Ag Pride 2022: Swade Reis turns clucks into bucks

Connie Sieh Groop, Freelance Contributor
Swade Reis cares for his hens, and markets the eggs. Courtesy photo.

A hen named Delilah started Swade Reis,17, on his successful egg business.  

“My great-grandmother Peggy Reis gave me my first chicken and a dozen eggs to hatch when I was five,” he says. “Now I have 150 big chickens, 50 chicks and am selling eggs to family, friends and two grocery stores.”  

To keep up with the demand for Swade’s Eggs, he ordered 60 more chicks to be delivered at the end of May. He runs his egg business from his family’s operation near Reliance, South Dakota. 

“I pick about eight dozen eggs a day. It really fluctuates with the temperature. If I’m gone, my family will pitch in with the feeding and picking.” 

As a busy junior in high school, he enjoys wrestling, band, and rodeo. But Swade is also dedicated to his business and the ranch. The family lives 30 minutes from school, so his parents, Heidi and Shawn Reis, feed and water the chickens in the morning.   

Each night, he picks the eggs and takes them to the cooler in the basement where he has his equipment. Every two days, he washes each egg by hand, candles the eggs to make sure there are no cracks or blood spots and packages them. He stamps each carton with his logo and other identifying information plus the “best use date,” of a month away.  

As this is a business, he has a license and learned to order supplies, such as 1,000 egg cartons at a time. On his way to school in Chamberlain, he drops off the invoices along with the eggs, which he sets in the refrigerators at the stores.    

Five years ago, the chickens were in two coops. He’s insulated and remodeled an old grain bin into his chick brooder. “I initially let my chickens range free. Because of predators, I had to be careful once I got more birds. Now I fence them into an enclosure and let them out when I’m home so they can eat bugs and roam.”   

Classes at school in business and economics taught him about setting up invoices and calling store managers to negotiate prices. His mother, Heidi, is always there to offer a helping hand on the bookwork and the check-depositing part. Swade learns “the chicken part” from looking up information, picking tips up from grandparents, and “always paying attention to anything to do with chickens, really.” 

Last year, he’d planned to submit the paperwork for his business for his FFA supervised agricultural experience, but he didn’t get that done. “I have the numbers but will make it a priority for next year. I’ll have more data then.” 

Disease potential on the horizon 

Recent news about the spread of the avian influenza, which travels through the air has him concerned. “When I order chicks, I isolate them from the rest of the birds. I’ve learned a lot from my great-grandmother and my grandpa about ways to protect the birds. Hopefully, we’re far enough away from others that it won’t affect my flock.”  

The family has dealt with disease issues before. “A few years ago, we lost 50 of 150 chicks because they got coccidiosis. We think they got it from Mom’s goats. Now we medicate for it to keep it under control,” Swade says. 

Chickens live for about ten years. “If you keep them healthy, that might be 15 years. They lay the maximum for their first two or three years and then production slowly decreases. Some keep laying for eight years.” 

In his flock, general laying hens include White Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Ameraucanas, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and Australorps. Chicks can cost from $2 to $4.50. The price for exotics can be outrageous. Meat chickens are cheaper, about $1 to $3.  

Swade recently ordered about 60 Australorps. “I’ve found they are the most hardy and productive. They seem to do better for me than the White Leghorns, which are in a lot of the high-production operations.” 

Certain high production breeds can lay eggs like crazy, some reaching 360 eggs per year, but he said that ages them a lot faster. “I have more chickens that lay brown eggs but have a close amount that lay white eggs. I have about 30 Ameraucanas that lay blue and green eggs, I mix them together when I package them for the store.” 

 Originally Swade sold eggs for $2.00 a dozen, and the store sold them for $2.50. Now with the shortage, “I sell them for $3.00 and then the stores sell them for $4.00. It’s crazy, especially when some places in Sioux Falls are selling them for $6.50.” 

The money he’s earning will help pay for college. “I also have cattle and work with my dad on the ranch. I pay for my gas money and my vehicle. Most of my profit goes in my checking and savings account.” 

For fun, Swade has some exotic chickens, including some with afros, some Guinea hens, six ducks and two geese. The mystic onyx chickens are all black and even their meat is all black. “The geese are protective of the chickens. Dogs won’t attack the chickens as the goose will grab the dogs by the tail.”  

Eggs for the community 

Pat Kerwin of Buche Foods in Oacoma cimmented on Swade’s dedication and initiative. The business is in the former Sunshine Foods building at Al’s Oasis. 

“Swade’s a great kid,” Pat said. “He approached me a few years ago about selling his eggs at our store, and I told him I’d love to give it a try. Swade’s eggs have proven to be very popular. I’m very impressed with his work ethic. He’s an active young man who exudes confidence, taking part in wrestling, band, rodeo while doing all this work to provide the community with eggs.” 

From their interaction, Pat said it’s clear, “He’s learning the business end of the world. I’ve worked with him when we negotiate on the price. With the recent outbreak of avian flu, eggs are in big demand.  Prices reflect market demand and he’s looking at additional ideas. He’s approached me about selling duck eggs. And that’s a possibility once he gets his operation set up.” 

While others may complain about the younger generation, Pat said, “I believe he’s a role model for today’s youth. He knows you can do a lot if you put in the work.” Swade also sells eggs at the Chamberlain Food Center. 

“When I first started,” Swade said, “I’d hear from people who would say, ‘Hey, I saw your eggs at the store.’ That’s kind of a cool experience especially since some go across the state or into other states. Who knows where my eggs could go from my little business on my ranch?”