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San Diego Egg Farmers Work To Improve Conditions For Hens

Evening Edition

A fresh egg farm in Lakeside has invested in a state-of-the-art cage-free hen house. It comes after California voters approved Proposition 2 in 2008, which gives farmers until 2015 to give their egg producing hens more space.

Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs has been serving San Diego consumers since 1942. Currently, the third-generation family farm produces 15,000 eggs every day. Hilliker’s in the process of replacing their standard industry hen cages — which house up to 12 birds per cage — to a wide-open hen house that gives the birds room to roam.

“Are they happier? I think ultimately, yeah, they could be,” Frank Hilliker said.

Hilliker grew up on the family farm and says he was against the cage-free idea for 40 years. He has invested $200,000 to upgrade one hen house and has four more to go. The hens in the new house produce about 8,000 eggs a day.

“The good news is that for the age of the flock, they are where they need to be in production and even a little bit higher than what I thought they would be,” Hilliker said.

Due to Proposition 2, farmers across the state are also scrambling to meet the 2015 deadline.

Julie Walker with the San Diego County Farm Bureau says local farmers, and Hilliker, will need the public’s support to offset the cost of improved new hen houses.

“He’s willing to do it because he has faced his challenge and he’s made a triumph out of it. But he needs business, the purchases of the eggs. He needs the cooperation of the same public who voted in these changes to make his business a success,” Walker said.

Hilliker says he already has funding to upgrade a second barn, though funding for the final three depends on revenue generation.

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