By Al Spiers
One of the world's biggest egg factories can be found near the Hoosier city of Warsaw. Here, in 50 laying houses on 20 farms 100,000 cackling white leghorns lay 22 million eggs a year for the well-known Creighton brothers, Hobart and Russell.
That's 60,000 eggs a day, a volume that demands scientific assembly-line handling. The Creightons have it, and Hobart--a big man with a shy smile and cordial manner--graciously showed me how his eggs get from hen to frying pan, quick and fresh.
We began at a typical laying house, and Hobart knocked gently before we entered. "That tells the hens someone's coming," he explained. "They're less startled."
Most Creighton laying houses are alike--low, 30 x 210 foot buildings, divided into two 30 x 100 foot sections, with feed, supplies, records and whatnot kept in the center.
Each side section holds 1,300 birds and 200 nests. Perches are over wire-topped bins to catch droppings, and the floor is covered with an absorbent litter, mostly broken corn cobs.
There were troughs containing feed, water and crushed oyster shells. The feed troughs were amply filled.
All They Can Eat
"They're kept full," Hobart explained. "The more they eat, the more they lay." We moved to a small chart on the wall and scanned its figures.
"These are new pullets, just starting to lay," Hobart explained. "They've been (in the) house five days. The first day they gave us 286 eggs, the fifth day 820. In 10 more days they should be laying 1,800 eggs a day."
Three times each morning and twice each afternoon a man empties the nests, gathering eggs in baskets made of wire covered with soft protective plastic.
He takes them to a small, moist basement room under the hen house where they are dip-cleaned, cooled and crated. The same day a truck whisks all but the last afternoon eggs to the Creighton's modern packing plant--our next stop.
There in a small, air-cooled room five men and one ingenious machine were busily grading, candling and cartoning eggs by the hundreds.
The machine does most of the work. At one end, eggs are fed onto a conveyor belt, several dozen at a time. Rolling gently off the belt onto wooden rollers, the eggs then move, single-file, across brilliant lights where a sharp-eyed woman intercepts the cracked, blood-flecked or mishappened eggs.
Moving on, the eggs are weighed by delicate electrical scales which automatically open gates to the correct chutes. At the other end of the chutes, girls pack the eggs, by grade, into cartons.
Grading Pays Off
By doing their own grading, candling and packing, the Creightons get top prices--usually about 10 cents a dozen under retail.
Eating eggs fall into six grades--jumbos, large, medium, pullets, peewees and checks. The checks have tiny, harmless cracks. Most go to restuarants.
Badly cracked "leakers" are broken, canned, homogenized, frozen and sold to bakers. Dog-food makers buy the blood-flecked eggs.
Once packed, Creighton's retail eggs are cold-stored until picked up by buyers' trucks--usually within 48 hours. "Most of our eggs go from hen to consumer in five days," Hobart explained. "That's fast. Two-week-old eggs are still good and fresh."
About 15 1/2 million Creighton eggs go to retail outlets in Indianapolis, South Bend, Chicago, New York and West Virginia. Another 4 1/2 million go to hatcheries all over the U. S. and in several foreign countries. The remaining 2 million are sold to medical laboratories for vaccine production.
New Crop Each Year
Hens lay best the first year, so the Creightons replace their entire flock annually with birds from their own modern, 365,000 chick hatchery, selling the old hens for stewing.
Last year they invested a quarter-million in a new mill which supplies the 9 million pounds of feed 100,000 hens gobble in a year.
"That mill makes you about as self-sufficient as a poultryman can get," I observed. "You've got quite an operation. The eggs roll out and the money rolls in."
Hobart, my guide and host, smiled patiently.
"We do make a profit," he agreed. "But there are headaches and invisible costs, too--like our expensive genetics program. It's not all gravy..."
We'll tell you about some of the other things tomorrow.
Warsaw Times-Union Tuesday, September 20, 1955
By Al Spiers (Second of a series)
At first glance, the immense Creighton Bros. "egg factory" near Warsaw looks like a painless, easy-profit proposition.
The Creightons --Hobart, 59, and Russell, 53--incubate chicks in their own big hatchery, feed them from their own new mill, candle, grade and pack their own eggs and thus get top prices for the 22 million cackleberries their 100,000 hens lay annually.
But as it usually the case, all is not gold that glitters--as many a bankrupt poultryman will testify. There are headaches, risks and invisible costs aplenty.
Here's a sample: Once the Creightons showed a few prize hens at a county fair. They won some ribbons, but the hens fetched home a bronchial disease that killed a third of their huge flock.
Another time Newcastle's disease killed 10 per cent of their birds and so sickened the rest that two months of egg production was lost.
(If you'd like to figure the cost of that one, Creighton hens currently lay about 60,000 eggs a day!)
Today, however disease isn't the terrifying bugaboo of old. Researchers--mostly in ag colleges--have made great progress.
"Now we can vaccinate for nearly everything," Hobart Creighton told me. "Immunization, of course, is one of those costs you don't see. There are others. We invest $2 in a hen before she lays her first egg."
The Creightons have also poured a tidy "invisible" sum into their own genetics program --something few commercial poultrymen undertake.
Genetics is expertly-supervised, meticulously controlled experimental breeding in quest of a hardier hen who will lay more and better eggs. It's also a whopping gamble.
In 10 years, the Creightons have spent well over $100,000 on genetics. the first eight years failed to produce a leghorn strain better than they had.
"But now," says Hobart happily, "we think we've got something--a strain that will give us 5 to 10 per cent more production, harder shells, lower mortality and better interior egg quality."
If true, the gamble will pay off handsomely.
The genetics program has also identified some champion layers. No Creighton hen has quite achieved an egg-a-day record, however. Tops is 349 in a year--with several others in the 340s. (Creighton's "working" hens average 215 to 225 eggs a year.)
The way egg prices fluctuate seasonally is another poultryman's headache. top grade eggs ranged last year from 35 cents a dozen in summer, when production is high, to 70 cents in winter.
"It used to be lots worse," says Hobart, "ranging from 15 to 80 cents. Then it was a real headache."
There are no U. S. price supports or subsidies for egg producers. Creighton wants none. "Our industry is fully able to adjust itself to the law of supply and demand," he declared. "This year for example, production is up and prices down. but 22 per cent less chicks have gone into replacement of flocks. That'll drop production 10 to 15 percent --and thus stabilize prices."
Sees Freak Egg
People often call newspapers to report freak eggs. I asked Creighton if he'd seen many.
"Golly yes," he laughed, "in all kinds of strange shapes and sizes. Double-yolk eggs are common. We also get occasional triple-yolk eggs, and double-shelled eggs--but I've never seen a four-yolk egg."
"How," I asked, "can a housewife be sure she's getting good, fresh eggs?"
"In a fresh egg, the yolk stands up firmly. The white is thick and sticks close to the yolk," Hobart said. "As the egg ages, the yolk tends to sag, and the white gets runny."
He urges housewives to tell their grocers what kind of eggs they're getting--good or bad.
"That's the only way he can check on his supplier," Hobart pointed out. "until broken, eggs look alike, fresh or unfresh."
Here's one last item that may surprise you, as it did me. The Creighton egg factory is one of the world's biggest--perhaps THE biggest. Yet in America one city of less than 55,000 is big enough to consume all 22 million Creighton eggs.
In the U.S. our average per capita consumption of eggs is 412 per year. No other country in the world is so richly blessed with so rich a supply of so rich a food. Maybe you're also curious, as I was, to know how two Hoosiers became such big egg men. The Creightons started by almost losing their shirts in hogs.
Their's is a typical American success story. We'll tell it tomorrow.
Warsaw Times Union Thursday, September 22, 1955
By Al Spiers (Last of a series)
If Warsaw's famed Creighton brothers ever write a book about chickens it won't be flippant like "The Egg and I."
Chickens aren't funny to the Creightons --Hobart, 59, and Russell, 53. They're big business -- 100,000 hens laying 22 million eggs annually; a 365,000-chick hatchery; a $250,000 feed mill and 1,000 Hereford cattle to graze on unused runs.
That puts their gross well into the million-a-year class which, if you'll forgive an awful pun, isn't chicken feed.
It also ranks them high among the world's biggest poultrymen.
Those who know the Creightons say it couldn't happen to two nicer, more deserving guys because theirs is a typical American success story.
Hobart, one of six children in a pioneer farm family, managed two summers at Winona college and a year at Indiana university after high school.
Then he taught school--for $11.25 a week in his first job.
By 1922, after brief World War I service, Hobart, ambitious and eager to marry pretty Esther Robbins, sought a summer-months sideline.
Starts With Hogs
Hogs looked like a good bet. Investing what he had saved and could borrow, he bought 38 of his dad's 100 acres, built a hog house and installed two-score 200-pound gilts costing $44 each.
He and Esther were married in 1923 -- about the time hog prices fell from 22 to 6 cents a pound. Hobart was ready to dump the hogs and take his licking when his younger brother, Russell said: "Let me take 'em. Prices can't go lower. They've got to go up."
That was the beginning of an enduring partnership. Hog prices did rise. Liquidating their pig project the following year, the brothers salvaged $3,500.
Neither now remembers who thought of it, but one said: "Let's try chickens." They made a laying house of their hog shed and in the spring of 1925 bought 2,800 day-old chicks.
The next night, rats killed 50. Next day they caulked holes with concrete. As it hardened, Hobart sat up all night with a shotgun and flashlight. No rats appeared.
After nine weeks, they sold their roosters (half the flock) for frying. In September, their 1,200 surviving hens began to lay. That fall and winter Hobart taught school at Roann, helping Russell on weekends.
By the spring of 1926, they had $1,500 profit --which they promptly invested in a second hen house. The second year they started with 5,800 chicks and Hobart quite teaching for good.
At first, neither brother knew much about poultry. They learned by prodigious study, sharp observation, hard experience.
The third year saw a third hen house and a small, 15,000-chick hatchery. thereafter they grew steadily, even turning the shattering depression of the 30's to advantage. "Luckily feed costs fell faster than egg prices," Hobart recalls. "We showed at least a small profit every year."
They also had faith in the future. Instead of retrenching during those lean, rugged years the Creightons borrowed to buy more farms at low depression prices. Their faith was rewarded by the ensuing two decades of prosperity, during which they continued to pour profits into expansion.
Today the firm has 20 farms, ranging from 12 to 320 acres, mostly close to Warsaw.
On them are 50 modern, 2,600 bird laying houses. They also have an egg plant, a 365,000-chick hatchery, a $250,000 feed mill, their own genetics program and, on the side, 1,000 beef cattle to utilize the outdoor pullet runs which must be alternated from year to year.
That's about as big as the Creightons aim to get. Although still robust and active, both Hobart and Russell look to the day when they can turn the business over to their children --Russell's six, Hobart's four, all now minor partners.
Russell's son, Gale, already works for the firm. Hobart's son, Edward studied poultry husbandry at Purdue and probably will join dad and uncle when he finishes an army hitch in 1956.
Among poultrymen, the Creightons are highly regarded. Hobart has headed some of the nation's biggest poultry associations. for several years, he was also active in GOP politics, serving first as state representative, then for three terms as speaker of the Indiana house. He was the GOP candidate for governor in 1948, losing to Henry Schricker.
All of which isn't bad for a couple of poor farm boys who started with little capital but lots of faith --in themselves, the future and America's priceless free enterprise system.
Warsaw Times-Union Friday, September 23, 1955
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