Business & Policy
Flock Manager Program Ready to Roll
By Karen Dallimore
Chicken Farmers of Ontario launches digital flock reporting pilot
By Karen Dallimore
Tracking broilers from the farm to the processor will soon become easier thanks to a new program being developed by Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO). The new computer data management system, called Flock Manager, will make pressing hard with a ball point pen through four copies of paper forms a thing of the past.
Flock Manager is part of the Ontario Broiler Chicken Industry Traceability and Process Optimization Pilot Project, a collaborative effort between CFO, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors (AOCP) and the Poultry Services Association (PSA).
The project began in August 2012, initially involving 20 farmers, four processors, four transporters and the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission. Farmers used it for the first time in January 2013 and a mock traceability exercise was run in April 2013.
“We could trace a load of chickens from the processing plant to the hatchery, or from the hatchery to the processor, between 15 minutes and 2 hours,” said Earl Thomson, client service representative for BIO, the company that delivers the program on behalf of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario. “We also saw how important it was to have every link in the supply chain submitting data.”
More farmers were granted access to the site in April 2013, and with 91 of the current 1,100 Ontario chicken farmers having used Flock Manager, Thomson said their feedback has helped draft plans to improve the site and streamline processes. “Many of the farmers from the pilot project have been very excited to see the ideas they’ve recommended come to life in these new improvements.”
CFO achieved support at the national level from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to have electronic forms recognized the same way as paper documents. CFO also has worked closely with the CFIA at the regional level to gain the support necessary to implement the system.
“With the project entering phase 2 in August 2013, one processor is now purely electronic and we have had many positive comments,” reported Thomson, who has been teaching farmers how to use the program, hosting instructional webinars and answering individual questions from participants.
Some major enhancements to the website have also been incorporated that dramatically reduced the data entry time and streamlined the process for all stakeholders. As an example, with the paper system, the farmer has to fill in the farm name, lot, concession, township, county and phone number on each form, for each truck. “This is very time consuming and redundant for farmers shipping six to 10 or sometimes more trucks in a night,“ said Thomson. “With Flock Manager, we’ve had one farmer create 12 forms in 15 minutes, with no writer’s cramp!”
But it’s not only farmers learning the new technology. “Live-haul chicken truck drivers are the vital link between farmers and processors,” said Thomson. “The drivers can now enter the number of birds on the truck and other important information via text message, or interactive voice response system, and the vet-in-charge at a processing plant can log in and review and approve the forms electronically.”
For security, farmers will have their own user name and password to access the Flock Manager program. The information gathered is no different than what is provided on forms currently in use. Once the system becomes fully functional, the data will be available through a central database for quick access in the case of disease outbreak or product recall, or to track general trends in management. As Thomson says, electronic data management will also reduce the need to fill out the same information time and again on paper, reduce transcription errors, and provide more consistent and legible data. As with the paper forms, the CFIA will not access the data until the farmer and processor have double-checked the information and are comfortable that it is correct.
BIO has now partnered with Farms.com to create Feather Central, another phase of the project that will integrate with the Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg and Chick Commission web-based reporting system to collect traceability and on-farm food safety program records from the broiler-breeder flock through to the hatchery finishing with placement of chicks at the broiler farm. The data will be accessible anywhere, anytime, including access through a mobile app that allows ease of use from a cellphone. Feather Central is expected to roll out in December.
Meanwhile, BIO will continue to help farmers to navigate Flock Manager as it replaces the current paper system.
The Flock Manager and Feather Central projects are jointly supported by industry partners, OMAFRA’s Traceability Foundations Initiative – a three-year joint federal-provincial funding program to support voluntary, industry-led information sharing networks that will enhance agri-food traceability, and the Agricultural Adaptation Council.