By Dan Woolley
Quality, family and innovation are key facets of the Burns Poultry Farm
By Dan Woolley
Much has happened at the Burns Poultry Farm, located in Freetown, P.E.I., in the 12 years since Nathan and Wendy Burns bought their egg farm from his parents, Don and Lorna, in 2001.
Nathan is a seventh-generation egg farmer, and since settling on the farm, he and Wendy have had four children: Mallory, Kendall, Mitchell and Shelby, ages 11, 9, 7 and 5, respectively.
“They love to help whenever they can, particularly when we get the chicks in,” Wendy remarks. “We hope we may be nurturing an eighth generation of Island egg farmers!”
Over the years they have made some major changes to their operation. In 2003 they bought a new state-of-the-art egg packer, which packs eggs every day from their three laying houses. The new machine’s technology means less egg breakage, which results in a better product being shipped out, says Nathan.
“We try to focus on preventing cracks through improvements in equipment handling and feeding our birds to maintain good shell quality during the laying cycle. A cracked egg costs the same to produce as one that isn’t cracked,” he adds.
“We have done a lot of things,” says Wendy. “We expanded our production by 38 per cent in 2005-2006. We bought more quota, which meant we also had to build a new barn.”
Currently, they manage over 32,000 layers in their quota and, at any one time, have 11,000 ready-to-lay pullets, which they produce on-farm from day-old chicks.
“With flocks in three separate layer barns,” she says, “we are able to stagger the flock placements to maintain a consistent, high quality supply of eggs for our customers.”
Their three layer barns are an in-line system, which means that the eggs come directly to the grading station via a main belt. “This very efficient setup allows us to have an extremely fresh product to sell,” notes Nathan. “An egg can be laid, washed, candled, graded, packed and in our cooler in about 15 minutes.”
Until 2012, Burns Poultry Farm focused on expanding, improving production and perfecting management, comments Wendy, in order to supply the best possible eggs for the industrial market.
“We have always maintained our grading station licensing and equipment for when the time was right to re-enter the fresh egg market,” Wendy says. “That time came in February of 2012. Since then we bought a newer egg grader and completely renovated our grading station. Grading and marketing is a new venture for us. There are challenges; but we are ready and excited to grow that side of the business.”
Burns Poultry Farm has always focused on producing quality eggs while minimizing input costs. In a supply-managed commodity, Nathan observes, “there is a limit to the price that can be earned by each dozen eggs we produce. The best way to improve our bottom line is to spend and invest wisely, as well as to be as efficient as possible.
“We upgraded the water systems for our flocks, providing ozonated water for all of the birds to assist their digestion and improve their feed conversion.”
Wendy notes: “We used to use a sprayer to disinfect the barns between flocks; but we now use a Pulsefog machine.” The Pulsefog produces a dense fog that reaches all areas of the barn, including the attic.
“It is a lot safer and faster, uses minimal water and does a very thorough job,” she adds.
They also built a grain dryer and elevator in 2009. “We have a custom drying grain business and we are also a dealer for Precision Planting Equipment to fit on grain drills and corn planters with parts and a monitor to ensure accurate seed placement, which increases the crop yield.”
As for other commodities, she adds, “We grow about 100 acres of corn and 60 acres of either barley or soybeans. These cash crops are fertilized with our on-farm compost and the manure produced by our hens.”
Besides Nathan and Wendy, the farm currently employs three people on a year-round, full-time basis and six others part time. “We are very proud of our staff and feel they do their best every day to help us grow our business.”
She and Nathan are members of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, members of the P.E.I. Young Farmers, and Nathan also serves on the boards of the Egg Producers of P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.
Wendy is co-president of their local home and school association, “and we both volunteer with the school breakfast program each week where we cook and serve eggs to about 400 children from kindergarten to Grade Six.”
As for their off-farm recreational interests, the Burns family enjoys camping and “three of our four children are quite interested in dirt bikes. They got that from their father. Nathan has been dirt biking since he was four,” says Wendy.
“I enjoy running and exercise, and I get to drive the kids to their step-dance classes and 4-H activities. I am ‘Mom’s Taxi!’”