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On the job, in an empire built on eggs People Talk: A conversation with egg man Scott Kreher

The egg business is a family business for Scott Kreher of Clarence, one that his grandfather started in 1924. Today, the Kreher farm covers 240 acres; other properties include a newly built organic egg farm in the Town of Alabama.

Kreher, 54, heads up the sales division of the self-contained operation where corn is grown to feed the chickens, and manure is recycled to fertilize the corn. Every 10 weeks, a flock of baby chicks arrives from a hatchery the Krehers partially own. One of the few things the Krehers don't do is make egg cartons. They buy those by the truckload.

Kreher is one of seven third-generation family partners -- siblings and cousins -- who run a business that sells a million eggs each day. The egg business is booming, especially at this time of year, when sales increase by 50 percent.

People Talk: How do you like your eggs?

Scott Kreher: I'm an over-easy guy. I eat three eggs every single day. Sometimes I'll scramble them. We grew up eating fresh eggs -- the cracked ones -- every day. All of us and all of our employees still get eggs to take home -- up to three dozen a week.

PT: Was it expected that you join the family business?

SK: Not really, although my father and uncle were happy when each individual person came back. After graduating in agriculture economics from Cornell, I worked for Agway, an independently held farm supply company. All my brothers went to Cornell. They should give us a wing down there.

PT: Has working with your family been fun?

SK: For the most part. We're close. I'm not going to say we haven't had our days, and it's been a lot of work, but it is rewarding. Kurt is in charge of production. Neal is in charge of engineering. We grew up working on the farm. I learned to drive a pickup truck and tractor at 9. Snow days, weekends and holidays we would pack eggs -- large, extra large and jumbo.

PT: What accounts for the different sizes of eggs?

SK: When chickens are young, they start out laying small and medium eggs, and as they get older the eggs they produce will progressively grow larger -- to the point where when they're going out of production they are primarily laying extra large and jumbo eggs.

PT: How many eggs can a chicken lay in one day?

SK: They lay one egg every 25 to 26 hours. They'll start laying eggs at 19 or 20 weeks of age. Because the life cycle is so quick, nutritionists know more about the nutritional needs of chickens than they do about humans. Chickens will lay eggs for 13 months. Their life span is 18 months. In total we have about 500,000 laying hens, and for every 10 chickens there is one rooster.

PT: Is there much competition?

SK: When I graduated from high school in 1975, there were 10,000 people in this country in the commercial egg production business. Today there's about 250. That's a big shakeout.

PT: How far away are your eggs sold?

SK: We sell a million eggs a day as far away as Binghamton and Utica, but through the warehouse, as far as Virginia and New Jersey.

PT: What changes have you seen in the industry?

SK: The consolidation of customers. Thirty years ago, there were a lot more independent supermarkets. Today the buyers are much larger. There's also a great increase in documentation needed from a food-safety standpoint. We have audits from our animal-care certification program to ensure we are treating our chickens humanely.

PT: What traits are good to have in a chicken?

SK: Longevity, or the ability to thrive. You want the toughest chicken, one that can lay a lot of eggs, but that requires a low amount of feed for those eggs. Egg quality. Different breeds will lay eggs that spread out when broken. The better egg will stand taller in the pan.

PT: Are people eating fewer eggs these days?

SK: Yes, many years ago the egg consumption was higher, 400 eggs per person each year. Today it's about 280, because people don't stay home and eat breakfast as a family like they used to.

Remember the "Ozzie and Harriet" show? Today everybody's more harried. The demand has been pretty flat, but it's actually started to come back, because of the good nutrition news about eggs. Twenty years ago, the USDA was recommending three eggs a week, and that was because of the dietary cholesterol component.

PT: Have you downsized at all?

SK: No. In our business you either have to grow or die.

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