SALT LAKE CITY — In 1905, Cecil and Bertha Woodward received 10 chickens as a wedding present.
Millions of eggs and 114 years later, Oakdell Egg Farms is still going strong, contributing to the state’s 2018 record production of 1.5 billion eggs.
Eggs, in fact, are one of the few Utah agricultural products in which the state produces more than residents can consume.
For that same record year, 23 million eggs were exported to Hong Kong, while 8.7 million eggs were shipped to Mexico as part of a $75 million industry.
“Our goal across the board ought to be food security, that we produce enough food for our residents to consume. Egg production is one of those, and we should celebrate that,” said the state’s agricultural commissioner, Kerry Gibson.
Gov. Gary Herbert declared Friday as Utah Egg Producer Day, and Saturday is National Deviled Egg Day. To celebrate, a couple of Utah egg producers got together with local chefs at the Utah State Fairpark to mark the occasion, and to sample 18 different deviled egg recipes concocted by chefs Scott Hamilton, Jenn Martello and Oksana Honcharuk.
It turns out there isn’t a limitation to what style and infusion of flavor one can use in a deviled egg recipe, including pumpkin spice, Cuban influence, Asian and avocado with bacon and cheese. Their recipes are posted online at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s website.
The event was hosted by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, and Gibson had the honor of getting a first bite at the apple, er eggs.
Gibson warned the trio of chefs in advance that he was glad he skipped breakfast and was ready to dive in.
“I can tell you right now I won’t be able to pick a favorite.”
Cliff Lilywhite, a co-owner of Oakdell Egg Farms, said egg production is a tough but rewarding business — with the health of the chickens a top priority and stringent biosecurity measures that are enforced to save off disease outbreaks such as the Avian flu.
Like other agricultural sectors, egg farms have come under shifting consumer attitudes demanding change in how the farming is approached.
On Friday, he told the group that when a chicken comes face to face with a predator, it will always lose because it lacks any real ways to defend itself.
So with farmers losing chickens to predators, the 1960s and 1970s saw the industry turn to cages to protect their animals.
But about 10 years ago, consumer attitudes and campaigns hyper focused on animal welfare led to demands for “cage free” chickens and products raised absent pesticides or antibiotics.
“It’s a very expensive process,” Lilywhite said.
Laws requiring cage free farming are already on the books in states like California, Washington and Oregon, and Lilywhite predicts those requirements will eventually surface in Utah.
Oakdell’s main facility is in Lewiston, Cache County, but there are also two operations in Washington.
Producer Julie Clifford has a smaller operation, with just 3,000 chickens, and broke into the business about 10 years ago.
It was tough going at first, with many people warning her about the difficulties. But now her family-run company is enjoying success, specializing in distribution that includes farmers’ markets and direct sales.
Gibson said there is a lot of consumer confusion over terms like “range free” or “cage free,” and the pressure on the industry presents continuing challenges.
“I tell people there are probably easier ways to make a living,” Lilywhite said, “but probably no better way.”