ZEELAND, Mich — Remember the good ol’ elementary school days when you’d watch half a dozen eggs hatch in the classroom mini incubator?
Townline Hatchery in Zeeland basically does the same thing but on a much, much grander scale.
“And in this room, there is capacity for 5 million eggs at one time in here,” Townline Hatchery President John Geerlings said as we toured one of the hatchery’s rooms.
His family has been in the business for four generations, opening this hatchery in 1913— one of many at the time in our area.
“In the 1950s and ’60s, Zeeland actually was like the hatchery capital of the United States with over 30 hatcheries,” Geerlings told FOX 17.
Once coined Michigan’s “chick-tropolis,” Townline still leads the way with more than 50,000 hens producing more than 20 varieties of chicks.
Their operation has grown quite a bit since the early days but their style of producing eggs has remained much the same.
“So it's old fashioned farming, just hand gathering everything and quite labor intensive,” Geerlings said. “But for having the variety of chickens we produce, it's needed.”
The hatchery just underwent one of the biggest expansions in its 110-year history, adding 13,000 square feet to its operation.
More space, of course, means more eggs. Townline Hatchery can now produce half a million eggs a week, compared to just 300,000 prior.
John tells us 75% of their business is shipping to families or home farm retailers around the midwest, but Townline Hatchery ships all over the U.S.
But still, the hatchery focuses on doing business using the knowledge you can't get without the old-fashioned approach.
“The temperature slowly goes down as chicks are developing, probably starting at 100.2 degrees and when they hatch, they're more around 98 degrees,” Geerlings said, carefully packing away chicks to be shipped across the U.S.
It’s the hands-on service, John promises for the next 110 years.