Egg Money

Businesses must be profitable to survive. What effect does following the Golden Rule have on their workers, the environment and their community?
During the last years of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, many women kept small flocks of chickens for more than their food value. During good times, “egg money”, made by selling the hen’s eggs, provided extra cash a woman could spend on luxuries. But during hard times, the egg money often made the difference in a family having necessities… or going without.

Nell Hickman was a farm woman who knew the value of egg money. Her
husband, Guy, was a miner who worried about the health hazards of working in the Kansas silica mines. His father had died from lung damage. Guy wanted to offer a better life for his own two sons. However, money was scarce during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and their small farm did not produce enough income to meet the family’s needs. Often, the two crates of eggs the family brought into town on Saturday night made the difference between purchasing what the family needed
or doing without. Six cents per dozen worked, if the family could trade some of the eggs for other items. Eleven cents per dozen was the price that guaranteed them the needed extra. That nickel more was not chicken feed, a trivial amount of money to the Hickmans.

In 1938, a move to Arizona opened new opportunities for the family. Guy was able to work on the Bartlett Dam in the Verde Valley. Clean air for his lungs and a better income gave Guy more confidence in the future. With the start of World War II, good-paying construction jobs were easy to find in California. Guy would spend some time working there to save money toward achieving the dream he and Nell shared.

By 1944, they had saved enough money to buy several acres of farmland in
Glendale, Arizona and enlarge their flock of hens from two-dozen to fifty. Protein was rationed during the war, so Nell had a thriving business selling her eggs from baskets on the back porch of their home. Soon, one small truck was delivering Hickman Eggs to local stores and restaurants, and even to establishments in Phoenix. Egg money
and hard work were moving the family closer to prosperity.

Seventy years later, Clint, Glenn, Billy, and Sharman are the third generation of Hickmans running the family business. Hundreds of employees work in vast automated henhouses, which house over four million hens. Hickman Farms, which started on Grandma Nell’s back porch, is now the largest egg producer in the Southwest and one of the largest in the nation. The Arizona Food Marketing Alliance chose Hickman Farms to receive the 2012 Excellence in Leadership Award as Supplier of the Year. This is a wonderful story of industrious effort leading to great
success, but how does it reflect the Golden Rule?

This author first learned about Hickman Farms at a volunteer event which
celebrated another successful year for the St. Mary’s and Westside Food Banks. After receiving thanks for their donation of over one million eggs, Clint Hickman modestly informed the group that he and his brother had been successful in encouraging other National Egg Council members to join the effort in their states. They were also lobbying for other “protein producers” to find ways to implement donations. Countless eggs from Hickman Farms also show up in other areas of the valley. The Phoenix Children’s Hospital has long been a regular recipient of donated
Hickman Farms’ eggs. Easter time in Phoenix has been enhanced by the Governor’s Egg Roll–with eggs supplied by the company. Hickman Farms are on the list of Founding Sponsors for the World Wildlife Zoo
A stop at the grocery store will reveal some Hickman Farms eggs packaged in environmentally friendly recyclable cardboard containers. The container’s lid often features a photograph of Arizona’s natural beauty. Lifting the lid, the purchaser may read the notice that Hickman Farms will donate $5 to the Arizona State Parks Foundation for each subscription to Arizona Highways.

At the company’s largest site, the hen houses are placed so that prevailing winds help to cool the structures. This arrangement reduces energy usage. What about water? The millions of eggs produced each day are washed twice and sanitized before packing. Recycling of that water saves 250,000 gallons per day of one of Arizona’s most precious resources. Support for the people of their state, support for its beauty and environment, what else can be found to show ethical practices by this corporation?

The largest egg production facilities in the United States often house their hens in tiny cages where even wing movement is impossible. Beaks are clipped to prevent the hens from seriously pecking each other due to the overcrowding. Mountains of manure covered with flies and maggots are a common sight. The amount of ammonia in the air is often high enough to burn workers’ eyes and lungs to the point where medical treatment may be needed. Inspections of these sites regularly result in large fines. The dangerous salmonella outbreaks of 2010, which resulted in the recall
of almost one billion eggs, were traced to eggs marketed by the largest of these corporations.

In the same time period, Hickman Farms developed precautions to protect the health of the millions of hens in their modern, clean facilities. Group cages are large enough for up to four hens. The cages are small, but allow for movement and group interaction more normal to a flock.

With the hens’ beaks unclipped there is some pecking, but the result is a natural pecking order that does not cause birds to be pecked to the skin by over-aggressive cage-mates. Lighting in the building is controlled to follow the natural day / night cycle, which creates a more natural environment and allows for natural sleep. While Hickman hens are not given hormones, they would be given antibiotics if they became ill. Fortunately, company records show consistent healthiness among the flocks. Records also provide important documentation to prove that, as of 2012, there has never been an outbreak of salmonella at Hickman Farms.

The Hickman Leghorn chickens are their natural white, not covered in manure dripping down from the hens above them. The area smells like a farm, but the eye and lung-burning ammonia smell is absent. The huge amounts of manure created by millions of chickens are gathered, dried and ground to create fertilizer used by many of the local farms. These “best practices” have been shared with other companies to spread healthfulness and efficiency within the egg production industry.

As long as humans are meat-eaters, animals will be killed and eaten for food. The noted autistic veterinarian, Dr. Temple Grandin, has developed many practices which allow for more humane treatment of animals raised for human consumption. Many of these practices are reflected in conditions at Hickman Farms. Concern followed by action to help Arizonans in need, support for the environment of our beautiful state, and caring treatment for their feathered employees; all of these are evidence of a corporation making the choice to live the Golden Rule.

(Sources: St. Mary’s Food Bank newsletters; Arizona Republic, Aug. 8, 2008; Arizona
Republic, Dec.11, 2008; Website: Phoenix Home and Garden; Website: Hickman

  1. Give a brief written or oral summary of factors in the growth of Hickman Farms.
  2. How does the author tie personal and corporation actions to behavior shown when
    following The Golden Rule?
  3. Write a dialogue as a chicken reflecting on the environment at Hickman Farms
    compared to the other sites described.
  4. Research Dr. Temple Grandin and briefly list some of her important findings.