By Treena Hein
A provincial move and the addition of poultry has made all the difference
By Treena Hein
In the late 1990’s, Art and Elaine Pruim were living in Abbotsford, British Columbia when they made a life-changing decision. They would uproot and move two provinces over to Saskatchewan, hoping that their choice would be the right one for their growing family in the immediate and long-term future. The Pruims have never looked back.
It was 1998, and land was cheap in Saskatchewan at that point. They purchased in an area just east of Osler, about 20 minutes’ drive from Saskatoon, and named their operation Plum Blossom Farms. Dairy quota was also relatively cheap, and the Pruims began a dairy operation and also grew crops to support their Holstein herd, which numbers 380 today.
In 2010, there came a provincial call for applications to purchase layer quota due because of increased demand for eggs in the marketplace. “They drew two of us from the pool of applicants,” Art remembers. “We got lucky and we had the barns built by 2011.” The barns each housed 5,000 birds, and due to another recent industry quota expansion, the Pruims are just now finishing expansion on each barn so that they each hold 7,000 birds.
Decision to go cage-free
“We went with a cage-free aviary in both barns because we were new to poultry, and there was a lot of uncertainty about types of cages at the time, so going with an aviary avoided all that,” Art explains. “We also wanted to stand out in the industry, and we wanted our eggs to be different as well, to provide a product that was in demand.” Back in 2010, they were asked if they would consider production of Omega fatty acid-enriched or Vitamin D-enriched eggs or organic eggs and decided on eggs enriched with both omega and Vitamin D. “Demand is still growing for these eggs,” says Art, “and our processor (Star Eggs in Saskatoon) is very happy we are expanding to help it meet that growing market.”
Art is president of Plum Blossom Farms, managing both the poultry and dairy operations and their seven full-time employees. “I also help pack eggs every weekend,” he says. “Elaine is co-owner and handles all the administration and financial management. She also helps directly in the dairy and poultry operations as requested, at new flock time or to help pack eggs if we’re short a person. One of our sons James works the weekend in the chicken barn and removes poultry manure.” The Pruims have three other sons and one daughter, with the oldest child just having completed two years at University of Guelph.
When asked what it’s like to begin in poultry without any experience, Art smiles. “We were green as green could be, with no perceived ideas of how things should be done, so you rely on strong people, you consult, you make decisions and you move on,” he says. “At the end of the day, we’ve been able to achieve great egg quality and the birds have always been great.”
There’s been a persistent challenge however, with the free-run barn setup, in that the pullets raised in the vicinity aren’t reared in a similar environment. “Most pullets spend their early life in cages, and so they don’t develop the ability to learn how to jump and fly and hunt around to find the food and water,” Art explains. “So when they arrive at our barns, they have to adjust and it takes a few weeks for them to fully calm down. It’s also hard for us to tell which birds aren’t eating and drinking.”
The Pruims have found a pullet operation that can partially custom-rear pullets for them, but it’s not a perfect solution and it means a five-hour drive for the young birds. “The pullets are exposed to makeshift perches, but of course, it’s not an open barn,” Art says. “It’s as good as it gets at this time. We hope that someday we can purchase pullets that are in an open barn environment from the start, so that their living conditions are the same throughout their lives.”
For their accomplishments in their first decade in the province, Art and Elaine won the 2009 Saskatchewan “Outstanding Young Farmers” award. Outside of farming, Art has done work on various dairy industry committees and boards, and both Art and Elaine give their time to help out with community sports functions and with their children’s sports teams. They love their life in Saskatchewan and are pleased with their farm and their decision to enter the poultry industry.
“We’re not bored, that’s for sure,” Art says. “We are family-owned and operated but we are a business too. It’s who we are to produce food. We have good and bad days, but that’s all part of the fun. Seeing how well we can manage the flock and herd to bring them to peak production and hold them there, putting out good products for consumer, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about producing the best quality to meet consumer demand. It’s been a good decision to get into eggs.”
Art sees the most important egg industry issue across the nation at this time to be the need for speeding up the responsiveness to marketplace growth. “We need to examine how the quota gets allocated from Ottawa and out to the farmers faster, so we don’t have to import. Canada keeps importing more eggs all the time, because demand is higher. The size of various cultural groups in our society is on the increase, and meat prices have increased, and demand for eggs just keeps growing. We need to be able to respond more quickly.”