This year we are celebrating the 50th year of continuous farming on the same land and 6 generations of farming in the Texas Hill Country. This post is all about our hens, the eggs they lay, and how our family history has shaped our flock today.
J.W. Ottmers, age 8, feeding turkeys in 1952.
Raising poultry is a longtime family tradition. Starting in the 1940’s, Bradley’s grandfather Levi Ottmers raised turkeys as meat birds. Later when his son, JW, started the farm we have today, raised 20,000 meat birds in the original Turkey barn still on the property. When meat birds became too economically risky, JW moved into the breeder turkey hen business and soon adopted the technology of artificial insemination.
From 1970 until 1997, the Ottmers family stewarded 4,000 turkey hens and a band of 300 turkey Toms and hand inseminated every other week for all those 27 years. The fertilized eggs would be collected, candled, and transported to a local hatchery to ultimately become the centerpiece on Thanksgiving tables around the country, adorn turkey club sandwiches, and even be served as delicacies in the New York fine dining scene as rare fertilized turkey eggs.
Bradley was born into the world of turkey raising and the moment he joined 4-H in first grade he started raising and showing turkeys in the most prestigious show barns in the state. Among numerous grand-champion ribbons and buckles including the Gillespie County Fair (oldest in the state) and Austin’s Star of Texas Stock show. His proudest accomplishment was 3rd place (out of the 500 best birds in the state) at the renowned Houston Livestock Show.
Photo: Bradley Ottmers, age 8, with his 1st grand champion turkey Gillespie County Fair 1990.
Today, Bradley honors the turkey tradition by purchasing show birds from local students and giving them a place to live out their retirement in a prize pen in the old turkey barn with free range in the pasture during the day. We sell the coveted turkey eggs every spring by the half dozen.
After the Ottmers family retired from the turkey business in 1997, they quickly acquired chickens to fill the void of having eggs for the household. When the family started attending Farmer’s Markets in 2001, they grew the chicken flock to accommodate for the growing requests for “Oma’s Best” chicken egg.
Today we have around 600 laying hens in four moveable chicken houses. They get moved every 3-5 days to new pasture and are fed a specially formulated (by us!) non-gmo non-soy feed with added sunflower seeds, and oyster shells (for stronger shells). They like their feed, and they LOVE scratching for yummy bugs and worms in the pasture but there’s nothing like a chicken running toward us as we pour out old vegetables greens from the week! Old tomatoes, bell pepper, and onion skin are favorites. We raise mostly Isa Brown and Sexlink hens with a few Easter Eggers this year. Keep an eye out for colorful eggs in your dozens among the traditional brown eggs we always have.
Once we collect the eggs, we candle them. Candling an egg is holding it up to a light to inspect the shell and yolk for any imperfections. If the imperfections appear too abnormal, we set those aside and eat them ourselves. The rest get sorted by weight and size into cartons: small, large, or JUMBO. If an egg is dirty, we use a clean cloth to spot clean the muddy area but otherwise leave the natural bloom (protective layer from the hen) intact. The eggs you buy at the market were laid usually about 1-6 days before they make it to your hands: as fresh as it gets.
Bradley “the Hat” & Katherine “the Heart” gathering eggs late 2019.
We love knowing where our eggs go and how they are enjoyed. Among our loyal market customers are notable restaurants that regularly use our eggs for breakfast, brunch, pasta, pastries, and ice cream: Hillside Farmacy, Odd Duck, Olamaie, Mongers, Cake & Spoon, The Leaning Pear, Bryans on 290, Otto’s and Hye Market to name a few. Customers can buy our eggs by the dozen from us directly via our weekly Farm Fresh Bag program or conveniently at Dai Due in Austin, Hye Market in Hye, or have them delivered by Snack Share in Austin.