Featured Farmer: Dakota Layers
Featured Farmer: Dakota Layers
Jason and Tracy Ramsdell
With the Easter season approaching, many South Dakotans will be purchasing extra eggs to color and celebrate the holiday. Dakota Layers is a family-owned egg farm based in Flandreau, South Dakota, where the Ramsdell family and employees work to care for birds and provide high quality, fresh eggs for Easter and all year long.
The farm housed its first hens in 2001 and has grown to nine bird houses, two manure barns and a processing plant. Additionally, Dakota Layers has a pullet facility that consists of two barns to provide all the hens needed for rotation. Chicks arrive at the pullet facility at one day of age and are raised there until 15 weeks, when they are ready to move into the laying barns.
“Dakota Layers started with a vision of providing a market for locally-produced crops,” said Jason Ramsdell, general manager of Dakota Layers. The farm now uses about 1.3 million bushels of locally grown corn and 575,000 bushels of locally grown soybeans each year.
Jason grew up helping in the agriculture supply business owned by his dad, Scott, and started by grandfather, Mick Ramsdell.
“I spent many days as a kid wandering around the shops and business, until they put a broom in my hand to sweep up the messes,” said Jason. “I continued to work through high school helping mix fertilizer, deliver fertilizer and other products and eventually apply products to fields.”
He earned a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from South Dakota State University and joined Dakota Layers as a construction manager.
“I was involved with numerous projects from our cooler expansion, constructing our newest layer barns, designing and constructing our pullet facility, and many other projects,” he said. “I truly enjoy coming to work every day, interacting will all my co-workers, getting to see live animals on a weekly basis, and see the end product of eggs being packed to be sent off for consumers enjoyment.”
Jason’s wife, Tracy, is the Marketing Director for Dakota Layers, and their children Jett (8 years) and Nora (7 years) enjoy being a part of the farming business, especially feeding chicks and reworking eggs.
The main priorities for the Ramsdell family and the 70 employees of Dakota Layers are the care of their hens as well as the safety and quality of their eggs. All staff must shower before entering the barns to ensure they are not bringing any health challenges from the outside. In the barns, dedicated staff monitor the hens’ health and environment. They ensure the hens always have fresh feed and water.
“We are in constant contact with veterinarians and nutritionists to ensure our hens’ health is the best and that the feed contains the correct mix of proteins, vitamins and minerals for the hens to produce the highest quality eggs for our customers,” said Jason.
Dakota Layers is in the process of retrofitting some of its barns to remove cages and install new “cage free” equipment. This equipment allows the hens to move around the building freely and have access to the floor where they can scratch, dust bath, and play around. The equipment has perching and nesting areas, along with feed and water to allow the birds to move up off the floor for feeding, drinking, egg laying, and perching.
“We have essentially installed a playground for the hens to move around in all day,” said Jason. “Once the retrofitting process is complete, we will have 1.3 million hens producing eggs, with 576,000 of the hens being housed in the newly remodeled cage free environment.”
The farm also uses state-of-the-art technology to ensure the freshness and quality of eggs. After the hens lay, the eggs are moved by conveyor belts to the processing department. A high-tech machine is utilized to wash, grade, weigh, and pack the eggs. The machine uses cameras and lasers to inspect the internal quality of the egg as well as an ultrasonic sound detector to remove any eggs with even the smallest of cracks. The machine can clean and pack more than 100,000 dozen eggs per day to ship to customers in numerous states.
“The egg goes from being laid by our hens to packed in a carton within hours, all without being handled by hand to ensure the highest food safety standards,” said Jason. “We have our own Quality Assurance Team on-site that takes samples of our finished product to ensure our machine working properly; we also have a USDA Egg Grader on-site at all times taking samples and ensuring we are meeting all requirements for food safety.”
Dakota Layers also donates eggs to local and statewide food banks including Feeding South Dakota, Moody County Breadbasket, Feeding Brookings, Mitchell Food Pantry and the Dell Rapids Food Pantry. “Supporting organizations such as these is a very important element to our business,” said Tracy Ramsdell. “We’re a family helping other families in need and donating a high-quality protein such as eggs can help families struggling with hunger.”
While the egg business is a year-round one, they work extra-hard during the Spring season to ensure a plentiful supply for families in South Dakota and beyond. “During times like Easter, we make sure to eat a few extra eggs ourselves to ensure we have the protein, nutrients, and energy to keep up with our kids and color all the eggs they want,” said Jason.
You can check out the 360 video below to see more about Dakota Layers!