David Manly

David Manly

One of the most important procedures on a farm for protecting the health of both livestock and farmers is the maintenance of strict biosecurity protocols. But following them takes time, money and effort for little or no immediate benefit. On the other hand, however, a disease outbreak can occur with little warning, and it is those procedures that become immensely important, potentially saving individual producers many thousands of dollars, or industries millions. Biosecurity is akin to buying insurance – you hope you never need it, but if you do, you hope you have it.

The risk of an incident is low, but constant vigilance is the best way to decrease the risk as much as possible. Now there is a new Canadian monitoring program that might be able to assist in mitigating disease spread.

Tim Nelson, CEO of the Livestock Research Innovation Corporation (LRIC), has developed a program known as “Be Seen Be Safe,” which monitors the comings and goings of people and vehicles on and off farms and other agricultural properties that could be at risk through an application downloaded onto a smartphone or GPS-enabled device.

The purpose of Be Seen, Be Safe is simple, says Nelson – “It’s a cost-effective smart and simple tool to help mitigate disease spread and stop small disease outbreaks becoming catastrophic.”

An ounce of prevention
This project was developed to fill a need in the Canadian agriculture system for an easy-to-use, accurate, and inexpensive method of tracking visitors who travel to farms and associated properties, and may be inadvertently carrying a disease organism with them. The system utilizes real-time surveillance in order to mitigate the post-outbreak spread of a disease by predicting its movement and enabling a managed response.

The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization spells out the need for the development of such a system in its Manual on Livestock Disease Surveillance and Information Systems. According to Nelson, the manual states:

  • Surveillance can assist with early detection of disease. The sooner a disease is found before it makes progress along the epidemic curve, the better.
  • It is much easier to tackle a disease problem in a small corner of a country where it is only necessary to deal with a small animal population, than to get to grips with a developing epidemic that is spreading on many fronts.
  • Surveillance has other roles, as well. One of these is monitoring the spread of a disease in order to manage it effectively. Knowing how fast a disease is spreading, in which directions it is going and the size of the populations threatened is a key factor in resource mobilization.

While the old method of maintaining visitor logbooks, if used correctly and updated often, is most likely fine at an individual farm level, combining the information into useful data across multiple farms during a serious disease outbreak is impossible, says Nelson. In that case, a faster and automated system was needed to track outbreaks across the entire industry. The Poultry Industry Council has been trying to find a smart, cheap solution such as this for a number of years, he added, but the technology simply wasn’t available until now.  

“This program complements good biosecurity protocols; it doesn’t replace them. But to err is human and as a result good biosecurity is simply not done properly 100 per cent of the time. Be Seen Be Safe takes the human element out of keeping visitor records and enables ‘real-time’ movement analysis of disease fomites [people and vehicles], and it’s innovative, nothing like this currently exists anywhere in the world as far as we can ascertain.”

Easy-to-use system
The Be Seen Be Safe app is quickly downloaded through a mobile phone or loaded onto a GPS-enabled device, and the set-up is simple: Sign up, enter your user profile information and that is it. The program runs silently in the background and automatically tracks movement in and out of properties that have previously signed up with the program.

Every property that is registered within the system has an invisible fence known as a “geofence” around it. The “fenced” boundary is set up remotely via satellite and logs each Be Seen Be Safe-enabled device as it enters and exits each property or location. No other locations are monitored or logged in the system. “It’s no different from the visitor record books currently in use. It simply automates the recording process and makes the records useful in time of emergency,” says Nelson. In addition, all records are password protected, and the information reported does not contain any personal information, simply movement into and out of locations on the system.

When a Be Seen Be Safe-enabled device enters or leaves a property, it records the movement and logs it in a central database. “The device user receives a message telling him/her that he/she has entered or [exited] a Be Seen Be Safe enabled property, and the property owner/manager simultaneously receives notification of who has entered or left the property,” says Nelson.

During an emergency, Be Seen Be Safe can quickly analyze visitor information obtained from a property that has been positively identified as infected. The program then plots the movement of visitors to that property throughout its infectious period, looks at where they came from and where they went in order to identify potentially infected secondary properties.

“These secondary properties can be instantly put on various levels of alert,” says Nelson. “Or, in cases where there is a vaccine for a specific disease, stock could be vaccinated against it, such as with foot and mouth disease. The drivers of potentially infected vehicles could also be notified instantly through the Be Seen Be Safe system and requested to take extra precautions to ensure their vehicles are cleaned and sanitized before going onto other at-risk properties.”

In certain scenarios, regulators may want to establish a “control zone” around an infected property within a few hours of the initial property being declared infected. “Be Seen Be Safe can instantly enable that virtual boundary to signal enabled devices as they enter the three-kilometre quarantine zone,” says Nelson. “Those devices then receive predetermined alert notifications such as instructions to stop and call a disease hotline number.”

New technology is often associated with a monetary cost, which for this program is approximately 32 cents per property per day, while downloading the application for the mobile devices and GPS systems is free. “It’s inevitable that some farmers will see it as simply another cost, so it could take a while for all stakeholders to recognize its benefit, adopt the technology and help build a reliable network. But industry, the progressive producers and those looking to automate and simplify their visitor records will drive it,” says Nelson. “However, we are building other management tools that the system will trigger which we hope will help the system get traction on a greater number of properties much sooner.”

Nelson hopes that once the technology gains a foothold in Ontario, it can then spread across Canada and perhaps into the U.S., so that every farmer and producer could reap its benefits.

“The sooner Be Seen Be Safe has a network up and running, protecting farms, stock and crops, peoples livelihoods and industry sustainability, the better,” he adds.

“In the meantime, we have a large-scale proof of concept pilot just starting up and once that’s done we’ll be showing industry how the system works and what it can potentially save for the little it costs. After that, it is all systems go to prevent the spread of disease.”

For more information on Be Seen Be Safe, visit: www.beseenbesafe.ca

Jan. 9, 2014 - An Alberta individual who recently returned from a trip to China has passed away, making them the first North American to die of the H5N1 strain of flu.

According to the Globe and Mail, the person’s gender, age, profession or name have not been revealed, due to patient confidentiality. However, travel details for the individual were provided - they flew from Beijing to Vancouver and Vancouver to Edmonton on December 27, 2013.

The Albertan victim was admitted to hospital on Jan. 1 and passed away on Jan. 3.

With the ever-increasing reach of the Internet, technology has become an important part of how any business or organization communicates with its customers, the industry and the general public. One of the best ways to do that is through a website – but how do you communicate in a secure and efficient way during a serious event, like a disease outbreak, and make sure that everyone receives the information they need?

The Feather Board Command Centre (FBCC), an organization has served as an informal information hub since 2003 for the four poultry marketing boards in Ontario – Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Egg Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission, and Turkey Farmers of Ontario – now plays a leadership role in emergency disease management.

Dr. Tom Baker, a consultant and incident commander at FBCC, says that over the years, the FBCC has made progress in a variety of ways to help the poultry industry: geo-spatial coding of poultry farm locations, disease outbreak simulations, biosecurity practices and more.

As well, the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program provided financial assistance to make the collaboration with the marketing boards official and improve emergency management planning and rapid response/recovery capacity, including the development of an Emergency Management Plan.

Thanks to the funding, the FBCC was able to create a new and secure website to help co-ordinate emergency responses, convey communication and recovery initiatives as well as provide access to maps and other useful resources.

“FBCC aspires to have an emergency-free Ontario poultry industry through industry-led disease incident risk management,” said Baker.

“When notified of a disease incident, FBCC maps the involved area and advises all farmers in the affected zone to institute heightened biosecurity measures. Poultry industry associations and poultry veterinarians are also alerted of the need for heightened biosecurity and provided with a buffered zone map.”

The website will be used as a way to avoid constant e-mailing among staff, agencies, experts, etc. and centralize all the information, including manuals, test results and biosecurity resources.

Added Baker: “Previously, feather boards communicated with their members and stakeholders primarily through their own websites and newsletters. It was long recognized that timeliness, security, and consistency would be enhanced with an integrated secure (or ‘dark’) website. The new website went live in the spring of 2013 and was used successfully in the two-day FBCC Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) Simulation in collaboration with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF), Animal Health Laboratory (University of Guelph) and the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council (OLPC).”

Website Features
The goal of the new FBCC website, according to Baker, is to provide:
  • efficient and secure internal information exchange with access based on the individual’s response role and information needs
  • common timely messaging of disease incident status
  • alignment of key messages with those of government
  • access to critical information resources, such as the Emergency Response Plan, biosecurity resources, technical fact sheet, etc.
  • documentation access
  • efficient staff management according to the Incident Command System functional structure used by emergency responders
  • entryway to government regulatory processes (for example, movement permit applications)
  • timely and common messaging amongst the four feather boards to co-ordinate information sharing with all government, laboratory and industry stakeholders and partners.
  • archival information to learn from past incidents
  • forum to discuss policy and scientific issues
  • access to the website via mobile devices
Invitation Only
One of the most notable features of the new FBCC website is that the general public cannot access it in any way; it is securely protected and offers only limited access to individuals within
the industry.

Baker says that one of the main reasons for this drastic change in access is due to the risk of misinterpreted information getting into the public domain. “In several international disease incidents, media curiosity has been a significant deterrent to effective information exchange amongst responders,” he said. “And in some cases, the biosecurity on site was threatened.”

There are three levels of access for the website:

Level 1 – those who manage content (update messages, assign staff, verify completed tasks, document), such as assigned Incident Command staff and Section Chiefs

Level 2 – staff with Incident Command co-ordination responsibilities

Level 3 – those who view only, in declining order of access:
  • designated government liaison and communication staff
  • FBCC Board members
  • Advisory Group members (view and participate in Forum discussions)
  • key stakeholder and partner associations
  • individual key enterprises and producers
  • guests and media (location map with zones, disease summary)
Future applications
The FBCC site is also extremely versatile and could be developed into a news source.

“This website could be expanded into a livestock and poultry web portal that would allow other livestock and crop organizations faced with emergency response challenges to have secure access to its customized features.”

However, he is quick to point out that the FBCC site currently only meets the most basic initial emergency response needs, as it is only a skeleton framework for a potentially more comprehensive site. Visitors to the site, Baker adds, have been incredibly useful.

“Users of the site see many new possibilities for enhancements that can serve industry needs throughout the whole emergency management continuum from report of disease suspicion, through to response, movement controls and recovery,” he said.

The goal is to make the FBCC website a “one-stop” website for emergency disease management resources.
Agricultural disease is one of the biggest hurdles for any farmer, processor or industry to overcome; never mind the damage it causes to the environment and economy of a region. While the implementation of biosecurity measures is key in the control of such diseases, it does not deal directly with the problem.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency Ltd. (ALMA) is working with a team of researchers to create a new vaccine for poultry to help prevent the spread and damage that two pathogens cause to poultry producers – Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens.

Dr. Christine Szymanski, a University of Alberta professor and one of the researchers involved in the project, said that the preferred method of control for these two pathogens would be a vaccine, as it can help reduce the risk of contamination of eggs and meat without the use of antibiotics. This is especially important due to the concerns from both consumers and producers regarding antibiotic resistance.

The researchers decided on Salmonella because of its ability to cause foodborne illnesses in humans, and Clostridium perfringens, which causes necrotic enteritis in broilers in addition to food poisoning in humans.

“While C. perfringens is the most common and financially devastating bacterial disease in commercial flocks, no effective chicken vaccine is commercially available,” said Szymanski. “And salmonella in humans is caused by consumption of contaminated eggs and poultry products, and results in potentially severe gastrointestinal issues.”

The vaccine research is based on Szymanski’s development of a successful carbohydrate-based poultry vaccine for another common foodborne pathogen, Campylobacter jejuni. This was accomplished through the use of bacterial glycomics, the investigation of sugars (also known as glycans), especially those found on the surface of the bacteria.

According to Szymanski, the sugars on the surface of pathogenic Salmonella and C. perfringens can be presented on the surface of a non-pathogenic bacteria, which means that a vaccine could be used to stimulate an immune response without the use of the deadly strains.

“This means we can create a vaccine from harmless bacterial strains that will help the bird’s immune system identify and destroy the pathogenic strains. In this way, a single vaccine will simulate an immune response in the bird that will protect it from a broad array of Salmonella and C. perfringens strains.”

She added that combining the two vaccines into one would provide an inexpensive vaccine against the two problematic pathogens. In doing so, this could eliminate the need for antibiotics for both diseases.

This is especially important for C. perfringens, Szymanski said, which currently can only be controlled through the addition of antibiotics into the drinking water.

Glycan-based vaccines are not new, as human glycoconjugate vaccines have been routinely used for less than 20 years with minimal side-effects, and are routinely given to infants. Similarly, no side-effects have been seen with the C. jejuni chicken vaccine, and the live non-pathogenic organisms in the vaccine are only in the system long enough to induce an immune response before being cleared from the chicken entirely.

“Right now, researchers struggle to obtain a reproducible two-log drop in campylobacter colonization from chickens,” said Szymanski. “In our studies, we reproducibly observe six to eight logs drop in campylobacter colonization – with many birds having undetectable levels of C. jejuni in their intestines.”

Dr. Susan Novak, ALMA’s research manager, said, “A glycan-based vaccine would be a transformative advancement for the poultry industry. The use of antibiotics could be reduced if producers are able to give their birds a dual vaccine that boosts the immunity against multiple strains with a single shot. Alberta is leading the world in this area and that is a point of pride for our industry as well as a real competitive edge.”

In addition, Drs. Szymanski and Mario Feldman have spun off a company, VaxAlta Inc. in Edmonton that builds on their studies in bacterial glycomics. They were the first to identify the C. jejuni glycan pathway and show that sugar systems can be mixed and matched to produce novel glycoconjugates. Szymanski and Feldman are now exploiting this expertise toward the development of novel glycoconjugate vaccines for use in agriculture.

“The next step in our research is to optimize the carbohydrate-based vaccine against C. jejuni and create an effective dual vaccine against Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens. Glycoconjugate vaccines against other pathogens found in poultry, cattle and pigs are also in the pipeline,” said Szymanski.
The new livestock emergency van from Farm and Food Care Ontario, with Kristen Kelderman.
Photo courtesy of David Manly.

Nov. 7, 2013 - In the agriculture industry, transportation of animals is a necessary part of any operation. Live or dead, certain precautions need to be taken in order to make sure that it is done safely. But, accidents can and do happen. And what happens when animals are being moved and there is an unfortunate accident mid-transport?

Luckily, Farm and Food Care (FFC) Ontario has begun a pilot project that has created a livestock emergency awareness van that can respond to animal accidents and provide the tools necessary for first responders. "It is a van that is fully equipped with multi-species set of tools that, if you were to respond to an emergency with livestock, such as a barn fire or truck rollover, that you could use all the tools inside the van to help you get through the emergency," said Kristen Kelderman, a farm animal care coordinator for FFC.

The van is still in its preliminary stages, so FFC is taking it to events in order to start conversations with the general public and first responders to raise awareness on the need for such a vehicle in Ontario. "First responders are not really equipped to deal with these sort of emergencies – so, having a conversation about it and letting them know is what it is all about," she said.

Kelderman also added that because animals are moving across the province every day, accidents could be very traumatic, especially with police officer and firefighters trying to ensure human safety. "And adding animals on top of that is an added challenge."

The livestock emergency awareness van started out as a pilot project, inspired from a similar one in Alberta, which received partial funding from the Growing Forward program. Floyd Mullaney, a consultant on both the Alberta and FFC van projects and former police officer in Alberta, said that the main goal of both vans are to promote and support animal welfare in the province and across the country.

"There are currently five emergency preparedness vehicles in Alberta all run by firefighters ... but we would need six or seven more to cover the entire province," he said. "For the FCC, they wanted to utilize producers for manning the trailers. I went back to them as said that I disagree, and that they should look to firefighters."

The Launch

The FFC van was unveiled at the Canadian Outdoor Farm Show in late 2013, followed by the launch of a new website, www.livestockwelfare.com at the beginning of October, which will have a series of livestock emergency resources available for training and education.

"We will also host a series of videos that run across the various principles of animal welfare – animal handling, responding to an accident involving animals, etc. for anyone to use," said Kelderman.

The van is primarily geared towards smaller livestock, such as swine and poultry, but they are exploring the possibility of extending its reach and making it multi-species. "In the van, we have flashlights, batteries, garbage bags, bio-security equipment, heavy duty equipment that include saws to cut through metal, a generator, snow fence and more. Everything from a pitchfork to saw!" she said.

"We are still in the process of collecting equipment – I don't think it will ever be complete – it is an ongoing process"

It has taken over a year since the initial idea to secure all the funds and accumulate the equipment. FFC worked very closely with Ontario Pork and received funds from the Canadian Swine Health Board.

Following its launch this fall, FFC will be contacting first responders to collaborate with, as well as Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Ministry of Transportation and more, but it is still a work in progress.

"We are really excited about this pilot project," Kelderman said, "and it is a great link between agriculture and first responders."
Nov. 1, 2013 - Chickens could be the unexpected beneficiaries of the growing biofuels industry, feeding on proteins retrieved from the fermenters used to brew bioethanol, thanks to research supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

It has long been known that the yeasty broth left over after bioethanol production is nutritious, but it has taken a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and AB Agri, the agricultural division of Associated British Foods, to prove that Yeast Protein Concentrate (YPC) can be separated from the fibrous cereal matter.

The researchers have also shown that YPC may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soya-based and similar high-value protein feeds currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production.

The project was born out of the vision of biofuels pioneer Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, who was convinced valuable material was being overlooked when cereals were fermented to make bioethanol.

With Dr. Emily Burton of Nottingham Trent University, he was able to secure funding from the EPSRC for a CASE (Cooperation Awards in Science and Engineering) studentship that allowed them to develop and analyse the process.

To establish the nutritional value of the concentrate, EPSRC CASE student Dawn Scholey examined the composition of the newly isolated, patented YPC in a series of experiments, which showed that it can be readily digested by chickens. A paper outlining this research is published in this month's issue of the journal 'Food and Energy Security' (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/fes3.30/abstract.)

Project supervisor, Burton says the work is only just beginning: "Bioethanol is already a 60-billion-litre per year global market but this project shows the fuel itself is only half the story – immense value lies within other co-product streams too. As well as the proteins, the yeast content provides important vitamins and other micronutrients."

Produced by distilling and fermenting wheat and other agricultural feedstocks, bioethanol has particular potential for use as a petrol substitute. Currently, the dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) generated as a co-product are sold to the cattle-feed market but this is not big enough to absorb all material that would be generated if bioethanol production ramps up significantly in future.

Burton believes the project helps address an issue often raised in connection with cereal-based biofuels: "One concern with bioethanol is the perception it will compete with food crops for limited farmland. Our new work shows how the two can live side by side."

The new, patented process separates DDGS into three fractions – fibre, a watery syrup and YPC, allowing global production of almost 3 million tonnes of supplementary high-quality protein per annum alongside current levels of bioethanol produced. A project at a US bioethanol facility is now up and running, demonstrating the performance of the process at factory scale.

Every year, 800 million chickens are reared for meat production in the UK and 48 billion worldwide. As well as helping to feed these birds, YPC could partially replace the fish meal used on commercial fish farms.

Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, the industrial sponsor of the work, says: "We couldn't have got this development started without the EPSRC CASE studentship that allowed us to establish the proof of concept, and to confirm the value-creation potential of our innovative separation process. By helping us to move to the next key stage of development, it has brought closer the prospect of full-scale industrial use that could deliver major benefits to the emerging 'green' fuel sector."
Oct. 18, 2013 - In the U.S., the outbreak of Salmonella from raw chicken linked to three Foster Farms processing plants in central California is continuing to spread.

As of last week, the outbreak has spread to 20 states and Puerto Rico, and has affected over 300 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

While the number of cases is high, no deaths have been reported. And most cases (73 per cent), have been located in California.

According to the CDC case update, "On October 10, 2013, USDA-FSIS announced that Foster Farms submitted and implemented immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations. FSIS inspectors will verify that these changes are being implemented on a continuous and ongoing basis. Additionally, the agency will continue intensified sampling and testing of chicken products from these facilities for at least the next 90 days."

The CDC also says that the outbreak involves strains of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg and that of those hospitalised, more than double the usual rate for blood poisoning from the salmonella infection has occurred.

For additional information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/heidelberg-10-13/index.html
Oct. 16, 2013 - With the closing of Ontario's Chai Poultry earlier this year, only one Canadian kosher chicken processor was left in all of Canada. But, with increasing demand for kosher chicken every year, any processor would find it extremely difficult to keep up.

According to the National Post (http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/07/05/kosher-chicken-shortage-steep-price-hikes-following-closure-of-one-of-canadas-two-suppliers/), the owner of Chai looked for five years to find a suitable Jewish company to buy his plant and quota, but when none appeared, he sold the 25-year-old to Sargent Farms, a Halal company.

Richard Rabkin, the director of marketing and business development for the Kashruth Council of Canada (known as COR), a non-profit kosher certification agency, said that the closure left the Montreal-based Marvid to meet the demand. "Initially, Marvid made its best efforts to meet the increased demand, and they worked very hard to ramp up their production," said Rabkin. "But at the end of the day, they are simply not able to provide the amount of kosher chickens that kosher consumers are demanding."

Because Chai supplied approximately 2.5 million kosher chickens per year to Ontario and the surrounding areas, and Marvid cannot currently meet the demand, prices are steadily climbing and customers are complaining that shelves are bare. COR has received complaints from other groups as well. "Retailers themselves have complained to me that they are not getting the product they ordered, the right cuts on the right schedule," adds Rabkin. "And we are receiving the same complaints from kosher restaurants, caterers, hospitals, retirement homes – all saying that they are not the right either quantity, cut, specification, etc."

He has also received complaints that the shortage is affecting the ability to find specific cuts of chicken, such as thighs, which is causing people to look elsewhere for kosher chicken products. "There definitely is a need right now for more kosher chicken in the greater Ontario community."

As it stands

Rabkin says that consumers should be aware that people are working on a resolution to the problem, especially the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) and the Association of Chicken Processors (AOCP).

In mid-September 2013, the CFO approached the Chicken Farmers of Canada with a request to grow more chickens to help meet the demand, as well as classify kosher chicken as "specialty" chicken. However, both requests were denied.

"Our hope right now is that right now, as we work together with the AOCP and CFO, that we will be able to present a compelling case to the CFC in the hopes that we'll come out with a more favourable decision."

While the problem has yet to be solved, the AOCP have provided a temporary solution. They have provided the company Perl's, a kosher wholesale manufacturer in Toronto, with a supply of chicken over four quota periods. But it is only a short-term solution at best, said Rabkin.

"I think the ideal solution would be for the CFC to grant kosher as a specialty exemption in the quota system. That way, the barrier to entry for kosher processors would be lifted, and that way, potential kosher poultry processors would be able to step forward and commence operation."
Oct. 3, 2013 - Maple Lodge Farms, an independent poultry company that sells a variety of meats, has been found guilty of two counts of violating federal health regulations after over 1,500 hens froze to death.

According to The Toronto Star, the judge cited that the birds experienced "undue suffering" in severe winter weather on way to the Brampton processing plant. The verdict is just part of a larger case against the company, which includes 58 criminal charges.

“The driver … was instructed to load the birds, and notwithstanding the weather [between -9 and -16 C], he did so, regardless of the condition of the hens,” the judge said.

For more information, please visit The Toronto Star.
In poultry production, brooding is an important aspect of growth – not just for the birds, but for the farmer as well. However, when brooding is incorrectly managed, deficiencies can result that can severely impact production.


In order to maximize growth, the optimization of brooding is an important step in proper flock management, according to Dr. Stewart Ritchie, president of Canadian Poultry Consultants and S.J. Ritchie Research Farms. Ritchie, who farms broilers in Abbotsford, B.C., knows how important brooding is.

“In my situation, I was responsible for deficiencies in some of the critical management factors associated with brooding in our farm,” he said. “The journey to start collecting data, reading articles and discussing brooding in more detail with other poultry enthusiasts resulted in the development of a Platinum Brooding® checklist.”


Simply put, the Platinum Brooding program is a checklist-based approach to setting up the brood chamber
prior to and during the brooding period. It is primarily focused on setting up a zone of comfort through the use of accurate measurements, by allowing all the chicks to consume food and water soon after placement, and by setting up their steady state eating patterns early.

“This can have a direct influence on the prevention and mitigation of various diseases, both infectious and non-infectious,” he said.“When precision nutrition and precision management meet, genetic potential is more
likely to be achieved.”   


Platinum Brooding has risen in popularity in the eight years since its creation because of its positive results, according to Ritchie, as well as the fact that it can be adapted to meet individual barn specifications. Since its inception, the program has been presented at numerous scientific, industry and corporate meetings over the years, and it continues to be changed and adapted for various purposes.  


Currently, classes are held regularly – four or five a year – that correspond to the instructors’ broiler farm placement schedule, and each class is approximately six to seven hours in length. Each class begins with a start-up session on biosecurity, followed by a detailed examination of brooding, completion of the Platinum Brooding checklist and familiarization with the use of various sensors.

The class then finishes with a session on chick necropsy, anatomy and disease.  

“It is very important that if higher morbidity or mortality is experienced an accurate diagnosis is critical to provide the correct interventions, such as the adjustment of feed and water delivery systems or temperatures, for example,” said Ritchie.

More information about the classes can be found at http://www.platinumbrooding.com/classes.

“In developing the Platinum Brooding class, I have received a lot of help from others; for example, with our class at the farm in Abbotsford, Dr. Vicki Bowes and Dr. Bill Cox present excellent information on chick diseases, anatomy and the fundamental importance of biosecurity for our intensive rearing conditions,” he added. The Aviagen Production School and the University of Georgia have both also incorporated the class into their curricula.

As well, the Platinum Brooding class has recently been incorporated into the British Columbia Broiler Chicken Marketing Board regulations as a requirement for new entrants. “We have also invited the students who participate in the Animal Welfare program at the University of British Columbia, as it is a lot of fun to discuss our brooding (and growing) conditions with these students,” commented Ritchie.


The instructors invite industry representatives and scientists to attend the class; it has proven to be very productive for students not only to interact with industry representatives in the classroom but also to gain hands-on experience.

While there are plans to possibly expand the Platinum Brooding class to other regions, Ritchie said that the focus for now is to continue to promote disciplined brooding as it can provide benefits to health, food safety, animal welfare and environmental stewardship that help farmers and consumers.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Gran.

Aug. 26, 2013 - Arsenic is a known carcinogen, has been used in insecticides and is a very potent poison. It also has been used as an additive to poultry and swine feed in order to increase weight gain and feed efficiency, as well as an anti-parasitic.

And since arsenic is toxic, public health experts believe that exposure through water and food needs to be controlled and exposure should be minimized as much as possible. However, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health have found increased levels of arsenic in retail chicken meat from producers who use arsenic-based drugs.

Keeve Nachman, assistant scientist and director of the Farming for the Future Program, says that with all the knowledge regarding arsenic posing a number of adverse health conditions, use of arsenic-based drugs is still perfectly legal. "Despite this, arsenical drug use remains federally-approved in animal production," he said. "This study sought to understand the chemical form of arsenic that remained in chicken meat as a result of arsenical drug use."

The researchers purchased different types of chicken from major metropolitan areas in the U.S. from December 2010 to June 2011. This time frame was used as it coincided with when an arsenic-based drug, roxarsone, was still readily available. They found that chickens likely raised with the drug had four times higher the levels of inorganic arsenic in their meat than those without drugs.

Interestingly, Nachman found that cooking the chicken made the situation worse – not better. "We also found that cooking the chicken increased the fraction of arsenic that was present in the toxic form, and decreased residues of the original, less toxic arsenic-based drug."

Since some arsenic-based drugs (such as nitarsone) are available to producers, Nachman added, their use equates to an unnecessary risk to consumers. The only solution is clear, says Nachman. "Withdrawing these drugs would lower levels of arsenic in chicken and turkey meat, and lower population arsenic exposures."

With Tim Nelson, the former executive director of the Poultry Industry Council (PIC) of Canada having left to become the CEO of the newly formed Livestock Research Innovation Corporation, a suitable (and worthy) replacement needed to be found.

And according to Dr. Helen Anne Hudson, the PIC chair, the ideal candidate was Keith Robbins, a 19-year veteran and division manager of Ontario Pork. “After an extensive review of several highly qualified candidates,” says Hudson, “the PIC board determined that Keith’s abilities and expertise best suited our needs as we move forward.”

Making the switch

Starting Aug. 1, 2013, Robbins became the new executive director of the PIC and is already eagerly looking forward to the challenge of working in a new agriculture sector and creating worthwhile programs for poultry growers. But Robbins is aware that there will be a steep learning curve.

“[My] first few months will primarily be spent looking at the programs and assessing an inventory of skills and programs, as well as what types of opportunities and educational materials are available through PIC,” he says.

Through that, Robbins hopes to understand how growers produce, and the various production systems that farmers have in place, as well as the programs used and how they can be delivered in the most cost-effective way.

From his experiences with Ontario Pork, Robbins wants to focus on learning about the business and production side of the PIC and the Canadian poultry industry, but also on education
and outreach.

Therefore, during his first few months in his new position, Robbins hopes to introduce a client and customer satisfaction survey in order to determine what the PIC should continue to do, and what it should cancel.

“It is important to understand from the stakeholders and membership – what products and services they are looking for from the PIC,” he adds.

The next step will be for the PIC executive to make a plan that will “identify the key foundation areas that the PIC has been involved in, such as education and extension, but also research and research co-ordination.”

Following that, he hopes to expand the various opportunities of the PIC, including more collaborations on events with organizations and sponsors, co-moderating seminars and more. “The goal is to consistently deliver high-quality programs to both members and producers,” says Robbins.

From Pork to Poultry

At Ontario Pork, Robbins created print and video programs for educational use, in addition to others used within the agriculture and trade industries. Eventually, he rose to become the director of communications and consumer marketing, followed by the division manager for communications, consumer marketing, research and more.

Robbins sees that the PIC has a significant role to play in education and extension across Canada by helping to fund and promote various research and education programs that benefit its members, clients and the general public.

“But the only way to guarantee success is to meet with players across the industry and encourage them to work collaboratively,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities to work together, but they just need to be identified.”

The Future

The biggest hurdle that Robbins sees as the new executive director of the PIC will be maintaining a steady level of funding so that existing programs can continue and new ones can be introduced.

But according to Robbins, the most important part of the organization is to continue to serve the growers and industry partners in the best way possible through constant communication and feedback. “We need to assess the best ways and do that,” he adds.

“We need to stay relevant to the growers, and make sure that the programs being offered are what they need when they need it.”

Farm Credit Canada recently noticed a large disparity among full-time agricultural wages across the last seven years, with the majority of wages shifting from less than $12 an hour to between $12 and $19.99 per hour – an average increase of 22 per cent. This is significantly higher than the 15 per cent wage increase across the entire economy, according to Statistics Canada.

“The industry has grown quite a bit, and that has generated a stronger demand for farm labour,” says J. P. (Jean Philippe) Gervais, the chief economist at FCC. “The limited supply of available and qualified workers has resulted in higher wages for employees in the farm sector.”

Higher wages show potential employees that a career is a viable option. However, cautions Gervais, higher wages translate to increased costs for producers and farm businesses.

“But, I would argue that in the long term,” he says, “that if you think of the industry and not your own business, it is actually a good thing that we offer higher wages. It is a sign that the industry is growing.”

In addition to higher wages, the agricultural sector also must deal with an increasingly aging population, urban expansion on farmland and immigration trends. As well, agriculture competes with the oil, gas and mining industries for both skilled and unskilled labour, which further emphasizes the need to recruit outside the traditional pool of workers.

“We need to reflect positively upon the non-traditional pool of workers that would not necessarily consider working on a farm or in a food business,” says Gervais.

Despite the difficulties, Canadian farmers and agriculture workers still need to build the value of positions. Gervais says that this could help retain and convince other potential workers that your business is a good place to work.

“But we’re not there yet, as an industry,” he adds. “Given the pressure we’re facing on wages and higher labour costs we’ve faced in the past, we’re going to have to move in that direction.”

To help, FCC is encouraging people to speak positively about the industry and the jobs that are available on www.agriculturemorethanever.ca. The website aims to help improve perceptions among the general public about the agriculture industry across Canada.

The reasoning is simple, says Gervais: “When our customers succeed, we succeed. It is as simple as that.”
Aug. 15, 2013 - Registration for the 38th annual Poultry Service Industry Workshop (PSIW), which will take place from October 1 - 3, 2013, is now open.

Until September 9, 2013, special early bird registration rates are available. For the complete list, see below.

Registration Type  Early Bird Rate (Until Sept. 9)       Regular Rate (After Sept. 9)
Registration Package $425 $475
Discounted Sponsor Registration $350 $400
Student Registration Package $200 $250
Banquet tickets $50 $60
Guest Meal Package $200 $250

To register for the PSIW, please click here. For the complete program, as well as nomination forms for the Poultry Service Industry Award and sponsorship opportunities, please visit http://poultryworkshop.com/index.php?page=agenda.
Aug. 6, 2013 - Maple Leaf Foods Inc. recently reported its financial results for Q2 2013, which ended on June 30, 2013, with a significant net loss for the company.

According to the report, Maple Leaf experienced an overall net loss of $14.7 million, compared to a profit of over $20 million at the same time last year. As well, its adjusted operating earnings was $22.8 million, compared to $63.1 million in Q2 2012.

Michael H. McCain, the president & CEO, said that the market conditions from Q1 2013 affected Q2 earnings, but improvements were made in key areas.

He added in a statement: "Hog production returns, global pork markets and volatile raw material markets all contributed to a material year-over-year earnings decline. This was compounded by the costs of transition and start-ups in our new prepared meat manufacturing and distribution network. These factors more than offset strong growth in prepared meats volumes from earlier in the year and solid improvement in the Bakery segment, which we expect will accelerate. Market conditions are expected to improve and our commercial fundamentals are good. Overall, we are satisfied with our strategic progress, although we are now at the peak of change and expect earnings volatility through this transition."

Additionally, oversall sales declines 3.7 per cent from last year, and the Meat Products Group (pork, poultry, turkey and prepared meats) saw sales decline 3.2 per cent to $751.3 million.
Photo courtesy of Nathan Denette, Canadian Press.

Jul. 22, 2013 - Meat processor Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is apparently planning to sell its Ontario turkey farms and hatchery.

According to Reuters,
Maple Leaf said that it will sell a hatchery and six breeder farms that produce eggs and day-old turkeys to Cuddy Farms Limited. Additionally, six commercial farms will be sold to Ernald Enterprises Limited, a Maple Leaf supplier.

Ernald will continue to supply Maple Leaf with live turkeys for its processing facility in Thamesford, but no other details were released.
In the summer of 2011, two brothers in Ontario decided to expand their swine and cash crop operations by introducing poultry into the mix, so they bought an existing two-storey barn near Seaforth, Ont. But after a year of raising broilers, the two brothers, Jos and Eric Schroeders, decided to make some changes.

“We noticed things that were going well, and things that could be done better,” said Jos, 25. “And as that thought process was going, Eric graduated from university. The obvious next step was to build a new facility using the things we could change or improve.”

As it ended up, when the Schroeders investigated the ways they could improve on some of the biggest issues in the poultry industry – namely ventilation and coccidiosis control – there were not many innovations available to the standard they wanted. According to Jos, the barns in Canada today operate in practically an identical way to those from 20 years ago, but that is not the case in Europe.

Therefore, Jos and Eric visited their homeland of Holland and spoke to dozens of processors and farmers, trying to find a way to improve their growing poultry operation.

“We had to find something that would help us get drier bedding,” said 23-year-old Eric, which would also allow them to reduce the amount of coccidiosis in the barn. “But that requires a lot of ventilation, which costs a lot of money on heat, which causes a conflict.

“But wherever there is conflict, there has to be opportunity.”


While in Holland, the Schroeders noticed that a number of poultry barns had large machines positioned just outside their barns. Upon closer investigation, they found that the machines (known as Clima Units and manufactured/distributed by the company AgroSupply) simultaneously heated the barn and dried the litter, while at the same time reducing the heating cost.

The units comprise two large tubes that are honeycombed – one blows air into the barn, while the other takes air out – through a process known as heat exchange. Simply put, the warmer air from the barn travels outside, but as it does so, it heats the cooler air being drawn in from outside that is destined for the barn.

“It works great,” said Eric. “One day in the winter, it was -10 C outside, but thanks to the heat exchanger, it warmed the air to 23 by the time it entered the barn. So our heaters only had to heat it seven degrees, as opposed to 40.”

And the installation is easy, said Jos, as the Clima Unit is a separate machine that is placed and installed outside the barn. You make two openings – the same as if you would be adding an extra fan – change your recirculation fan layout inside the barn slightly, and you’re practically done.

“You’ve renovated your entire barn and the way it operates without having really any downtime whatsoever,” he added. “You can even do it between flocks.”

In addition to the Clima Unit, the Schroeders also retrofitted their sidewall inlets, feeding system and water system, all controlled by two large panels near the barn’s-viewing window, with standard products designed by AgroSupply.

Seeing the new technology in operation got the attention of the Schroeders’ swine representative from Avonbank Ag Solutions, Frank Hogervorst. Since the unit was installed in late 2012, Hogervorst has become more involved with the Schroeders, even helping to create a new Agro Team division within Avonbank, and helping to sell the Clima Units across Ontario.

“Every farmer knows that improved bird quality requires higher air quality and drier bedding,” Hogervorst said. “They all know those needs, but can we bring it to the market so there is a payback? Now we can, with benefits to both birds and the farmer with practically no downside.”

Added Jos with a chuckle, “really, the only downside is not having done it sooner!”


Currently in their fourth flock of Ross 308 males utilizing the Clima Unit, the Schroeders have been the most impressed by the dramatic change in litter quality within the barn. When Canadian Poultry visited their barn in June 2013, the straw that they use for litter was still crunchy and dry, even beneath the water lines and feeders.

“I don’t have to scrape the litter off the floor, I can just sweep it straight out of the barn,” said Eric. “And the birds seem to like it – they grow even quicker with the improved air quality and lower pathogen load.”

Both Jos and Eric said that the biggest advocates of the new ventilation technology are not the both of them, but their chick hatchery and processor.

“The hatchery is happy, because the chicks they are delivering have a much better chance of getting a good start – they have fewer complaints and health issues,” said Eric. “And the processors are happy because nobody wants to have condemns – which is a loss for everybody.”

“But in the end, you have to make a choice. You have all these ideas on the table but you have make a choice, and we chose this product and technology from AgroSupply to help us out,” Jos said.

Other farmers have shown a lot of interest for the Clima Unit technology and the system installed at Schroeders Farm, so much so that the brothers welcome anyone onto the farm and give them the tour. And Schroeders are not trying to force the technology on any farmer, but simply want to show others what they have learned and have others make their own decisions.

“The benefits go further than just at this farm,” added Jos.


Jun. 10, 2013 - According to the New York Times, authorities have arrested two individuals regarding the fire in a poultry factory that has killed at least 120 people and injured at least 77.

"One of the men arrested was Jia Yushan, owner and president of Baoyuanfeng, the poultry processing company. The second man arrested was Zhang Yushen, the general manager," according to a report by the Xinhua news agency.


Jun. 3, 2013 - A deadly fire broke out in a crowded poultry processing plant early on Monday in northeastern China, reportedly killing almost 120 people.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, the fire in China's Dehui City in the Jilin Province has risen to 119 as of Monday afternoon. Search and rescue is reportedly on scene, with the precise number of workers at the plant at the time of the fire estimated to be as many as 350.

The disaster has so far claimed the lives of 119 people, and sent 54 people to the hospital.

The CBC is reporting that, according to the provincial fire department, the fire is being attributed to an ammonia leak from the cooling system as the cause of the the explosions.


May 31, 2013 - Mike Pickard, a member of the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan since 2007, has recently been named to the 2013 council of the Farm Products Council of Canada (FPCC) for a three-year term.

The goal of the council is primarily to act as an overseer body said Pickard, whose main responsibilities will be to oversee the operation and creation of marketing boards and promotion agencies, as well as to report directly to the Minister of Agriculture that everything follows the Farm Products Agencies Act.

"All six members work in a consensus," he said, similar to the way a board of directors operates – they will address issues at each meeting, discuss, vote and make a decision. Every member of the council is also in charge of a variety of poultry and egg supply management agencies that they are responsible to monitor.

Prior to his work with the FPCC, Pickard served as the director of both the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan (CFS). Diane Pastoor, a member of the board of directors of the CFS, said that he was a huge asset to their board and an absolute pleasure to work with.

"Mike's forward thinking and productivity made our meeting efficient," she said. "As well as having a passion for the industry, Mike took the time to attend business management courses and used that knowledge at the board level. We wish Mike the best in his new position with FPCC!"

Prior to his work with the CFS, Pickard owned a chicken farm in Wynyard, Saskatchewan for over 25 years. And in 2004, his farm received the Saskatchewan Broiler Producer of the Year award.

Agriculture is extremely important to Pickard, as are all the groups that must work together to make it an effective and productive industry – one that he is proud to be a part of.

"I am looking forward to the position in general as a challenge, and I look forward to working with all the agencies that I have met through my previous experiences," added Pickard.

"It has to be teamwork – from gate to plate – in any agricultural business, and same with supply management."
May 7, 2013 - Going to the grocery store and purchasing anything can be quite difficult – mostly because of the huge variety of products available to the consumer. Each company wants to sell you their brand because it is better, healthier, cheaper, etc., but it is ultimately up to the consumer to increase their knowledge and make an informed decision.

Dr. Jayson Lusk, on behalf of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, recently analyzed a consumer survey and in combination with his previous research, found that if consumers knew more about hen housing conditions, cage-free egg sales would likely increase.

Dr. Lusk, a professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair at the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, said that the biggest problem preventing cage-free eggs from acquiring a larger market share is the knowledge of the customer. "Most people do not know much about egg production, and when you ask most American consumers, their perceptions about egg laying conditions are wrong."

In fact, according to Dr. Lusk, previous studies have found that customers think anywhere from 40-70 per cent of egg-laying hens are kept in cages, while the reality in the U.S. is closer to 95 per cent. "People tend to have a more 'romantic' view of agriculture than is often the case," he said.

In his report, Dr. Lusk used the example of Proposition 2 in California from 2008, a ballot initiative that passed with over 60 per cent in favour to ban conventional cages. Because of the large media initiative by supporters and proponents writes Dr. Lusk, there was an abundance of information on layer housing conditions available to the public. "Over that time period," he said, "the market share for organic and cage-free eggs increased significantly when that vote and advertisements were going on"

As of 2008, the market share for cage-free and organic eggs was two percent. But, by using this information in addition to retail scanning data from Oakland and San Francisco, Dr. Lusk was able to predict how increasing consumer knowledge could affect egg sales.

Dr. Lusk forecasts that:

• A modest increase in consumer knowledge (from 10 to 25 per cent) could increase market share for cage-free eggs by 20 percent. If three quarters of consumers received information regarding layer housing, the market share of cage-free eggs could rise by up to 62 per cent.
• If conventional cages are eliminated, costs for customers conventional eggs would increase about 15 percent, potentially causing cage-free sales to grow by 12 per cent.
• As market share rises, production efficiencies would emerge, dropping the cost of cage-free eggs by 10 per cent – which could, in turn, increase market share.

Ultimately, Dr. Lusk added, it is the market that will determine what changes (if any) will be made with respect to egg sales. But the demand for cage-free and organic eggs will continue to increase.

"And if those things align in a way that result in improved living conditions for the hens," he added. "That would be great."
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