By Treena Hein
Hard work and support spells success for new entrant
By Treena Hein
To enter into a new field, to start an endeavour from nothing, this takes dedication, passion and hard work. It’s not for the faint of heart, which is something that Nicholas Tremblay knows very well. Indeed, there was a time when he believed it would be impossible for him to become an egg farmer.
Tremblay grew up on the south shore of Montreal, and was always interested in farming. After high school, he completed a bachelor degree in agriculture at McGill University. “I discovered the poultry industry in 1998 when performing an internship with Dr. Frank Robinson and his amazing team at the Poultry Research Centre at the University of Alberta,” he says. “This brought me into working at the hatcheries of Co-op Fédérée and then to vaccine sales for Schering-Plough and Merck Animal Health.”
But Tremblay dreamed of his own farm. He was ready to purchase quota, but environmental regulations on the proposed land put the sale out of reach. Then, a bit of good fortune came his way. The leaders of Quebec’s egg industry decided to take bold action to make it possible for new farmers to enter the sector. They began offering a program where screened and randomly chosen applicants could access a lifetime loan of quota for 5,000 layers. It was 2006, and Tremblay was one of four finalists. But it would take another year of application and then a bit of luck for his name to be drawn.
In 2008, Tremblay’s dream had begun to come true. He built his first layer barn for 9,600 birds on land that has been in the family since his great-grandfather’s time, in a small community of 3,500 people in St-Ambroise, 2.5 hours’ drive north of Quebec City. By September that year, the 20-by-200-foot building was finished, along with packing and refrigerated storage areas. He named it “Les poules à Meggy” (Meggy’s hens), after his first daughter with his partner Amélie Audet. Audet had grown up on the south shore of Québec city, and was in veterinary school at that time.
Production in the barn had begun, but there were many thorny challenges. Audet was only able to come home to Tremblay and Meggy on weekends. Tremblay had to start working again part-time for Merck, and relied on his father Gilles for help. By 2009, Audet had graduated, but another child was on the way. A turning point came in 2011, when Tremblay was ready to double capacity to 19,200 laying hens. He also started making feed that year. “In 2013, we then added a rearing barn for the production of 19,200 pullets per year,” he remembers.
Thankful for opportunity
These opportunities, says Tremblay, were possible because of low interest rates, an increase in Canadian egg consumption and critical new provincial policies voted for by producers to increase access to quota. La Fédération des producteurs d’œufs du Québec (FPOQ) set up a centralized quota exchange system and a rental quota system as well. “We are currently at full capacity because of these policies and continue to be very thankful to Quebec’s producers who made this dream possible,” he says.
Tremblay presently works full time at the farm with help from a dedicated neighbour employee, Monique. “My father continues to be around a lot to help Amélie and me in almost every aspect of our lives, with our three kids, Meggy, Juliette and Victor,” he says. “In January, Amélie started her own small animal practice in our community. Our plans are to improve production, continue investing in quota to maximize facilities, explore cropping opportunities as they come. We also want to move in couple of years to new housing to improve animal welfare.”
It’s clear that Tremblay is not the type to sit still. He is also slowly starting to cultivate cereal on 60 acres of family farm land and to harvest wood for heating their family home and the pullet barns. “At the beginning of June, we just moved to a more precise and automated feed batching system,” he notes. ”We have been trying since the start to be as efficient in the operations and as aggressive in the investment as we can in order to bring the farm in the long run to a maximum profitability level.”
Tremblay has served as a board member and second vice president at the Syndicat des producteurs d’oeufs de l’est du Québec. “I also represent the poultry producers on the local branch of the UPA (union des producteurs agricole du Québec) which gives me the privilege of meeting with delegates of all the different agricultural sectors in our region,” he says. “As a producer, I’m very impressed by the work done by the staff of our boards in many fields like production, marketing, legal, communications and animal welfare. It seems to me that nothing is neglected, and that we are proactive and able to react rapidly when new challenges arise.”
Tremblay says he enjoys poultry farming because it allows him the privilege of focusing on production, efficacy and good management with defined revenue, based on cost of production and not on week-to-week negotiation with buyers, as is the case in other sectors of agriculture. “This allow us to make plans for the future,” he says. “It is very satisfying to see that all the effort that was put in by us and also our parents has led to very nice and diversified operation.”
With all the challenges he has faced and overcome, Tremblay is ready for more challenges ahead. “There is doubt that the federal government will preserve the integrity of the supply-management system in Canada for eggs, poultry and milk,” he says. “We have a wonderful system that allows us to produce for Canadians a top-quality food at a reasonable price for the good of everybody – producers, graders, grocery store owners and customers. This is an amazing privilege that allows farms of every size to be sustainable, and to support the local economy of hundreds of communities across Canada.”