For Emily and Cory Studebaker of Whitley County, the path to farm ownership came through chickens.
“We raise about 20,000 laying hens here,” Emily said.
The Studebakers married in 2015, and Emily started working in a dental office, and Cory continued to work at his parents’ dairy farm.
The opportunity to purchase the farm and layer operation, owned by an Amish family that Cory knew, came in 2016, and it was a complete surprise.
“They said, would you be interested in purchasing this? And we weren’t sure,” Emily said.
“But once we looked into it, we discovered it was really a good opportunity for us,” she said. She was only 21 and Cory was 23, but, “Luckily we had some ducks in a row to be able to do it.”
They purchased the farm in 2017, and Emily now works full time there while Cory continues to work primarily at the family dairy farm.
“He does help, especially with repairs and things like that. I didn’t come from an agriculture background while he was raised on the dairy, so that’s very helpful,” Emily said.
Emily’s job includes taking care of the chickens, “picking” the eggs (removing damaged or dirty eggs as they roll toward the machine that places them in trays), making sure they’re stored properly, and doing the paperwork.
“We’re a cage-free operation, so the hens are free to roam throughout the barn. I walk through them in the morning and the afternoon,” she explained. “I go in different times of the day, especially when the feed runs, to make sure it’s all working properly.”
The Studebakers’ eggs are produced under contract with Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, an egg production company based in Michigan.
“They own the birds and the eggs. We own the barn,” Emily explained. Herbruck’s also supplies the feed and markets the eggs.
“I’m very thankful for the way they operate and the way they treat their growers,” she added. “They’re very family-first, hen-first oriented, and we appreciate that.”
While parts of the process are very hands-on, other parts are automated, Emily said. Feeding is done automatically using timers, and the eggs are collected automatically as well.
“Since our birds are cage-free, they have nests that run down the middle of the barn, and there’s a gap in the back of the nest that allows the eggs to roll onto the belt that runs the full length of the barn,” she said. “That keeps the eggs clean and keeps them from being broken.”
From the packing room that adjoins the barn, Emily can turn on the belt, bringing the eggs into the room. The eggs roll onto a second belt as Emily pulls out any that are cracked or dirty before sending them to a stacker, a machine that places the eggs onto storage trays.
“It’s a huge labor-saver,” she said. From there, she puts the trays onto a skid, and once the skid is full, she puts it in a room-sized cooler and tags it with the date and weight of the eggs.
Each skid holds 10,800 eggs (900 dozen), and the Studebakers’ hens produce a little less than two skids per day.
Emily added that having her husband’s family so close and with a well-established farm has been a big help – particularly when the couple was first taking over the chicken barn. They continue to help even now, she said.
“We’re very appreciative of them. They continue to help us when we need it – and vice versa.”