information for local egg producers on the rules and registration information.
“For most people, they get started in the egg business because they get their own chickens and they have some extra eggs … They have a hen house, and they just let them out in the yard,” she said.
That’s how Dennis Kittredge got started at his Sonora area farm. He dove in the egg business about 15 years ago as a “hobby,” selling to friends and neighbors. Now, he keeps about 300 free-range chickens and produces between 60 and 70 dozen eggs a week.
He sells to natural food stores and supermarkets in Sonora and Twain Harte, as well as at farmers markets.
They have multiple breeds of chickens, which Kittredge said means they produce eggs of all different colors — white, brown, green and blue.
“My wife won’t buy store eggs anymore,” he said about the quality. “It’s night and day difference. It’s unbelievable.”
Though there is a downside to buying fresh eggs, one people might notice around Easter.
“The only bad thing about the farm fresh egg is you can’t hard-boil them. They won’t peel,” Kittredge said.