But there are two big problems with this practice – the obvious health and safety risks of standing on a slippery, uneven surface, and the damage done to the crate when used as a makeshift step.
The Poultry Service Association – that represents the vast majority of poultry-catching and live-haul poultry business in Ontario – set out to design, build and test a better way.
With no commercially made loading steps available, the association engineered, fabricated and tested a lightweight, portable and safe poultry-loading step for the Ontario industry.
Developing a new, safe, loading step was approached as a sector initiative involving the main commercial poultry-catching companies in Ontario. This collaboration made it a much more economical and unified way to arrive at a solution that all companies could access.
Driving the need for a new safe step was two-fold – reducing slips and falls by crew, and reducing damage done to crates. It’s tough to calculate improved health and safety in dollars and cents. The savings in reduced crate damage is easier to estimate.
At $85 per crate, and an estimated 30 per cent discard rate of damaged crates, the annual savings to the industry with the new safe step is estimated at more than $2.5 million.
The new safe portable step is now in use by 85 per cent of commercial poultry-catchers in Ontario, and the industry is noticing the difference. Trucking companies have seen a reduction in crate damage and appreciate the safety aspect of the new loading platforms.
This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.
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.”
Many families are enjoying teenage chickens this summer after purchasing baby chicks at spring Purina®Chick Days events. In a matter of a few weeks, chicks go from cute cotton balls to pin-feathered chickens adjusting to their long legs and new feathers.
“Backyard chickens are considered teenagers from 4 to 17 weeks of age,” says Patrick Biggs, flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “The teenage stage isn’t talked about much in the backyard chicken world, but it’s a very important growth phase. These weeks are a lot of fun; they’re filled with quick growth, defined personalities and backyard exploration.”
Since exciting changes can be seen during this phase, there are often many questions. Here are three of the most common questions received by Purina this spring about teenage chickens:
Is my chicken a boy or a girl?
As birds develop, their gender becomes much more obvious. New primary feathers develop along with new names. Pullet is the term for a teenage female, while a young male chicken is called a cockerel.
“Between 5-7 weeks, you should be able to begin visually distinguishing males from females,” Biggs explains. “Compared to pullets, the combs and wattles of cockerels often develop earlier and are usually larger. Females are typically smaller in size than males. A female’s primary flight feathers on her wings are generally longer, but the developing tail feathers of males are bigger. If you are still uncertain of gender, you’ll be sure who the males are when you hear them attempting to crow.”
When can chicks go to the coop?
“Keep chicks in the brooder until week 6,” Biggs recommends. “As chicks grow in the brooder, keep birds comfortable by providing one to two square feet per bird. The temperature should be between 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to help them get ready to move outside. Your chicks require less heat because they are now larger and can better regulate their body temperature.”
Biggs recommends the following tips for transitioning birds from brooder to coop between weeks 6 and 8:
1. Remove supplemental heat.
2. Move brooder into the coop.
3. Release chicks into the coop with the brooder still available for an option.
4. Supervise chicks outside of the coop in small increments.
5. Keep young chicks separate from older birds until they reach the same size.
What do teenage birds eat?
Many new flock raisers this spring wonder about switching feeds as birds grow. Biggs advises keeping the feeding program similar from day 1 through week 18.
“Continue feeding a complete starter-grower feed through 18 weeks of age,” he says. “Starter-grower feeds are higher in protein and lower in calcium than layer feeds. Look for a starter-grower feed with 18 percent protein and no more than 1.25 percent calcium for laying breeds. Meat birds and mixed flocks should be fed a diet containing at least 20 percent protein.”
Too much calcium can have a detrimental effect on growth, but a complete starter-grower feed has just the right balance for growing birds. The building blocks birds receive from their feed are put into growing feathers, muscle and bone. Prebiotic and probiotics support immune and digestive health, while added marigold extract promotes brightly colored beaks and leg shanks.
“Ideally, wait until birds are 18 weeks old before introducing treats and scratch,” says Biggs. “It is important that birds receive proper nutrition in early development. If you can’t wait to spoil your birds, then wait until the flock is at least 12 weeks old. Keep the treats and scratch to a minimum – no more than 10 percent of total daily intake from treats to maintain nutritional balance.
Biggs emphasizes that feeding growing birds is simple.
“After moving birds to the coop, continue feeding a complete starter-grower feed and complement with scratch for a treat,” he says. “Then, watch your pullets and cockerels grow and change each day.”
“Turning the lights off can have a dramatic effect on how birds move around in their environment,” Dr. Karen Schwean-Lardner, assistant professor in the department of animal and poultry science at the University of Saskatchewan, said.
Schwean-Lardner recently discussed her research study at New-Life Mills’ Turkey Producers Academy held in Elmhurst, Ont., on June 1. The research project initially examined how light cycles affect broilers and is now performing the same research study on turkeys.
“It is really important that we look at turkey data for turkey producers, not just take assumptions from broiler data,” Schwean-Lardner said.
Research results are suggesting the ideal amount of light per 24 hours for turkeys to be at least four hours of darkness.
“One of the primary differences between turkeys and broilers is that turkeys benefit greatly from four hours of darkness – and few differences are noted with the addition of more darkness. The exceptions might be in body weight, and if a producer has an issue with mortality or lameness, that will also be impacted,” she added.
It is also noted it is ideal to establish distinct day and night times and to implement increases and decreases gradually.
“If flocks have mortality issues, periods of darkness can certainly help that. If you are considering making a change to your lighting program be sure to do make your adjustments in the evening, before the period of darkness, to avoid interrupting the bird’s feeding cycle,” Schwean-Lardner said.
The New-Life Mills event also featured William Alexander, technical representative from Hybrid Turkeys. Alexander discussed factors that contribute to consistent quality poult starts and Lisa Hodgins, monogastric nutritionist from New-Life Mills, spoke on the evolution of feeding programs.
As part of our commitment, CFC has an established Animal Care Program that is mandatory, 3rd party audited, and enforced on every farm; it covers the time from when the birds are placed to when they are prepared for transit to the processors, and is completely aligned with the Code of Practice and international standards.
If a farm is found not to be complying with the Animal Care Program standards, or is causing undue suffering to birds, the farmer is subject to penalties and the proper authorities will be contacted.
It is important to convey that this kind of animal abuse is not and will not be tolerated.
It is not representative of how the industry works as a whole.
CFC will collaborate fully with all elements of the industry, as well as government authorities to ensure that this situation is addressed and to enforce standards that will ensure that it is never repeated.
CFC strongly believes that the abuse of animals is unacceptable. While CFC's role is to promote and defend good management practices, we count on every stakeholder in the chicken value chain to be vigilant and responsible.
The CFC Animal Care Program has credible, science-based foundations in that it is based on the Code of Practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).
NFACC is a world leader in bringing together stakeholders with different perspectives – farmers, veterinarians, processors, transporters, animal welfare associations, and provincial/federal governments – to develop robust and sound Codes of Practice.
NFACC's Code Development process begins with a full scientific review which is used to draft the Code that then undergoes a public consultation process. In this way, all Canadians have an opportunity to contribute to the final Code. The NFACC process is a standard that is internationally recognized and applauded.
The program recently completed an inaugural comprehensive third-party audit. NSF International's report concluded that "The national Animal Care Program has been implemented effectively and maintained on an on-going basis. Animal care measures have been consistently applied."
Chicken Farmers of Canada is responsible for ensuring that our 2,800 farmers produce the right amount of fresh, safe, high-quality chicken and that our farmer's views are taken into account when important agriculture and policy decisions are made.
The workshop will be led by instructors who understand the importance of links between bird health, biology, and barn results. They will discuss ideal barn preparation, the key components of brooding management, identifying sick birds, the flock health and economic impact of a decision to cull specific birds, and more!
Participants will go into the barn to discuss barn preparation and tools to measure environmental conditions; hear first-hand accounts of what works and doesn’t work in the field; and learn to assess external chick quality and how this relates to internal conditions of chicks.
The program will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at a farm located just east of Lethbridge. Registration is $60 per person and includes lunch. Additional registrants from the same farm will be charged $50 each. Please contact the Alberta Chicken Producers office at 780-488-2125 to register.
There are a limited number of spots available, so register early to avoid disappointment.
If you would be interested in participating in a future Edmonton-area Quality Brooding Workshop, please contact the office. Interested parties will be placed on a contact list. If there is early interest, officials will plan for this workshop to take place shortly after the Lethbridge workshop.
When mechanical nests were first introduced, many people began referring to them as ‘automatic’ nests. While the term technically applies to mechanical nests, they still require a lot of human involvement to operate efficiently.
Key to achieving outstanding performance with mechanical nests is the proper training and rearing of the females. This should start in the pullet barn, by placing slat sections, or perches, to help get the birds used to going up on to the slats.
The training should continue in the laying barn by routinely walking the birds to encourage them to move on to the slats and towards the nests. The females should also be in the right condition at lighting and carrying the proper amount of fleshing and fat reserve, to help them come into production with the correct nesting behavior.
Most mechanical nests are placed on slat sections, which play an important role in how the nests perform. Make sure slat areas are not too tall; 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) is a good height. Anything taller will discourage birds from jumping up from the scratch area, and a step or ramp would be useful in helping the birds move up on to the slat.
The nests should be down and open for the females to enter one week before the expected first egg. This will be approximately one week after light stimulation, which gives the pullets an opportunity to explore the nests and become comfortable using them. Close the nests at night to help keep the nest pads clean, which will also prevent the eggs from becoming contaminated. This becomes even more important as we move into an era of antibiotic-free broiler production.
Three areas of nest maintenance that have a huge impact are the nest pad, the curtain and the nest belt itself. Nest pads must be clean, because if dirty, a bird may be less likely to use that nest box. Secondly, if it is used, the egg laid on that pad will most likely be contaminated.
As well, nest pads installed at the wrong angle will cause issues. If the angle of the nest pad is not great enough, the eggs will not roll out of the nest box properly. If the angle is too much, it will discourage hens from using that nest box.
On center belt nests, if the curtain that separates the nest box and the egg belt is missing or curled up where the hen can see the egg belt moving, hens are discouraged from utilizing the nest box. If multiple nests are affected, you will soon see many of the hens laying their eggs outside the nest.
Egg belts should always be kept clean and in good repair. A belt that is not clean will often have an odour that the hens do not like and will keep them from using the nests. If the edges of the belts become frayed, the edges can rub the hen while the belt is running and cause her to leave the nest.
Producers should have a consistent program for running egg belts. It is best not to run the belts until you see 10 to 15 eggs. When starting the belt, run it slowly late in the afternoon. A rapidly moving belt creates excessive vibration, which scares the birds out of their nests. By slowing down the speed of the egg belt, you are less likely to scare the birds out of the nests.
Once the daily production reaches 5 per cent, run the belts at noon and again later in the day, around 5 p.m. When production reaches 20 per cent, go to more frequent gatherings. A good rule of thumb is to gather eggs at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. This will help acclimatize the birds to the sound and vibration of the belt. Multiple, consistent gatherings can prevent eggs from building up on the belt and also allow for an accurate daily count of egg production.
It is very important to accurately calculate and plan the nest space required. With a community style nest, a good rule is no more than 48 birds per meter of nest space. With a single-hole nest, allow for a maximum of 5 hens per hole, which will give the hens enough space to lay their eggs in the nest.
1. Correct equipment layout:
- With a community nest system: have a mix of feed lines in the scratch area and on the slats Water lines approximately 60 cm (24 inches) from the nest entrance, and adequate spacing between water and feed lines to allow the birds to comfortably use them
- With individual nest systems, have an adequate landing area from the front edge of the slat to the nest of 35-40 cm (14 -16 inches). The distance from the back of the nest to the feeder and the feed to the drinker line should be at least 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), and the height from the slat to the bottom of the feeder should be 20-22 cm (8-9 inches)
- High temperatures on the slats can stop the hens going into the nest
- Improper inlet pressure can cause air to enter the nest at a rate that causes a draft, forcing the hen out of the nest
- A minimum of 60 lux (6 FC) at bird level is desired, but an approximate six-fold increase in intensity from the brightest spot in rearing to the darkest spot in laying is needed
- No more than a 20 per cent difference in intensity across the barn
Steve Lalonde, a chicken producer in Ormstown, Que., has been working in the chicken barn since he was 10 years old. He officially bought the farm from his dad in 1984, becoming the third generation to own the farm.
The 80-acre farm is supplemented by an additional 140 acres he rents from a neighbour, which helps him and his wife, Loraine, produce several tons of organic popcorn each year.
However, the heart of the farm is the 28,000 chickens that are raised on an eight-week rotational basis.
“What I like about the chicken industry is how efficient the birds are and that chicken is one of the most popular meats on the market now,” says Lalonde.
Over the last almost 40 years, Lalonde has seen lots of change on his farm, some by choice, and some less so.
In June 2004, the Lalonde’s farm suffered a barn fire where they lost 13,000 two-week old birds, and rather than try to repair, they decided to rebuild the barn.
“At the same time, we evaluated the whole chicken operation,” says Lalonde. Before the fire, they had two barns for chickens, but opted to close the second one because it didn’t meet the required standards and would have taken a significant amount of renovations to be up to par. Lalonde also saw this as an opportunity to have all the birds in one barn.
They opted for a three-storey barn simply because the math didn’t add up.
“There was not enough room in the yard for us to build a two-storey barn long enough for the number of birds we were going to keep,” says Lalonde.
With the new barn, their bird count went up from 22,000 to 28,000.
In the reconstruction, Lalonde also put in radiant floor heat on the first storey.
“We felt that it would be easier for us in the future as we were in our 40s. If we were going to keep up with chicken production, we would be getting older and the clean out wouldn’t be as easy for us in 10 years or so,” says Lalonde.
The radiant floor heat means the cement doesn’t sweat, it’s easier to clean out the barns, and Lalonde says the birds seem to enjoy it as well.
“One thing we would have done differently is to add some conventional heat as the heated floor relies on the heat evaporating. While the floor is comfortable it is slow to heat the air on the first floor,” says Lalonde, “it also takes less bedding on the first floor as it acts as an insulator and keeps the heat from rising.”
However, one of the biggest challenges in a three-storey barn was finding the right balconies for the catchers to stand on.
“The first set were our own design and worked well but they soon became obsolete when the trailers used to transport the chickens changed,” says Lalonde. A custom re-design by an outside contractor solved that problem. Finding a way to easily access the middle door on the second storey was another challenge the contractor helped solve.
The new barn is 40’x190’, plus a 10’ alley at the end. Each floor has five 18” fans, six 24” fans and four 36” fans.
“I think would have added a couple more 36” fans but the ventilation is still adequate for the population of the barn,” says Lalonde.
Since the new barn has been built, and even before, Lalonde has always done his best to monitor trends in the market, including antibiotic free birds.
“We are very interested in producing antibiotic free birds but we need more information on this front,” says Lalonde. He says he is seeing conflicting reports about the economics.
He is also concerned that if a treatment is required, the premium is lost and the added cost will come out of pocket.
“With the quality of birds we have been getting lately, we have to treat at least two batches a year with antibiotics and I feel the financial risk is too high at the moment. As a small farm, I cannot afford to subsidize the abattoir,” says Lalonde.
He explains that while he’s willing to take the risk, there is no clear gain or benefit and it will most likely end up costing him, rather than advancing, his business.
While the market for antibiotics isn’t currently where it needs to be to benefit the small farm, Lalonde isn’t opposed to the notion in the future. Until then, his chicken farm is complemented by the popcorn business, and it works quite well.
“We are able to use our own straw for the bedding (in the chicken barn), and the manure that the barn supplies is an excellent fertilizer for our fields,” says Lalonde.
Lalonde started growing popcorn just over 10 years ago because it was his and his wife’s “snack of choice.” Since then, they have grown to now be selling seven to eight tons a year, with an ever-expanding market.
He says having the popcorn business offers “added diversity of the farm operation.” They have added a grain cleaning facility to package their popcorn and to be able to clean their own grains for seeds.
“This is a practice that works well on our organic farm. We like to be as self-sufficient as possible and this is just one way we do so,” says Lalonde.
As their popcorn business grows, they plan to maintain the chicken farm until the moratorium on quota sales ends. While Lalonde enjoys the industry, he’s been involved in it for more than 36 years, and there may soon be the chance for someone else to take the reins.
An attempt to earn money for school 25 years ago has led to a thriving specialty poultry business for Trevor Allen of Skye Hi Farms in Chilliwack, B.C.
Growing up on a 3.5 acre hobby farm in Maple Ridge (about an hour’s drive from his present farm), Allen always had an interest in livestock. He began as a 4-H goat pre-clubber, moved to lamb, then ended 4-H with both hogs and beef. At 14, he began hanging around a local feedlot, learning to operate the equipment and some of the ins and outs of commercial agriculture.
When preparing to go to the local college, one of the feedlot owners, Steve Wynnyk, who grew a few turkeys on the side, suggested he grow a batch of turkeys for Christmas.
“I started with 150 turkeys which ended up being 32 pounds each,” he recalls.
He sold them by “cold-calling” on health food and other stores, most of whom had never sold turkeys before. At the same time, he was earning diplomas in livestock production and business management at the University of the Fraser Valley.
As a first-generation farmer and self-styled entrepreneur, Allen “knew nothing about quotas or the supply management system.” He attended a few B.C. Turkey Marketing Board annual meetings (BCTMB) (“I sat in the back”) but basically flew under the radar until 2002, by which time he was growing 1,700 turkeys/year. At that point, then BCTMB-manager Colyn Welsh called.
“Colyn gave me two options: I could cease and desist or I could become the board’s first new entrant direct vendor-producer,” Allen says.
That was his first major turning point. Armed with a permit, he could approach financial institutions for a mortgage, allowing him and his mother to buy his present farm. Although his mother owns half the land and her own home on the property, she has no financial interest in the farm.
By this time, Allen had married his wife Donna. Like Trevor, Donna is a first-generation farmer who went through the 4-H program while growing up on a Fraser Valley hobby farm.
Although “I’m more into large animals,” she is fully involved in the poultry business, noting “turkeys are way easier on fences.”
The Allens now grow about 7,000 hen turkeys/year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“We could grow about 2,000 more but I can’t get the quota,” Trevor notes. “I put bids in six times but was only successful once.”
He grows two flocks for each holiday, spaced three weeks apart to offer both 12-week and 15-week-old birds. For the first 4-5 weeks, the birds are kept inside a home-built barn. Once fully-feathered, the birds are turned out onto the range each morning and brought back into the barn each evening. The field is divided into paddocks using movable fencing, with each paddock able to access an open-roofed area the turkeys prefer during inclement weather.
The turkeys are custom-processed as whole birds, then returned to the farm for warehousing, sorting and distribution. They are marketed as certified non-medicated, non-antibiotic free-range turkeys.
“I deliver about 70 per cent direct to retailers myself and the other 30 per cent go through a local meat distributor,” Allen says, noting his website lists all 22 outlets that sell his turkeys. “All my retailers have my number so they can call me with questions or issues.”
In 2004, he put his name on the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board (BCCMB) new entrant list. A year later, the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board’s Specialty Review ordered the boards to increase specialty and regional production by bringing new entrants into the industry. That led the BCCMB to offer him the choice of growing Taiwanese chickens immediately or waiting for a new entrant opportunity in mainstream chicken.
Because FIRB wanted new mainstream production to be outside the Fraser Valley, Allen chose to grow Taiwanese chickens and now grows about 45,000 birds/year. The Taiwanese chickens are grown year-round in 16-week cycles. He was also appointed to the BCCMB’s Specialty Marketing Advisory Committee, along with Rob Donaldson, then the province’s largest specialty chicken grower, and another small grower, Casey van Ginkel.
He and Casey decided they would have more control and perhaps even save some money if they produced their own chicks so they started their own Taiwanese chicken breeder flocks in 2010.
“We bought a barn and equipment from a mainstream breeder going out of business and each took half. Since each of us didn’t need eggs year-round, we formed T & C Chick Sales and arranged our cycles so we could share the eggs,” Trevor explains.
“We learned you need to have at least four breeder flocks with three in production at any time,” he says. Since they didn’t have enough of their own production to make that viable, they started selling chicks to other, mostly new entrant, Taiwanese chicken growers. “We will sell over 600,000 chicks this year.”
Even though Donna insisted she would not pick eggs, Trevor appears to have been very hard-of-hearing that day.
“I ended up doing all the egg picking and still pick 90 per cent of them,” she states, good-naturedly adding, “Trevor’s gotten a lot better the last few weeks.”
T&C’s decision to become broiler breeders got a cold reception from the B.C. Broiler Hatching Egg Commission, even though the commission had decided, following FIRB’s Specialty Review, not to regulate specialty hatching egg production. BCBHEC’s efforts to stymie them resulted in a successful, yet still not fully resolved, FIRB appeal.
In contrast, both the turkey and chicken boards, and their growers, appear to have welcomed Allen with open arms.
He served as a B.C. Turkey Association director from 2003-2015 and has been serving as a director of the B.C. Chicken Growers Association since 2006. Although the BCCGA considers him its “de facto” specialty chicken director, Allen stresses he has been elected by and represents “all growers.”
“Once you get past the marketing, we’re all the same. We all have OFFSAP and we all have biosecurity,” he notes, adding his hatchery, processing and wholesaling experience brings “a different perspective” to the board.
While a director he has chaired the Emergency Response committee, served on the Poultry-in-Motion (educational trailer) committee, the agricultural waste control industry working group, the SE task force and the Sustainable Poultry Farming Group board.
“I try to attend every producer meeting and all the FIRB appeals (even non-poultry) I can. My grandpa told me knowledge is power and I want to be the guy making informed decisions for the betterment of not only my farm but the industry as a whole.”
Project management is the process of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing out work that is not part of the everyday practice of a business. Large organizations often employ or hire project managers (PMs), and have a team formed around this manager that can include department managers, directors, or labourers and consumers who may use the product of the project. This could apply to everything from creating a set of tweezers to building a nuclear power plant. This is a process that we should be applying when building our farms.
The way we tend to build today is by talking to a friend to get some references on who we should work with. The next step is to go to the recommended builder, put together a floor plan that is the least cost to build, and maybe get a second price on that design. Then, once we’ve found a site or a location on our farm, we sign a contract with the builder and take our floor plan to the recommended equipment supplier so they can fit the ventilation and equipment into the barn we designed. Many times the building is started before the equipment companies are even contacted. If the equipment supplier is lucky, the producer may have consulted with a ventilation engineer beforehand to optimize the layout. And let’s hope that engineer has experience with poultry and has continued to pursue further ventilation education over the years. Now, this equipment supplier may or may not have any actual training themselves, and if they do, it’s just as likely to be sales training, as opposed to poultry husbandry training.
Salespeople are in a tough position — they have to balance achieving their sales targets with the long-term production needs of the farmer. As a former sales representative myself, I faced the same challenges. What are the chances that any one equipment company has all of the best equipment? And if you choose to piecemeal the job, how do you know for sure what is the best equipment for your operation?
The quote by Alexander Graham Bell, “The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus,” is a perfect analogy for the PM. A PM can be the magnifying glass that aims all the beams of information into creating the optimal production environment for the birds. An ideal PM would have experience or training in all aspects of live production, and an expansive knowledge base of the range of equipment and builders available. Let’s look at what goes into constructing a new barn or farm, and what the advantages of working with a PM can be.
Finding the right site and the right location on the site is extremely important. This aspect of construction alone can justify the cost of hiring a PM. Site engineers can sometimes be ambitious about the excavation that needs to be done to accommodate a structure. A hundred extra loads of fill or moving materials two or three times can add up quickly. Having someone with experience to oversee this can save a lot of cost and headaches. It’s very unlikely that a site engineer will take things like poultry biosecurity into consideration. Do they know the best distance between poultry barns, and the best orientation with regard to prevailing winds or sun? The same applies to the next step.
Builders will construct the barn that fits the parameters you provide, whether that is the top of the line, or the lowest cost structure. Many times this compromises the biosecurity and the functionality of the finished barn. Many people don’t realize all the options available because they haven’t seen buildings in Europe, the United States, or the rest of the world. Saving money on the structure doesn’t necessarily mean saving money on equipment or maximizing the performance of the birds. The primary aspects affected are ventilation and heating.
Certain building dimensions don’t lend themselves to certain types of ventilation and heating. Going wide, for example, is not ideal for tunnel ventilation; it can result in requiring two rows of heaters, and can produce significantly different conditions from one side to the other if cross ventilating. When we put a control room inside the barn footprint, we create dead spots in the ventilation, especially when located on the inlet side. Are we able to attain a suitable air speed with the fewest fans? Are we avoiding all possible obstructions to the ventilation, such as gas and water pipes? These are small details that can greatly affect the air and litter conditions.
Tightly tied into the building dimensions is the equipment layout. It affects ventilation, and the building affects how the equipment can be installed. Sometimes it is possible to get more equipment per bird into a barn, while maintaining or reducing cost. With some new heater technologies, it’s possible to run a single row of heaters down the middle of the barn and achieve more than adequate temperatures at the wall with more even coverage.
Outside of equipment layout, one of the benefits of having an objective PM is that they can help you choose the best of each type of equipment, and help to find and apply the latest technology without having to consider sales targets. The only contemplation for an independent PM is finding what will give you the best results on cost and performance. They can consider the cost-benefit to upgrading certain options. They’ll also consider how the equipment works together. This could involve ensuring compatibility of all the elements of a single barn, or in the example of a multi-stage operation, ensuring the transitions from one barn and equipment to the next are smooth. Everyone knows control systems, data collection, and communication can be difficult to decipher, so it can help greatly to have an expert in your corner. They can also provide follow up service and management tips after the buildings are in operation.
COORDINATION, RESOURCES and PRICE NEGOTIATIONS
From research organizations like universities to a variety of equipment suppliers and contractors, as well as other poultry companies and producers, PMs have many sources to draw on. They may be able to bring in builders from another area when the local builders are too busy. They are always learning as they are teaching, which is extremely valuable. Many athletes who become coaches suddenly have a bunch of epiphanies about how the game works, and the same applies in poultry production.
Part of the reason many companies have PMs is because they have come to the conclusion that it is difficult to do your everyday job and add the task of managing a large project on top of it without sacrificing on the quality of one or the other. It’s quite clear that having a dedicated manager to work on your project temporarily will alleviate this problem.
Price negotiation is something else a PM can assist with. They have ongoing access to pricing and know what the standards are in the industry. A grower who buys a feed system every 20 years has no measuring stick for what the cost of equipment and installation should be.
Most producers only get one or two opportunities to build, which means there is limited or no experience when the opportunity presents itself. If you look at building a barn or a farm as navigating though the wilderness, it’s a lot safer to have a guide! I’ve been lucky enough to work with excellent guides and coaches myself, and have seen first-hand how a PM can plan and manage a project. Good PMs will pay for themselves several times over by providing the required expertise to save on building and production costs, while helping you optimize bird performance. They can help you attain all the goals you’ve set out for your farm.
Organic and specialty chicken production may only represent a small fraction of Canadian chicken production, but it’s big business at British Columbia’s Oranya Farms.
Corry Spitters and his sons Jeffrey and Jordan have over 50 barns (floors) and are building 10 more.
“We now have about 250,000 birds in production at any given time,” they say.
Oranya produces Taiwanese chicken and Silkies on side-by-side farms in Aldergrove and organic chicken on an ever-expanding farm in Abbotsford.
“We grow about 80 per cent of the Silkies and Taiwanese chicken for the Canadian market.”
Each flock of Silkies (so named because of their snow white soft silk-like feathers which, ironically, cover a jet-black skin) is about 24,000 birds and takes 120 days to reach maturity.
“Silkies eat very little,” the Spitters explain. “We supplement the automatic feeders with paper feed to encourage them to eat.”
They are also not very good at converting what little they eat. A good Silkie feed conversion ratio is only 3.6-4.2:1 (3.6 kgs of feed produces 1 kg of bird weight), less than half the 1.5 conversion ratio for conventional broilers. As a result, Silkies are mostly skin and bone, weighing only 1.2-1.3 kgs when shipped. They are, however, very flavourful, and used to make a chicken soup highly prized at Chinese weddings and festivals.
The Taiwanese chickens (TCs) are also destined for the ethnic Chinese market, but as a meat bird. Shipped at 78 days, their meat is more yellow than conventional broilers. Marigold and other ingredients are added to the pelletized feed to enhance both colour and flavour.
“The meat takes on the flavour of what the birds eat,” Corry notes.
Breeders are trying to introduce some broiler genetics into the TCs so they grow faster but that is fraught with danger as it reduces the flavour – the TCs primary selling point.
Oranya has up to 32 flocks of TCs and Silkies on the go at any given time, but that pales compared to their organic chicken production.
“We produce 65-70 per cent of the organic chicken in B.C.,” Corry says, noting the farm ships out about 50,000 birds each week. The chicken is grown on demand for three B.C. processors: Lilydale (Sofina Foods), Sunrise Farms and Rossdown Natural Foods.
Although Silkies and TCs have a separate quota allocation, Oranya had to acquire mainstream quota to produce its organic chicken. The B.C. Chicken Marketing Board is grandfathering organic growers until July 2016, but what will happen after that is anyone’s guess. Oranya appealed the BCCMB’s rules governing quota allocations for organic chicken, but the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board has rejected the appeal, telling the two sides to negotiate a solution.
In the meantime, Oranya is moving ahead with expansion of their organic production. They already have 24 barns (each building is two storeys and counted as two barns) and are building another 10 over the next two years, each about 80X200 feet.
“Costco alone currently markets 25,000 kg/week of organic chicken in B.C. and Alberta and told us they expect to grow that market to 100,000 kgs,” Spitters says. “We intend to grow with them.”
When fully built out, the farm will be capable of producing 50,000 birds/week. Once market demand exceeds that, the Spitters intend to build another farm just like it.
To avoid paying the City of Abbotsford development cost charges of about $5,000/building, the farm built its own water treatment system. It uses two 26-foot-deep wells, producing up to 130 gallons/minute. The system includes state-of-the-art filtration to remove the 5 ppm iron content and soften the water, making it virtually pure.
“Our facility could service a town of 25,000,” Spitters says, noting the farm uses 1000-1200 cubic metres of
At first glace, using double decker barns seems to go against organic standards. But the Spitters have found an innovative way to comply. They note the standards only require chicken to have outdoor access after three weeks old. Therefore the birds are raised on the upper floor for three weeks, then sent down a chute to the main floor which does have outdoor access, where they remain for the next seven weeks. This allows Oranya to reduce overall building footprints and helps minimize disease pressure, critical when organic standards forbid the use of antibiotics. Each barn is thoroughly cleaned after each flock and filled with fresh litter.
“Because birds get fresh litter partway through the growing cycles, it arrests pathogen buildup,” Spitters says.
Outdoor pastures are located between two barns and shared by the two flocks. Trees have been planted in the pastures and “toys” placed in the barns to meet the criteria for humane certification.
“Everything we do not only has to be sustainable but meet both organic and humane certification standards,” Spitters explains.
Oranya used to contract out moving and catching but now use their own crews. “When a bird is worth $10 or more, you can’t afford losses and the contractors weren’t as careful as we wanted them to be.”
By starting one flock while the previous one is still on its way out, the Spitters are able to grow up to 210 flocks per year.
Corry has been in the poultry equipment business since 1977 and lauds the cost and production benefits of using the latest technology. The Spitters use LED lighting in all barns and are the first producers in Canada to start using a SKOV system to manage feeding and ventilation.
“Our older system works on set points,” Corry explains. Vents are opened and closed and fans turned on and off based on specific climate settings.
The SKOV system “is a smart algorithm. It works on anticipation.” It uses current and historical data to predict conditions and manages the barns accordingly. Not only can everything be monitored remotely by smartphone, but the system sends out alerts when it detects an issue. It also monitors load cells on each of the feed bins using the data to communicate with the supplier when feed is required.
“We monitor everything and can sample a lot faster than most growers,” Corry says. “We can see instantly when a flock isn’t performing.”
Getting into the chicken industry under the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) New Entrant Program is a long-term commitment, but for Jamie and Melissa English of Alliston, it was exactly the opportunity they wanted.
Both Jamie and Melissa had grown up on a family farm. Their parents relied heavily on outside jobs for income. Melissa’s parents ran a cow-calf operation and worked for the Ministry of Transportation Ontario; Jamie’s parents farmed potatoes and grains before moving into the logistics industry. For these farm kids, their challenge was to find a way to get back into farming and they found it through the New Entrant Program.
It was 2012 when the young couple first heard about the program. They started researching the industry, talking to farmers to find out what was involved. “We wanted to make sure this was what we actually wanted to do… what the industry was like.”
Under the program formula, new farmers were required to buy 4,000 units of quota and borrow the other 10,000 units from the CFO to meet the minimum production requirement of 14,000 units. The market sets the quota price, making it difficult to predict the eventual total investment. Between five and fifteen years the 10,000 units are paid back to the CFO under a timed schedule.
The application process involves presenting a business plan to an industry panel of financial and farming experts that evaluates the application and makes recommendations to the CFO Board of Directors. Successful applicants have up to 18 months from the date of approval to execute their business plans.
The next step was to get a business plan together. The application was handed in on the 31st of October and the green light was given in March 2014. Jamie and Melissa were very excited to be one of two farms chosen and soon began construction on their new facility. “There was a lot of red tape with setbacks and also with Nutrient Management, so those were a few challenges,” said Jamie. They knew they only had one chance to build, going with a 16,500 square foot barn, large enough to capture future growth but small enough to manage costs.
Jamie really focused on the equipment because that’s where he felt he’d get good payback. They went with a system of what he called ‘back-end brooding’ - where the birds were kept to a smaller area for the first 10 days so that the humidity and temperature could be controlled. He added extra drinkers to give the birds a really good start and extra heaters help to keep the temperature even.
Their first transition crop was in October 2014 and Jamie admitted they “had a bit of a learning curve.” That first flock had five percent mortality but they met their weight targets; their second flock had 3.2 percent mortality and their weights were a little over, held back a day on the processing end. These first two flocks seeded the barn with good bacteria to help the next flock to fight disease naturally; their next flock will be meet full RWA (Raised Without Antibiotics) criteria.
Jamie gives thanks to the many farmers and other people in the industry that continue to give them a lot of help and advice and leadership. “A lot of people were very open; local farmers helped out immensely.”
Overall Jamie is a huge fan of the quota system, knowing that he’s building something that he can pass down to their children. “We’d be crazy if we ever had the chance to lose it and didn’t make sure we did everything we could to hang onto it.”
As Jamie prepares for his next flock, he continues to work off farm as well, but for his family, “it’s good to get back to where our roots are and into something we’re passionate about. For that we’re really fortunate to be part of this program - it’s helped us to get into something that we really wanted to do.”
The story was similar for Joannette and Jim Van Hemert, only for them it was a new adventure as egg farmers.
Jim Van Hemert is a Ridgetown graduate and obtained his B.Sc. in Ag. Business at the University of Guelph before taking positions as an account manager at TD Canada Trust, then RBC, but his real passion was in farming. He grew up on a poultry farm in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. His wife Joannette grew up in Norwich and shares a similar strong financial background - the McMaster graduate obtained her CA designation in 2010.
They combined their business savvy to analyze several different options to get into farming, deciding in 2011 to buy a turkey breeder operation in Ingersoll. Not long after moving in, Jim began growing turkey poults at a rented property in Thorndale, bringing them in as day olds, growing them until they became mature breeding stock before transferring them to the Ingersoll farm.
It was around the same time that they started asking questions about the New Entrant Quota Loan Pool (NEQLP) program. It was an opportunity to diversify their operation from being solely reliant on a contract with Maple Leaf Foods as well as enabling them to take advantage of the benefits of supply management: reduced price risk, increased stability and long term sustainability. As for the business side of the equation, it was also a means of reinvesting cash flow into the company.
The Egg Farmers of Ontario NEQLP program, now in its fifth year, lends up to 10,000 units of quota split between two new entrants every year according to the needs of their business plan. The quota is lent on a 1:2 ratio, meaning that one unit must be purchased for every two units loaned. After 10 years, the quota is returned to the EFO in ten annual installments. Overall it is a 20-year commitment.
The application consisted of forms and a business plan – a 10-page written report - that were both submitted in May 2012. It was a long wait until September to hear they were finalists and a one-hour interview would be arranged. The interview was successful; it was now November 2012. They had 18 months in which to begin production and there was a lot of work to be done. Where would they build a barn? What systems would they use? How large would the barn be? Would there be quota available to purchase?
Their original projections were for 12,500 hens. That quickly rose to 15,000. With that number in mind, details of the actual project started to surface, such as finding the right building contractors and deciding which equipment to install?
Due to disease transmission concerns with the turkey operation they needed to seek a new location for their 290’ x 30’ layer barn, finding a 70-acre property within a short drive of their farm where they could build. They decided that traditional cages would be the most cost effective and efficient system to install. The enriched cages represented additional costs without benefit, and free run was considered too labour intensive.
By July 2013, Bright Horizon Farms announced their open house in the paper. With some help from the industry that included Clarke, New Life, Burnbrae and McKinley Hatchery, their first flock arrived in the new red and white barns on July 16, 2013. Despite some trouble with cracked eggs, Joannette considered that first flock a success.
Looking back, Joannette sees the NEQLP program as an opportunity to farm with the stability that was lacking in the turkey breeding operation. Without it, they wouldn’t be layer farmers today.
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PIC’s fundraiser golf tournamentWed Sep 06, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
The West Niagara Fair and Poultry ShowThu Sep 07, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canada’s Outdoor Farm ShowTue Sep 12, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Farm & Food Care Ontario's Breakfast on the FarmSat Sep 16, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, Public Agriculture SummitMon Sep 18, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
100th International Plowing Match and Rural ExpoTue Sep 19, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM