GOLDFIELD - Centurion Poultry Inc. held an open house Feb. 17 for its new state-of-the-art hatchery located on Iowa Highway 3 just east of Goldfield.
The facility will produce chicks that go on to become table egg layers, said Centurion President Gijs Schimmel. It should be able to produce 18 million pullet hens per year.
The hatchery was scheduled Thursday to receive its first set of eggs, said project manager Steve Hilleson.
"We have a small order for 14,000. At full capacity we'll be hatching 175,000 female chicks twice a week," Hilleson said.
Schimmel said the company, which is headquartered in Lexington, Ga., purchased the land three years ago, and began building during spring 2012.
"Iowa now is the state with the largest population of egg layers, more than 50 million," Schimmel said, "out of 300 million nationwide.
"So for expansion, this is the place to be."
The facility will employ 20 full-time and 10 part-time workers, he said, because certain times of the week will be busier than others.
"We already have 15 people. They helped with construction and installation of the machinery," Schimmel said. "Now they will move on to being trained to work as hatchery employees."
At the open house, Wright County Supervisor Stan Watne said the county was happy to have the hatchery.
"These are quality jobs, and this is a beautiful facility," Watne said. "I've talked to some Wright County students who just graduated from Iowa State (University), and this allows them to use their training and come back home.
"This is what we're trying to do, is get jobs for young people to come home."
Amanda Warner, of Clarion, a recent graduate from ISU with a degree in animal science, started work at the facility in December 2012.
"I didn't really care where I ended up, but it was nice to come back home and be close to my family," she said. "I think it's really interesting. I'm learning a lot I didn't know. I didn't actually learn a lot about poultry in school, I mainly focused on cattle and swine."
Hilleson said, "This is probably the most advanced hatchery in the United States today."
The machines are made by Pas Reform, of the Netherlands, he said.
Schimmel said they chose this company "because of their advanced knowledge of integrating the different systems. Not only in the incubation part, but also the air handling.
"All the climate controls are a very important part of the process."
One stop along the tour was the computer control center. Temperature, humidity and other factors in any of the machines can be monitored from a touchscreen in the control center, from a laptop in the office, or from a cell phone pretty much anywhere, Hilleson said.
Numerous steps throughout the process from egg to chick are automated.
Hilleson led the tour group past an unloading machine that takes pallets of eggs that come from farms, removes them from the pallets and stacks them on the incubation trays.
When those trays are full, they're stored at 65 degrees and controlled humidity until it's time to put them in the incubators, Hilleson said.
After a trip through the fumigation room to sanitize the eggs, the trays are taken into the incubators.
The facility has two sizes of incubators - one that can hold 115,000 eggs, and one that can hold 77,000, so that the hatchery has flexibility based on the size of an order, Hilleson said.
The eggs spend 18 days in the incubators, and then three days in the hatching rooms.
They're transferred by another machine from the incubation trays into hatching baskets.
Once the chicks do hatch, another machine separates the chicks from the eggshells and sends those away on a conveyer.
At the sexing station, the male and female chicks are separated by hand as they go by on a conveyer. Hilleson said workers can tell the difference by the length of the feathers.
Females go on to the vaccination carousel, while males are "humanely disposed of," Hilleson said.
"The way they are disposed of I like to think of repurposing," he said.
The male chicks go through a machine which is a "high-powered, sophisticated garbage disposal," said Hilleson. "It's quick, it's humane, and I say repurposing because all the liquid goes into a room over there and eventually it is used in animal food."
The egg shells are compressed to remove moisture, and then spread on fields. Farmers actually requested the eggshells, Hilleson said, saving the company the expense of carting them to a landfill.
"Farmers that have alfalfa just love it," he said. "Calcium, lime, good stuff."
The facility has its own backup generator and can draw water from either the Goldfield municipal system or its own backup well.
The various machinery from the Netherlands can operate on 230 or 400 volts, Hilleson said, which required special adapters for U.S. outlets.