Brett Ruffell

Brett Ruffell

Wetaskiwin, Alta. – As more poultry farms across Canada and the U.S. make the shift to antibiotic-free (ABF) production, a growing body of industry examples points to feed and nutrition as a critical factor in success.

“Whether you are talking about health and welfare, performance and profitability, or quality and safety – the area of feed and nutrition is an important nexus point,” says Dr. Nancy Fischer, poultry nutritionist at Country Junction Feeds, an antibiotic-free feed manufacturer serving customers and partners across Canada and the U.S. “Feed and nutrition connects and strongly influences each of these outcomes. As a result, it is one of the most powerful tools to support successful ABF production.”

There’s no silver bullet to achieving a sustainable ABF operation, she says. “You have to be an attentive manager and you have to be prepared to make some changes.” But in working with numerous operations and industry partners over the past several years, the Country Junction Feeds team has found that taking the time to develop a more sophisticated approach to feed and nutrition can go a long way to ensuring a positive transition. “It’s a big piece of the puzzle.”

Big piece of the puzzle
For one thing, transparency and verification requirements are getting tighter, says Fischer. To meet new retailer and food company branded program standards, operations increasingly will need not only to prove no antibiotics use on-farm, but also to prove that feed is sourced from antibiotic-free feed mills. Country Junction Feeds is the first large-scale feed manufacturer in Western Canada, and one of the first in Canada and the U.S., to achieve verified antibiotic-free status for its facilities.

In addition, shifting away from antimicrobial use means operations need effective diversified approaches to support animal health and welfare as well as performance. With advances in science, knowledge, technology, sourcing and bio-based additives, poultry operations now have a much wider portfolio of resources and strategies to draw upon. “The reality today is that you can get a lot more value and benefits out of feed than you did in the past. We have seen many advances over the past few years. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of them.”

Shift to greater precision, customization
Along with the spike in demand for ABF feed sourcing, among successful ABF operations Fischer and colleagues have observed a strong drive toward more individualized nutrition plans and greater use of the latest generation feed additives. Specifically, bio-based products that can get more out of feed and play a role as antibiotic-alternatives by supporting animal health and welfare along with performance. Top examples include pre- and pro-biotics and multi-functional enzyme formulations.

“Precision is one of the keys,” says Fischer. “For example, we’re finding that even small tweaks to the types of protein used and protein levels can make a big difference for gut health. Additives can do a range of things from boosting nutrition density and supporting health to reducing stress. The key is to look at the feed sources and dietary strategies as a whole, and link that to the specific needs of the birds in a particular environment and production system. Getting an overall updated analysis done by a trusted advisor is a good starting point.”

Anchoring an integrated strategy
Improvements to feed and nutrition approaches can help anchor an integrated strategy supporting ABF production. Additional key measures include use of vaccines, enhancement of barns with improved circulation and temperatures controls, housing with more space, stringent disinfecting and cleanliness protocols, strict biosecurity measures, improved water quality and enhanced monitoring. Further essential measures include training programs and education efforts for producers and service technicians, along with strengthened veterinary relationships and oversight.

Operations also need plans in place to allow for antimicrobial use when needed, says Fischer. “Even if you’re doing everything right to minimize the need for antibiotics, no system is bulletproof. Birds sometimes get sick and treating illness is a responsible part of animal care. When this happens producers can work with animal health experts and veterinarians to determine if an antibiotic is needed. For cases where antibiotic use disqualifies the birds from an ABF market, it's important to have a ‘Plan B’ in place to direct those birds to a different market.”

Driving innovation
Based on the examples Country Junction Feeds has observed, producers who combine these approaches have an excellent framework for achieving ABF while maintaining competitive performance, says Fischer. “The added bonus is that by taking a stronger hands-on approach to management – often you can see better results on all outcomes compared to a traditional system.”

This stems from greater management attentiveness, as well as from upgrading areas such as feed and nutrition that may have been taken for granted. “With the right approaches, typically what we hear from our customers is there are much fewer health issues and the results are better than ever.”

Any type of operation can benefit, she says. “Ultimately it’s about innovation. Anything you can do to get better is going to make it easier to farm more efficiently and more profitably. Improvements will also help poultry operations qualify for new programs coming down the pike from retailers and food companies. People make the difference. If you’re committed and willing to put in the work, that work will pay off whether you are ABF or conventional.”
November 29, 2017, Regina, Sask. - Saskatchewan has announced amendments to the province's Animal Protection Act, which the government suggests will give it more teeth.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart announced the changes Monday and they include broadening the definition of animal distress and giving animal protection officers the ability to issue corrective action orders.

It will also expand the locations animal protection workers can inspect to include boarding kennels and other places where services for animals are provided.

Under the amendments, veterinarians must report suspected cases of animal cruelty.

''It's bound to keep those who operate slaughterhouses and kennels on their toes a bit and they'll make sure they're in compliance with the Act at all times,'' Stewart told reporters at the legislature Monday.

Kaley Pugh of Animal Protection Services Saskatchewan said the amendments will make it possible to investigate outside of normal hunting and trapping procedures.

She said the act was very vague before, so her group is pleased with the amendments.

''Animals that are kept in unsanitary conditions will now be considered distressed, animals that require protection from injurious heat or cold will be defined as distressed, so those are improvements that are significant for us,'' Pugh said.

Stewart said the amendments will bring Saskatchewan's legislation in line with other jurisdictions, as well as provide clear direction for enforcement agencies.

Calls for tougher regulations in the province came last year after 14 dogs died of heat stroke and dehydration when a rooftop heating unit malfunctioned at a facility in Saskatoon.

The owner of the kennel, Dave Deplaedt, pleaded guilty to negligence under the Animal Protection Act and his business was fined $14,000, plus a victim surcharge of $5,600.

The president of the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Lesley Sawa, said the organization was pleased to see mandatory veterinary reporting of animal neglect and abuse included in the amendments, noting the organization had requested it.

''Updating the Animal Protection Act will go a long way in helping ensure the health and welfare of animals across the province,'' Sawa said in a news release.

Pugh said some vets have been reluctant to report suspected abuse in the past.

''They were worried about the effect on their businesses prior to this. They didn't want to get in trouble with their clients if they did have something they wanted to report,'' she said.
November 20, 2017, Sede Boqer, Israel – A new study shows that poultry excrement may have a future as a fuel for heat and electricity.

Treated excrement from turkeys, chickens and other poultry, when converted to combustible solid biomass fuel, could replace approximately 10 per cent of coal used in electricity generation, reducing greenhouse gases and providing an alternative energy source, according to a new study by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers.

While biomass accounts for 73 per cent of renewable energy production worldwide, crops grown for energy production burden land, water and fertilizer resources.

According to the researchers, “Environmentally safe disposal of poultry excrement has become a significant problem. Converting poultry waste to solid fuel, a less resource-intensive, renewable energy source is an environmentally superior alternative that also reduces reliance on fossil fuels.”

According to the study in Elsevier’s Applied Energy, researchers at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at BGU evaluated two biofuel types to determine which is the more efficient poultry waste solid fuel.

They compared the production, combustion and gas emissions of biochar, which is produced by slow heating of the biomass at a temperature of 450°C (842°F) in an oxygen-free furnace with hydrochar.

Hydrochar is produced by heating wet biomass to a much lower temperature of up to 250°C under pressure using a process called hydrothermal carbonization (HTC). HTC mimics natural coal formation within several hours.

“We found that poultry waste processed as hydrochar produced 24 per cent higher net energy generation,” says student researcher Vivian Mau and Prof. Amit Gross, chair of the Department of Environmental Hydrology and Microbiology at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute.

“Poultry waste hydrochar generates heat at high temperatures and combusts in a similar manner to coal, an important factor in replacing it as renewable energy source.”

For the first time, the researchers also showed that higher HTC production temperatures resulted in a significant reduction in emissions of methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3) and an increase of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

“This investigation helped in bridging the gap between hydrochar being considered as a potential energy source toward the development of an alternative renewable fuel,” Gross explains.

“Our findings could help significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with electricity generation and agricultural wastes. Field-scale experiments with HTC reactor should be conducted to confirm the assessments from this laboratory-scale study.”

The study was funded by the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, the Rosenzweig-Coopersmith Foundation. BGU Ph.D. candidate Vivian Mau received financial support from the Israeli Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources, the Rieger Foundation and the Zuckerberg Scholarship Fund at BGU’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.
November 1, 2017, Gainesville, Ga. – New vacuum transport systems developed by U.S. equipment manufacturer Cantrell lower costs for processing plants by reducing labor, maintenance and water usage while improving overall sanitation.

The technology is designed so weighing hoppers can be added at collection points. The addition saves workers from moving barrels to and from collection points, reducing labor and minimizing the need for costly auger systems.

“Whether moving edible or inedible product, we have a system that can reduce labor costs,” Cantrell general manager of sales, service and engineering Dane Woods said in a press release.

The systems also feature new filter tanks that reduce maintenance with easily accessible filters to eliminate the need for additional overflow cyclones.
It’s no secret egg producers face big changes on the horizon. Chief among those is transitioning away from conventional housing over the next 15 years, as outlined in the recently updated code of practice.
I was determined to find a memorable way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, being such a special milestone. What better venue to show my pride at than at the Toronto Blue Jays game, I thought. Luckily, my family and I were able to land some nice seats along the first baseline.

The party didn’t disappoint. (Though the home team getting trounced 7-1 dampened the mood a bit. Also, the Boston Red Sox wore Fourth of July uniforms on Canada Day for some reason – one player even warmed up in stars and stripes boxers. But I digress…)

I couldn’t help but feel patriotic watching dozens of Canadian soldiers unveil a massive version of our flag for the national anthem. But by far the most moving moment was watching a World War II vet rise from his wheelchair to throw the first pitch. Indeed, while the team came up short on the field, the organization did an excellent job of stirring up patriotism.

Now, Canadian Poultry and our colleagues at Annex Business Media are looking to do the same. We’re dedicating a week to honouring agriculture and farmer contributions to this country. Dubbed Ag150, every day for five days starting September 18 we’ll look back at the issues that have shaped Canadian farming, including poultry production, as well as what may lie ahead.

We’ll detail agriculture’s most significant milestones, profile some of our longest-standing barns, including a century-plus old egg operation that’s still thriving, and delve into scientific and technological advances that will shape production for years to come.

We’ll also have numerous leaders from across the spectrum reflect on their industry’s past, present and future as part of our coverage. On that note, one of the most informative discussions I’ve had during my time with Canadian Poultry was with Robin Horel, president at Canadian Poultry & Egg Processors Council.

As the leader of an organization representing members in all four commodity groups, including chickens, turkeys, eggs and hatching eggs, Horel has a unique grasp of the wide range of issues facing poultry as a whole. During our interview, the full version of which will be available here, he outlined the distinct issues each sector faces.

What’s more, Horel singled out the biggest challenge he sees all poultry groups sharing for years to come: aggressive animal activism. “They’re turning their attention away from communicating with consumers towards blackmailing customers and holding their brands for ransom,” he said.

Such tactics have been effective in convincing retailers and food service companies to adopt policies that Horel feels lack scientific backing. For instance, in his opinion demanding that egg producers go “cage-free” will do nothing to improve animal welfare, food safety or nutrition but will drive up costs.

That said, he sees a better way forward for poultry. “I think that industry’s got a good story to tell and it needs to revolve around sustainability,” he says, citing the push for slow growing broilers as an example. “You can produce a chicken that grows in double the amount of time a current chickens grows but to do that you’ll need twice as many resources, twice as many barns and almost twice as much feed… So I think our story is a good one.”

Be sure to visit Ag150.ca for our can’t-miss coverage – you’ll even have a chance to win an iPad!
Keith Robbins grew up on a farm just north of London, Ont. There were no feathers in the mix. Instead, his family raised cattle, pigs, some sheep and grew grains. But today he heads up one of the country’s most important poultry organizations.

Four years ago, Robbins became executive director of the Poultry Industry Council (PIC). He assumed the role after two decades in communications positions with Ontario Pork. “The only commonality was that they’re both monogastrics,” Robbins says in comparing the two industries.

The Centralia College grad, who holds an agricultural business management diploma, had to be a quick study, as he was tasked with leading PIC through a major transition.

As background, the organization was founded in 1997 when the Ontario Poultry Council and the Poultry Industry Centre merged. The move brought both groups’ responsibilities – education extension, event co-ordination, and research administration and co-ordination – together under the newly created PIC moniker.

Then in 2013 it took a different direction. Ontario wanted a one-stop centre to streamline the application process for livestock study. Thus, the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC) was born and Tim Nelson, then PIC’s executive director, became the new entity’s CEO.

That’s when Robbins entered the fray. Supported by a small team of staffers working out of PIC’s head office near Guelph, Ont., and guided by a dozen directors, he was tasked with refocusing the council solely on education extension, events and project management. Its research responsibilities would be gradually transferred to the LRIC.

A few years in, Robbins is happy with how the transition progressed. “It became an opportunity for us to look at how we run events and manage profitability,” he says.

Indeed, as PIC celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, it has plenty to celebrate. Its events continue to draw, not just more producers, but more industry salespeople as well. These reps often become extension staff for the council by sharing the resources it develops. “They often ask, ‘Can I get a couple more copies of that handout?’ ” Robbins says. “That’s a great opportunity for us to put out other factsheets.”

The London Poultry Show, the council’s marquee trade event, drew record numbers two years in a row. Likewise, its annual golf tournament also saw its largest ever turnout last year. And PIC continues to add to its events portfolio, now averaging about two events per month. The council grew its presence in Eastern Ontario as part of that effort, including bringing its Producer Updates educational series to St. Isidore.

What’s more, membership has steadily increased, despite widespread industry consolidation that would typically mean fewer members. “The driver is the material they’re developing,” says Al Dam, poultry specialist with Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

“We try to ensure everything we do is driven by our members,” Robbins explains. “They ask and we provide what they need.” Take culling, he cites as an example. One of PIC’s most highly regarded initiatives in recent years was its Euthanasia Resources and Training Project.

PIC’s shareholders identified a strong need for consistent training in the area. Many family farms had developed their own euthanasia practices over the years that they’d pass down. “There may be three generations of you that were doing this in a less efficient manner,” Dam points out.

Thus, the council worked with a diverse range of experts to develop a three-part educational package. “The intent was to have everyone trained to the same level so that the industry has a defendable standard,” Dam continues.

Part one was the “Timely Euthanasia of Compromised Chicks & Poults” poster – a practical guide that helps producers identify young birds that should be culled. The second instalment was the “Practice Guidelines for On-Farm Euthanasia of Poultry” manual.

That document provided the basis for the third instalment – PIC’s Euthanasia Training Program, which is available to farmers in both classroom delivery and video format. Feather boards, organizations and producers across the country utilized all three resources.

PIC’s Poultry Health Day is another example of the council responding to industry trends. While events like Producer Updates and Poultry Research Day often included health-related topics, Robbins and co. saw value in dedicating an entire event to such issues.

Thus, it held its first Poultry Health Day August 2015 in Stratford, Ont. One of the main topics was avian influenza, naturally, as the London Poultry Show was cancelled just a few months before due to an outbreak. The inaugural event was a success, drawing 130 attendees. One of this year’s hot topics was infectious bronchitis, which has plagued Ontario poultry farms in a variety of sectors this year.

Dam expects poultry health to be an ongoing concern for producers and, thus, the council. On the layer side, for example, he sees old diseases the industry solved years ago resurfacing due to housing changes. “What’s old is new again,” he says.

On the broiler side, Dam sees brooding becoming a bigger issue in need of PIC’s attention. He points out that days-to-market continue to shorten each year. This means the brooding period becomes a larger percentage of a bird’s life in the barn. “You screw up that first few days it follows you all the way through,” Dam says.

Going forward, Robbins wants to see a more co-ordinated effort to address farmers’ concerns quicker. Currently, universities conduct the research, LRIC helps with administration and PIC plays that outward role. “That process has to be more interwoven,” Robbins says. “What can we do to solve that problem now?” He also hopes to start live streaming council events to expand its reach.

Looking back on his previous career, Robbins says one of the biggest differences between pork and poultry is marketing legislation. Supply management gives the industry the stability it needs to focus on finding innovative solutions to trends and challenges producers face. That’s where PIC fits in. “Our role is helping understand what those trends are and what they mean for farmers.”
One of the things I’ve been most impressed by during my first few months with Canadian Poultry is how invested the industry is in animal welfare. Researchers pour countless dollars and resources into ensuring birds are treated as humanely as possible.

Farms, the vast majority of which are family owned, adhere to rigorously developed welfare standards. And producers often pack educational events to learn how to better care for their livestock. “The true welfare advocates are the farmers,” one egg producer told me.

It’s understandable, then, that many producers are fed up with being unfairly demonized by activists whose main agenda is to eliminate animal agriculture altogether. It’s particularly irksome when  they use misleading footage.

Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) called out one such case of deception this spring. After careful analysis, CFC concluded that one activist organization was using footage from a U.S.-based propaganda video to misrepresent Canadian farming practices.

“Canada’s chicken farmers are appalled by the inaccurate and irresponsible portrayal of Canadian chicken production that is being used to target retail and foodservice companies,” CFC said in a press release. It then detailed factors that set Canadian chicken producers apart. Namely, that farms must adhere to a third-party audited Animal Care Program.

The messaging is part of a broader communications effort the organization recently launched. “It’s a new approach for us where we’re facing accusations directly to ensure people know the truth,” says Lisa Bishop-Spencer, CFC’s manager of communications.

By educating partners and the public about its Animal Care Program, the organization wants to avoid unnecessary regulatory duplication. “We started working with our partners to make it clear – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to animal care,” Bishop-Spencer says.

As part of that effort, CFC also created a brochure that discusses “replacing gossip with facts.”

What’s more, CFC hosted a Facebook live video from a farm where a producer defended Canadian farmers and talked about the Animal Care Program. The video received over 100,000 views. In addition, CFC recently launched letstalkchicken.ca, a website that educates the public on how birds are raised.

The organization now wants producers to get involved. “It’s important farmers and families play a role in promoting their own practices,” Bishop-Spencer says.

Consider Tara deVries, for example. The Alberta-based chicken producer is a transparency advocate, regularly hosting barn tours and teaching youth at agriculture events. We’re exciting to share her inspiring journey (see page 30) and that of several other producers in this our annual Who’s Who issue!

A few bad actors
While it’s important to confront unjustified complaints, it’s also necessary to speak out firmly when there’s evidence of wrongdoing. That’s what CFC did when a disturbing video surfaced in June allegedly showing members of a contract chicken-catching crew abusing birds inside a B.C. broiler barn.

The secretly recorded video, which made national headlines, led Elite Farm Services to fire five employees. A barn supervisor was let go as well. “We are strongly supporting the BC SCPA in their efforts to bring justice and pursue the people who’ve allegedly committed these acts,” Bishop-Spencer says. “It’s not just about standing up to activists; it’s also about doing the right thing and taking a leadership role for the birds in our care.”
June 22, 2017, Wellington North Township, Ont. - Provincial police say a thief in Wellington County has flown the coop with about $800 worth of live poultry.

Police began investigating on Monday after learning of the theft, which they believe took place over the weekend.

Police say the birds belong to two neighbours who house and care for the animals together.

They say the thief made off with about 25 chickens, 15 laying hens and seven turkeys, two of which are prize-winners with black bodies and hooked beaks.

Police are urging anyone with information to come forward. 
April 25, 2017, Toronto, Ontario A growing Muslim community in Canada has led to swelling sales of halal food, which has some grocers, manufacturers and eateries seeking ways to profit from the boom.

''It's a huge business. It's an $80-billion business around the world. In Canada, it's about $1 billion and it's growing ... by 10 to 15 per cent a year, which is quite significant. It's much more than other categories,'' says Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Halal means permissible in Arabic and refers to foods that have been prepared according to Islamic law. Animals must not suffer when they're slaughtered and must not see another animal be killed. Pork and its byproducts and alcohol are among forbidden items not allowed in the making of halal foods.

While Canadians are increasingly seeing more halal products stocked by the big supermarket chains, the complexity of the supply chain has led to concerns about mislabelled food or fraud.

Contamination and traceability were motivating factors for the formation of the Halal Monitoring Authority of Canada, says chief operating officer Imam Omar Subedar.

A presentation on malpractices in the halal industry he attended in 2004 was eye-opening.

''What we were exposed to was really, really bad. There was just no ethics, no controls, no nothing. It was very sad.''

The HMA launched in 2006 with one certified chicken product. Now there are hundreds, with 30 inspectors in Ontario, three in Alberta, two in Quebec and a representative in B.C. There are plans to start operations in Saskatchewan.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved guidelines for halal products just last year.

''Halal unfortunately has been heavily abused and this is why CFIA has gotten involved, which is unprecedented. The government doesn't get involved in religion, but for halal they did because of the malpractices that had been going on,'' says Subedar.

Salima Jivraj, an on-the-go mom who founded Halal Food Festival Toronto in 2012 and runs the website Halalfoodie.ca, says the mainstream availability of halal products now means she can avoid multiple stops at independent shops during her weekly shopping trip.

''I want to go to a grocery store because I'm busy,'' she says. ''Retailers are noticing now 'how can we hone in on this?'''

Sobeys Inc. launched the store Chalo FreshCo in 2015 in Brampton, Ont., with separate halal and non-halal meat counters and an assortment of rice, spices, lentils and snacks for South Asian customers.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. has launched its own halal brand, Sufra, and also sells other brands of halal chicken, beef, lamb, yogurt, turkey and gummy candies.

Jivraj suggests a lot of Muslims unknowingly eat non-halal products.

''Immigrants come to the country and they might not necessarily know that they have to look out for halal. Coming from countries that are 100 per cent halal, it might be a new concept for them,'' says Jivraj.

Reading labels doesn't always tell the entire story. Candies, yogurt, jellies, baked goods and pharmaceutical products may contain gelatin, which can be derived from pork. Animal shortening such as lard and brewer's yeast are not halal. Vanilla extract flavouring contains alcohol.

''There's going to be more and more demand being driven for things like bakeries, confectionery, dairy including cheeses because a lot of animal byproducts are found in all sorts of categories in grocery and the consumers are realizing this as well and they're being more vigilant in the products that they buy,'' says Jivraj.

Meanwhile, big fast-food chains like Pizza Pizza, KFC, Popeyes and Nandos have added halal options to their menus, while The Halal Guys, a fast-casual franchise that started as a food cart in Manhattan with huge lineups, is opening a Toronto location on May 5.

''If there is more food offered to consumers they will buy more essentially,'' says Charlebois of the rise in halal offerings.
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