Sep 25, 2023
R. R. Branstrom | Daily Press While chickens mill about and eat from a feeding trough, Richard Hackim, the man behind Yooper Coop Eggs of Bark River, gathers eggs from an area of the coop favored by some of his 202 hens.
EDITOR NOTE: The Daily Press will be featuring a series of articles on local businesses, highlighting their history and what makes them unique. The series will run on a regular basis in the Daily Press.
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BARK RIVER — On a plot of land in a field surrounded by woods in Bark River Township near the border of Delta and Menominee counties, Richard Hackim cares for 202 hens, who in turn produce eggs he takes to market four days a week under the label “Yooper Coop Eggs.”
After crossing the ORV trail that intersects Hackim’s gravel driveway, a visitor to Hackim’s will first observe that a large chicken coop — bigger than a two-car garage — dominates the scene. Next, a person might notice the smaller cabin hooked up to a humming generator that runs the refrigerator, or perhaps the third structure, a brooder, which was built to house chicks.
Hackim moved here just a year and a half ago, and has plans and some materials to build his house, but for now, his primary concern is making sure his chickens — which he only acquired in July — are healthy.
“I started with 202 chickens, and I still have 202 chickens. I want them to be as healthy as possible, because … they’re allowing me to have this business, so I want to get the best kind of lifestyle for them,” he said.
Hackim had made his career as an anesthesiologist before becoming “disenchanted with the whole healthcare business” when he was caring for his wife and felt that others “lost sight” of patients’ best interests, he said. After leaving that life behind, Hackim has been focusing on other avenues.
On a farm in Ohio, he grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa. But Hackim had been entertaining the idea of raising chickens for years, he said, reading studies and researching. Compared to the labor-intensive tasks associated with farming a few hundred acres of crops, running a chicken-egg business is a smaller operation.
Hackim feeds them twice a day, first in the morning, with a complete feed from a local mill.
Elaborating, he said, “‘Complete’ meaning that it has not only the proteins and carbohydrates that they need, but there is additional minerals and nutrients that are necessary for proper eggshell production as well.”
Chickens can tend to peck at and eat eggs, whether it’s because they’re calcium- or protein-deficient or just hungry, so Hackim said he makes sure to give them plenty of food, adding a calcium supplement to their breakfast.
Following the morning meal, after activity settles back down, Hackim enters the coop and collects eggs before the hens can “get the idea” to try to eat them.
Hackim described the process in detail to the Daily Press, from growth of the cell inside a fertile bird to the egg frying in a pan. In this case, the chicken came first.
The first few eggs a young hen lays are not perfect. Some are even “flexible,” Hackim said, the shell not yet hard, the hen’s reproductive system still maturing. “Then they come out and they get significantly larger. … the hen matures even more; the eggs get better and better looking.”
He explains that eggs are laid with a waxy coating, called bloom, which is a protective barrier that keeps out bacteria but allows in air and moisture as needed for a chick. In a setting like this, without a rooster, no chick would develop, but it’s important not to submerge the eggs as they can absorb water and bacteria. They’re warm when Hackim collects them.
“So they sit out to allow for that cooling, so to speak, slowly … and that’s how the air cell gets developed in an egg. … I also look at the eggs just in general, make sure there’s no obvious cracks or little peck marks,” he said.
He cleans the eggs and places them in “intermediate containers,” which go in the refrigerator.
The next day, Hackim “candles” the clean, dry eggs, using a flashlight to illuminate each one to detect any fine cracks. Ones that do reveal cracks are set aside for his own consumption or boiled and given away.
About 12 dozen per day pass through each step and earn a spot in a biodegradable Yooper Coop Eggs carton. In its current state, the one-man, off-the-grid operation is permitted to sell direct to the consumer, not wholesale.
“But it’s all a work in progress,” Hackim kept reiterating.
Eventually, he’d like to have a storefront on his lot, which is a mile and a half past Schaffer on M69 (F Road). For now, he has a banner sign that hangs from a table when he goes to markets. As a traveling vendor, Yooper Coop Eggs attends farmers’ markets in Escanaba on Wednesday and Saturday, Hannahville on Thursday, and Powers on Friday. Hackim suggests that people follow “Yooper Coop Eggs” on Instagram to stay informed on his location and other updates.
Eggs sold in the Yooper Coop cartons are usually only a few days old at most, which is pretty far removed from the ones sold in big box grocery stores. While the nutritional value of a chicken egg is going to be pretty much the same from place to place, the quality of a farm fresh egg may be noticeable in the flavor and texture.
“I think they’re creamier,” Hackim said, and explained that when eggs sit for a while, even when refrigerated and before the “best by” date, they denature, and proteins break down. When you crack a fresh egg, the albumen (white) holds its shape more; an older egg will be runnier.
“Commercial operations are allowed to hold the eggs for 30 days,” said Hackim. “Then from that point, that can go then to a distributor of some large franchise chain for another 30 days. They distribute that to the stores — more days.” Add on time in a buyer’s home, and that means many people regularly consume eggs months from the date they’ve been laid.
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