At 1 pm on Saturday, January 28, 2023, a horrific fire broke out in one of Hillandale Farm’s 50′ x 600′ chicken coops.
When firefighters arrived, they said the entire building was engulfed in flames, raging and creating tons of heavy, thick smoke.
The smoke could be seen for miles in Bozrah.
It took one hundred firefighters across sixteen neighboring fire departments to contain and put out the fire.
All employees were safe and uninjured, and three firefighters had to be treated at the scene– two for dehydration and one for a laceration.
Unfortunately, the 100,000 laying hens in the barn died in the fire. The surrounding barns and hens were not impacted.
The farm and fire departments don’t yet know the cause of the fire, but they will thoroughly investigate it. For now, they believe it to be accidental.
While 100,000 hens is a tragic loss of life, consumers shouldn’t stress about the fire’s impact on current egg prices.
Will The Bozrah, Connecticut Egg Farm Impact Egg Prices?
This farm fire should have little to no impact on the availability and price of eggs in the United States.
100,000 hens can produce 600,000 to 700,000 eggs per week– but there are 389,000,000 laying hens across the United States.
These hens tragically lost in the Hillandale Farm fire made up a tiny fraction of the population.
The rest of the country’s hens should still lay 1,945,000,000 eggs per week.
This figure is based on the reported 7,780,000,000 eggs laid in the United States in August 2022.
And globally, the United States is only the fifth largest producer of chickens in the world.
In 2021, China had about 5,118,300,000 (that’s over five billion) chickens.
- Indonesia has 3,478,150,000 chickens.
- Pakistan has 1,578,000,000 chickens.
- Brazil has 1,530,000,000 chickens.
- The United States has 1,522,000,000 chickens.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, India, Mexico, Vietnam, and the Russian Federation, raise a collective of 3,441,940,000 chickens.
Though it is a devastating loss of life for the farm and Bozrah community, this fire should not impact the rest of the country.
Who Is The CEO of Hillandale Farms?
Kevin Jackson from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is the CEO of Hillandale Farms in Bozrah, Connecticut.
He has been with the company for ten months; before this position, he was CCO and president of TreeHouse Foods for two years.
Before that, he was the Senior Vice President of US Retail Sales and the North American Away-From-Home Division at The J.M. Smucker Company.
The President of Hillandale Farms is Steve Vendemia of Greater Hartford, Connecticut. He has been with the farm for nearly 38 years, since April 1985.
Who Owns Hillandale Farms?
Hillandale Farms is owned by Austin “Jack” DeCoster and Peter DeCoster, a father/son operation.
“Jack” DeCoster appears to have a heavy hand in the egg production industry.
He owns Hillandale Farms, Wright Co. Egg (Decoster Family Farms), Quality Egg of New England (Maine Contract Farming), and Quality Egg of Iowa.
He is also the controlling investor of Ohio Fresh Eggs (he silently paid all but $10,000 of the $67,000,000 used to buy Ohio Fresh.
His associate John Glessner co-owns Ohio Fresh.
He also founded Environ Egg Production LLC in Iowa, which later merged with Wright Egg Company.
Hillandale Farms Owner Faces Many Violations
Jack’s Wright County Egg has found Salmonella in its operations dozens of times.
Investigators from the CDC and FDA called the facilities’ conditions deplorable.
In two years, it had at least 426 positive cases of Salmonella. This was related to the 550 million recalled eggs from Wright County Egg and Hillandale operations.
Employees and the FDA said barns were filled with seeping manure, maggots, wild birds, dead chickens, and rodents.
Former employees Deanna and Robert Arnold reported these issues to the USDA, but no action was taken.
DeCoster’s Iowa feed mill, which supplies feed to the laying hens, avoided inspection for years because it qualified for an exemption (farms can produce feed for their own animals without inspection of the feed).
You can read more about Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s questionable actions here.
Hillandale Farms Brief History
Hillandale Farms was founded in 1958 by Orland Bethel in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
In 2000, the company had almost ten million chickens across several states.
As of 2022, Hillandale Farms raises twenty million chickens per year, making it one of the top egg producers in the United States.
The top five egg producers are:
- Cal-Maine Foods (46.78 million).
- Rose Acre Farms (27.59 million).
- Hillandale Farms (20 million).
- Versova Holdings LLP (19.95 million).
- Daybreak Foods (14.48 million).
A corporate office opened in Greensburg, PA, with egg farms across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maine, Iowa, and Connecticut. The distribution center is in Plum, Pennsylvania.
Jack and Peter Decoster received three-month sentences for their significant roles in the 2010 salmonella outbreak. It was the largest outbreak and egg recall in the United States then.
Five years later, in 2015, a Hillandale Farms subsidiary leased three new farms in Maine.
These three farms were previously part of the Land O’ Lakes subsidiary lease.
In 2016, the Humane Society of the United States unveiled a shocking video tour of the Hillandale Facility in Turner, Maine.
Hens were kept in too-small and rusted wire cages.
This led Margaret O’Neil, Maine Representative, to create a proposal in 2020 that would require all egg producers to use cage-free housing.
A few months after this proposal, New York Attorney General, Letitia James, sued Hollendale farms for price gouging over four million cartons of eggs.
The farms had increased prices by nearly five times during the pandemic. Hillandale Farms donated 1.2 million eggs to New York Food Banks to settle the lawsuit. The case was dismissed with prejudice.
Then in 2021, the Hillandale Farms’ accountant, Jonathan Weston, was indicted by a federal grand jury for embezzling 6.8 million dollars.
We estimate that this private company has about 430,130 employees.
Hillandale Farms supplies Hillandale Farm eggs, Hillandale Organic eggs, Hillandale Cage Free eggs, Born Free Free Range organic eggs, Eggland’s Best eggsplus several liquid and hard-cooked eggs like Sugared Egg Yolks, Fresh Start Whole Egg, Fresh Start pasteurized Liquid Egg, and Eggland’s Best Cage Free Hard Cooked Peeled Eggs.
They also have several Hillandale kinds of cheese, in blocks and pre-shredded, deli cheese, American pre-sliced cheese, cream cheese, cheese sticks, string cheese, party cheese trays, and several butters.
The butter products include:
- Hillandale Farm salted and unsalted butter sticks.
- Minerva Dairy butter.
- Country Creamery Butter.
- Amish Roll Butter.
- Sweet Cream butter.
- Grassland Butter.
- Dew Fresh NH Marganine.
- Hillandale Farms Margerine.
Lastly, they also sell Hillandale Farms Plain and Everything Bagels.
You can read more about Hillandale Farms on their About Page.
How Many Laying Chickens in the US?
About 389,044,000 (nearly 390 million) laying hens are in the United States.
The United States has 1,522,000,000 total chickens; however, that figure includes meat birds and non-laying hens.