Joe Raith, with his brother, Bob, grew a modest egg facility in Platteville into a multimillion-dollar facility, supplying eggs to clients including McDonald’s, Sysco Foods and Safeway Stores Inc.

Joe Raith hatches an egg-laying empire 2001 Bravo! Entrepreneur — Outlying Areas

Bravo! Entrepreneur — Outlying Area

Joe Raith, Morning Fresh Farms

PLATTEVILLE — Quality is what comes to mind when Bravo! Entrepreneur of the Year award winner Joe Raith talks about Morning Fresh Farms, the Platteville egg farm he helped launch and now leads as chief executive officer.

“We try to be a quality company. Quality is our No. 1 goal, and from top to bottom we try to do everything as quality as we can.”

Morning Fresh Farms maintains about 1.2 million egg-laying chickens on a 1,000-acre operation. The farm produces three-quarters of a million eggs a day and distributes them in a five-state area.

Raith said most of the eggs produced by his operation are consumed in Colorado and go to McDonald’s Restaurants, Safeway Stores Inc. or Sysco Foods. Morning Fresh produces both white and brown eggs. In addition to private-label eggs, Morning Fresh distributes eggs under the Eggland’s Best brand. The operation distributes some organic eggs, which are raised in California.

Morning Fresh Farms collects, processes, packages and refrigerates eggs daily, frequently delivering them to restaurants and stores within 72 hours of the time they are laid.

“We also sell eggs to our competitors that they distribute in their different markets,” Raith said.

Company started in 1970

Morning Fresh Farms got its start in 1970, when the California egg farm Raith worked for decided to expand into Colorado. “Colorado was a deficit state on eggs,” meaning that more eggs were consumed in the state than produced here, “and it had a good supply of corn, so we thought it would be a good place for a chicken farm.”

Joe Raith was 13 when he got started in the egg-producing business. “I started working for a fellow who had a chicken ranch in Anaheim, Calif. I worked for him all through school. Took poultry courses in college. Then I eventually purchased this farm from my first employer.”

Raith, who had worked his way up to general manager of the California corporation, purchased Morning Fresh Farms in 1978. His brother, Bob, joined him in the business soon after that. Bob retired this year and Joe purchased his interest in the business.

Morning Fresh has integrated farm operations to boost efficiency and productivity.

For example, most of the approximately 1,000 tons of chicken manure produced every week is dried and used as an ingredient in lawn and garden fertilizers. These are packaged on site and marketed under the Richlawn Turf Food and Nature’s Cycle brand names. Some of the manure is composted, packaged and sold as a soil amendment under the brand name EKO Compost.

This effort transforms a liability — tons of wet chicken manure — into a viable product, meanwhile reducing odors and eliminating the need to use chemical pesticides to control flies.

Raith said his company recently purchased a company that grinds wooden pallets and is now recycling the wood through its composting operation.

The compost Morning Fresh Farms produces is marketed throughout the Western states.

Morning Fresh Farms also mills its own chicken feed on site with corn purchased from local farmers.

The egg-laying and composting portion of the operation requires about 160 acres. Raith said the remaining acreage is dedicated primarily to alfalfa production. Hay raised by Morning Fresh is sold to dairies and feedlots.

Nearly self-sufficient

Timothy Croissant, vice president of Wells Fargo, notes that the company is largely self-sufficient. Morning Fresh Farms uses natural gas produced from wells adjacent to the property as an energy source to dry the poultry waste. The company also maintains its own fire-fighting equipment on site.

Croissant nominated Joe and Bob Raith and Morning Fresh Farms for the Entrepreneur of the Year award in recognition of their management, dedication and innovation.

Joe Raith won’t share revenue figures but says his business has grown steadily year by year since 1978 when the farm produced 175,000 eggs a day. “As the needs of our customers have grown, then we’ve grown with those needs,” he said. “We’ve never had a year that we haven’t grown.”

This year, Morning Fresh Farms will produce over 23 million dozen eggs.

Raith said he enjoys the business, in part because of its challenges. Egg production is a capital-intensive business, requiring a lot of buildings and equipment. Chickens are susceptible to disease, so hygiene and disease control are challenges that must be addressed.

Egg production is also a labor-intensive business, but Raith said his operation has been fortunate when it comes to labor issues. Morning Fresh employs about 85 people. “Most of our people have been with us for a number of years. We have very low turnover.”

Marketing also presents challenges, Raith said. While Colorado is technically still an egg-deficit state, egg production has continued to increase in the state and with it competition.

That competition is fed, in part, by pressures to keep costs down through ever larger and more sophisticated operations. In addition, consolidation among wholesalers and retailers has given those entities more leverage.

Raith said Morning Fresh Farms keeps its focus on quality. As a result, the business’ main customers have been customers for better than 25 years, Raith said.

“We try to put out a safe, quality product and we’ve been able to maintain those customers, probably because of that.”