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.
Floor and slat eggs can be a huge problem in a breeder flock. Not only do they lower hatch and production for the hatchery, but they also lead to poorer chick quality. More importantly for the farmer, this leads to lower profit and increased work picking up these eggs.
Many management techniques are used to help reduce this problem. These are some of the ideas that have been used by many producers.
The most important factor in reducing floor and slat eggs is simply — if it were really that simple —to have the birds in the proper condition at light stimulation. This means having them developed with the correct fleshing and fat reserve. This will be a key factor to the birds developing the natural instinct to go to the nest to lay their eggs.
Having the birds in the right condition at lighting is heavily influenced by ensuring the correct bodyweight gain from 16 to 20 weeks of age has been achieved. We are looking to have the birds gain 33-35 per cent in bodyweight from 16 weeks to 20 weeks old. By doing this we are likely to have the correct fleshing and adequate fat reserve. Often with flocks over the bodyweight standard at 16 weeks, we are tempted to try and control the weight gains from that point and have the birds on the target at 20 weeks. This results in the birds not gaining enough weight relative to their 16-week bodyweight and therefore not being in the proper condition at 20 weeks of age.
When deciding what the correct bodyweight is, you need to keep two things in mind: What line of females you are using, and when will the birds come into production. The line of the female is important as different lines have different bodyweight targets for lighting. For example, the Cobb 500SF requires a heavier bodyweight at lighting than the Cobb 500FF. Typically, flocks that will be coming into production during decreasing day lengths also require a heavier bodyweight at lighting.
Another aspect to consider, especially when moving into a solid wall production barn, is the amount of natural light coming into the barn. You may be keeping the birds on eight hours of light after transfer believing you are not light stimulating the flock. In reality, in many cases, so much light is leaking into the barn that the females are light stimulated from the day of transfer. Even though these birds may be moved at a time that technically they are “in season” flocks and would normally be on a lower bodyweight standard, because of the early light stimulation they should be reared on a heavier, ‘out of season’ standard. This will help make sure the birds are ready for the light stimulation and ready to go to the nest. This is especially important for the Cobb 500SF.
Having the birds in the correct condition means meeting some guidelines for fleshing and reserve. To check this we need to pen up enough females (around 50) to get a good idea of the condition of the flock. In scoring the females, we want to see 95 per cent of the birds scoring a 3 or 4 on fleshing and at least 90 per cent of the birds with pelvic fat. If we have this, the flock should be ready to receive light and ready to go to the nest. If the females are not in the proper condition, then you need to delay light stimulation on this flock.
While having the birds in the right condition is the top priority, there are many other things that we can do, or items to look at, that will help ensure the females go to the nest.
Training the birds begins in the pullet barn. This is done by placing something in the pullet barn to simulate jumping up on to the slats, such as a perch rail or actual slat section for the birds to get up on. This should be done early, between the ages of three and four weeks to give an early brain imprint that jumping up is allowed.
The training of the birds continues after they are moved to the production barn. Once there walk the birds slowly to encourage them to get up out of the scratch area and onto the slats. Many have been hesitant to walk the slats but this will help move the birds to the nest when done correctly, especially on wider slats. Walking should be done on the outside edge of the slats in a slow manner that will encourage the birds to move toward the nests. After the birds are light stimulated, some customers walk the birds as much as once per hour to train them to go to the nest.
Having the proper nest space is also very important. If there is not enough space to easily accommodate the birds, they will look for a place outside the nest to lay their eggs. The minimum amount of nest space needed is one square meter of nest space per 100 birds. Another way to express this is 200 birds per nest segment of four nest openings of a 2.4 m long nest unit.
Opening the curtain at the nest entrance — while these curtains are there to shade the entrance to the nests, opening them will help get the birds into the nests. Many producers have seen that if they are having a problem with the birds just standing at the entrance to the nest, they can open these curtains to encourage the birds to go inside. They open the curtains by taping or clipping them to the top of the nests. While some have waited to see how the birds go to the nest before making the decision whether to open the curtains, many producers will start this practice when the flock is housed and the nests are opened. The recommendation is to open every other curtain. This allows the females to more easily see inside the nests and seems to make them more curious about going inside. These curtains can then be gradually lowered once it is seen that the majority of the birds are going to the nests. On certain nest systems, producers have opened the entire top of every other nest as an alternative to just opening the curtain. Some producers have opted to install a winch system allowing them to raise all the nest tops at the same time. They will not open them fully, just enough to allow the birds more space to enter into and see into the nest.
Having the right intensity and even light distribution plays a big role in how the flock comes into production and where the hen wants to lay her egg. We want to see a minimum of 60 lux at bird level, and minimize the difference in distribution across the barn — this needs to be less than 20 per cent. Having this minimum light intensity and even light distribution will help eliminate shadows and dark areas that would encourage the birds to lay their eggs outside the nest.
The egg belt should not be visible to the hen when she enters the nest. If the hen can see the moving belt, she is more likely to be scared out of the nest. Having the belt shielded properly will prevent the hen from seeing the belt. Small, plastic movable flaps are installed for this purpose.
Placing very little shavings in the barns helps to discourage the birds from laying eggs in the floor; 2-3 cm of shavings in the scratch area is sufficient. Additional shaving can be added to the scratch area post peak, if desired, but is normally not done due to the litter build-up giving additional litter depth.
Drinker lines should be close enough to the nest entrance to help draw the birds to the nest. This distance is normally 60-70 cm from the nest entrance. Never place all the feed lines in the floor. Having part of the feeders on the floor and on the slats encourages the birds to use both areas. Spacing should be such that the birds can easily utilize the water line and all feed lines. Also, feeder height should be high enough so that the birds can move freely underneath the feed lines — approximately 20cm to the bottom of the feeder. Another option is to raise the feeder lines with an electric winch after the feed has been consumed. This is more important for pan feeder equipment placed on the slats, which tends to give more shaded areas. Chain feeder lines are normally placed directly on the slats and a bracket is used to keep the troughs horizontal.
WATER FLOW RATE
A low water flow rate will increase the time the birds have to spend at the drinker lines. A minimum flow rate of approximately 60-80 ml/min is desired. A low flow rate will cause a wall of birds between the hens trying to get to the nest and the nests themselves. If the hens cannot get to the nest because of this wall, they will simply lay their eggs outside the nest or drop them close to the drinker line. Many broken eggs are found under the slats at the drinker line area.
While there are many items that contribute to where the hen chooses to lay her egg, taking care of the basics goes a long way towards making sure the eggs do end up in the nest.
Remember the rotary dial telephone? Manually filling out forms will soon be a similar distant memory, when farmers will all be using a new tool called Feather Central instead of a pen.
Developed in Ontario by BIO, specializing in data transfer, in partnership with IT specialist Farms.com, Feather Central allows farmers to trace their birds from the hatchery to the processor electronically, replacing the manual forms currently in use.
The Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) spearheaded the project that enables farmers to record their data on-line, reducing the paper burden and allowing the information to be transferred quickly and easily. CFO administers the program for Ontario Broiler farmers.
There are two components to Feather Central. The first is traceability, linking the hatchery through to the processor, collecting the same data that is currently recorded with pen and paper. “It’s the same information,” said Betty Jo Almond, Sales and Service Manager at BIO, “just in real time now.”
A second component services on farm food safety programs, allowing the daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly collection of data such as temperature and light settings in the barn, or cleaning and disinfecting records, for example.
What BIO will do is provide customer support, beginning by helping to set up your farm under the program, barn location(s), number of barns and number of floors. As a crop is set at each location an order of activities can be customized. The farmer already does the checks but now data can be recorded right away, in sequence, without going back to the office. The accumulated data may be used to compare flocks or track crops by barn and floor, providing a history for future planning.
Documents such as certificates or visitor log-ins can be uploaded as well, and specific personnel — managers and barn workers — can be given access to particular data. “A manager can look at all the barns,” said Almond, “while laborers may only see their own barn.”
To use Feather Central you will need a hardware device that can access the internet. At this time if you want to download Feather Central as an app you will need an Apple product, said Almond - an iphone, ipod or ipad. She explained that you don’t need to be connected to the internet in the barn to use the app — each day the information can be uploaded by hitting the “synchronize” button when you get back to the house.
For data security Feather Central uses the same systems as on-line banking. The information is secure, backed up and readily available, and through the feathercentral.com website, accessible from anywhere in the world. Going on vacation? You can still monitor your data, even from pool-side, said Almond.
BIO sees all turkey, broiler, pullett and egg farmers as potential users for Feather Central as a tool for data collection, and hopes to attract the interest of provincial organizations for the traceability application. The data collection component costs $25 per month for one barn, for a total of $300 per year, and an additional $50 per year for each additional barn. On the traceability side, the price will depend on what services are required in each province.
Cela faisait dix ans que Mathieu Poirier avait rejoint son père Jean-Claude en production d’oeufs. Il était temps de moderniser l’entreprise familiale. La production d’oeufs des 30 prochaines années sera très différente de celle des 30 dernières années. Pour notre producteur de 33 ans, il était préférable de se mettre en avance sur les tendances.
Le nouveau pondoir construit au cours de l’hiver 2013-2014 ne contient que des cages enrichies. Mais Mathieu Poirier n’a pas seulement voulu devancer la réglementation. Il a conçu son poulailler en gardant en tête l’importance de conserver dans son équipe le plus important joueur : le consommateur.
Situé à la sortie du village de Saint-Bonaventure, près de Drummondville, le nouveau bâtiment affiche un look résolument contemporain, avec sa tôle grise et rouge. Mathieu Poirier a choisi ses couleurs, dressé un plan et fait appel à un technologue en architecture. « Je voulais avoir quelque chose de beau, dit-il. Je voulais faire différent des autres et ce n’était pas beaucoup plus cher. »
L’occasion était aussi tout indiquée pour faire concevoir un nouveau logo pour La Ferme des Poiriers, avec l’aide d’une firme de design graphique.
La facture visuelle ne sert pas qu’à se distinguer des autres entreprises avicoles. Mathieu Poirier veut faire bonne impression lorsque des visiteurs débarqueront voir sa production. Le nouveau poulailler est équipé d’une grande fenêtre, qui laisse voir les poules dans leur environnement de ponte.
La fenêtre en question est au bout d’un corridor sans issue, de sorte que les visiteurs n’ont pas à se soumettre aux contrôles de biosécurité.
« Je suis ambassadeur pour la Fédération des producteurs d’oeufs du Québec », déclare fièrement Mathieu Poirier. À ce titre, il monte régulièrement à bord du Centre d’interprétation de l’oeuf, cette remorque abritant un minipoulailler qui se déplace pour sensibiliser le public.
« Cette fenêtre, c’est un peu une gâterie qu’on se paie, dit l’éleveur. Parfois, des gens veulent voir comment ça marche, les enfants veulent voir les poules. Avec les nouvelles cages enrichies, je ne suis pas du tout gêné de montrer comment les poules sont traitées. »
Les poulaillers construits dans les années 1970 étaient devenus trop petits et désuets. Le quota des augmentations annuelles était loué et il fallait le rapatrier pour éviter de le perdre. De plus, la ferme perdait ses deux employés les plus fidèles. Dans une construction neuve, tout serait plus simple pour les futurs employés.
Le nouveau bâtiment fait 400 pieds de long et compte six rangées de 300 pieds de cages sur six étages. Il est séparé en deux sections de trois rangées pour pouvoir gérer deux lots distincts. Un marche-pied a été installé entre les troisième et quatrième étages. La capacité totale est de 62 000 pondeuses.
Il s’agit de cages enrichies Hellmann, modèle EU 24-241. Elles disposent d’une partition centrale, de sorte que chaque section de cage abrite un maximum de 24 poules. « La recherche démontre que dès qu’il y a plus de 30 ou 40 poules dans une cage, les dominantes s’en prennent aux dominées, qui perdent leurs plumes », explique Johann Benner, le responsable du marché canadien chez le fabricant allemand.
Les cages comptent deux perchoirs parallèles, juste assez hauts pour qu’un ?uf puisse rouler en dessous. Elles ont aussi des rideaux pour isoler le nid de ponte, qui est situé à une extrémité, à l’avant de la cage, pour minimiser le déplacement des oeufs.
Les mangeoires s’étirent sur toute la longueur de la cage à l’avant. Elles sont si solides qu’on peut y grimper. Il s’agit d’une caractéristique standard chez Hellmann, affirme Johann Benner.
À l’arrière, il y a la possibilité d’installer un tuyau qui alimente une autre mangeoire. « Si un jour les normes changent et ont doit accorder plus de longueur de mangeoire à chaque poule, on pourra en rajouter », affirme Stéphane Chouinard, distributeur pour Hellmann au Québec et dans l’est de l’Ontario.
La ventilation du bâtiment à l’aide d’un mélangeur d’air assure 25 cfm d’air frais pour les poules, ce qui fait aussi sécher le fumier jusqu’à environ 35 à 40 % de contenu en eau. L’apport d’air peut provenir directement de l’extérieur par les entrées linéaires sur les murs, notamment en été, ou être filtré et recirculé en hiver.
Le bâtiment dispose aussi d’un système de traitement de l’eau, ce qui devrait assurer une meilleure qualité d’eau que dans les bâtiments anciens, aujourd’hui démolis.
Des tuyaux pour chauffage à l’eau chaude ont été insérés dans le plancher de béton, seulement sous les allées entre les rangées de cages. « On a voulu diminuer nos coûts d’installation, parce qu’on ne savait pas vraiment si on avait besoin de chauffage, explique Mathieu Poirier. Je prévois m’en servir pour économiser sur la consommation de moulée lors des grands froids. »
L’entreprise familiale exploite aussi 40 hectares en maïs et soya, de quoi assurer de 20 à 25 % des besoins alimentaires des poules. Elle dispose de sa propre moulange. La préparation de la moulée est suivie par Shur-Gain.
Le nouveau poulailler compte deux silos à moulée pour chacun des deux groupes d’âge de pondeuses, pour un total de quatre. Ils serviront à mettre en place le programme Écoponte Tandem de Shur-Gain, pour offrir à chaque groupe une moulée du matin et une moulée de l’après-midi, qui devraient combler avec plus de précision les besoins du métabolisme des poules.
Le projet de construction n’est pas tout à fait terminé. Depuis plus de 30 ans, les Poirier élèvent leurs propres poulettes. Le bâtiment où sont logées les poulettes actuellement permet difficilement d’élever deux lots d’âge différent, pour fonctionner avec le nouveau poulailler. D’ici la fin de l’année, la relève logera dans un tout nouveau bâtiment.
William Arthur Ward wrote, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” A poultry farmer could replace the word “sails” with “inlets”, and have a great piece of advice for ventilating poultry barns. Inlet type, placement, quality, quantity, and management are massive factors in the profitability of a poultry operation, altering energy costs and flock performance.
In the past, barns had intake fans to blow the air in, air cannons (PVC pipe run into the barn along the ceiling) to (hopefully) direct the air where we wanted it to go, sliding doors with fins built in, and most commonly (and still commonly used) —continuous baffle inlets. Most operators have graduated from the days of intake fans and air cannons, and those that haven’t know that they are not ideal methods to ventilate. But, the continuous inlet lives on. A brand new baffle inlet isn’t the worst ventilation method, although it still leaves a lot to be desired. It is very difficult to direct air properly and get the flow required to shoot the air to the center of the barn or further with a 200 – 500’ x ¼” opening. Even at the right static pressure, the air doesn’t have enough mass to maintain momentum. On top of this, it is nearly impossible to get a consistent opening of ¼ or ½”, and the issue of air momentum is pretty much out the window when using variable speed exhaust. The end result, generally, is that heaters run too much, dropping air onto the floor creating wet litter and drafting of birds.
What can we do to prevent these problems? Installing the proper inlet system can make the job a lot easier. There are a couple of excellent options, but we can start with the least expensive suggestion, which is a simple modification to your continuous baffle that has worked great in many buildings. For example, by simply cutting a 4’ opening in the baffle every 16’ in a 40’ wide barn with a 12” opening, enough air can be supplied for minimum ventilation (about four to five CFM per square foot of floor space, assuming 500 CFM per square foot of inlet opening). As always, I recommend to run timer fans instead of variable speed, and ensure that only enough inlets to match the fans in use are allowed to open at about 1.5 – 3” while maintaining around a 0.1” WC of static pressure. This might mean only using a third to a half of your sidewall inlet capacity in the initial stages. In the case of all inlets, it is best to run them on static pressure control, as opposed to manually opening inlets or pre-setting percentages because wind and weather can greatly influence the static pressure from moment to moment or day to day.
The second, and more ideal solution, is to add modular sidewall and/or ceiling inlets to the system, or in the case of new construction, install only those two types with no baffle inlets. As general guidelines, in a tunnel ventilated barn, we want to get to about 5 or 6 CFM per square foot of floor space with the sidewall inlets, 3 or 4 in a cross-ventilated or curtain barn, and 6 to 7 in a brooder barn. Ceiling inlets added into any system should have a capacity of about 1 to 1.5 CFM per square foot because they will only be used for the initial stages of ventilation with young birds or cold weather for bigger birds. The biggest advantage of adding the ceiling inlets is the capability to run more air through the barn without utilizing heat, especially on sunny, cold days.
Choosing the right inlet and laying them out in the building is the next step once the CFM capacity of the system is established. The first consideration is obviously going to be making sure it will fit in the space available. For wall inlets, it is easiest to install 44.5” x 12” inlets, but in a curtain barn, it may be necessary to install a 44.5” x 8” to fit above the curtains, or a drop down inlet in the ceiling at the wall. The drop down inlet is hinged at the corner of the wall and ceiling, and the air supply is through the overhang outside over the top of the wall plate. The airway is blocked in to keep hot attic air from entering the inlet. If the barn has 24” stud spacing, it is not economical to build a header for so many inlets; in that case we would actually use a 22.5” x 12” unit. Regardless of the size of the inlet, the one consistent characteristic is that with the existing technology, a curved European style door is the best way to go. No matter how open the door is, the tendency of the air will always be to travel toward the ceiling as long as the static pressure is adequate. The tendency with a flat door inlet is for the air to follow the direction the door is pointing toward, even if it is away from the ceiling. Just a couple other notes on sidewall inlets: it is always recommended to use a counterweight at the end of the line opposite the actuator. This will ensure that all the inlets in the zone open equally, and if steel rod is used instead of aircraft cable, the inlets should remain even as the rod will not stretch. Also, inlets that actually are spring loaded closed seem to have the best control. Ideal placement is as close to the ceiling as possible, or in the case of a barn where baffles are also installed, as close to the bottom of the baffle as possible.
Ceiling inlets are great for broiler barns, turkey brooders, or any other barn used for brooding. The style is not quite as important. Whether a two-way or four-way inlet is used, the air travels well along the ceiling, and puts the cooler attic air in the right place to mix with the hot air by the ceiling. I recommend the use of actuated units rather than gravity controlled because the static pressure can be metered, all inlets will open together, and when the attic gets hot, the system can be set up to close them and move to the sidewall inlets, and vice versa.
What it all comes down to is that modular inlet systems are the way to go, but there are some important considerations when setting them up. From choosing the right style, quantity, and quality, to running static pressure control and using counterweight, everything counts. Its well worth the time and cost to make changes like this, and it will almost unfailingly result in better bird performance.
It had been ten years since Mathieu Poirier had joined his father Jean-Claude on the farm, and he felt it was time to modernize the family business. Egg production in the next 30 years is certainly going to be very different from the past 30 years. At 33 years of age, Poirier prefers to be ahead of upcoming trends.
Built over last winter, the new layer barn is entirely equipped with enriched battery cages. But Poirier did not only want to be prepared for future animal welfare regulation. He built his barn with another goal on his mind: keeping consumers on the side of local egg farmers.
Located just outside the village of Saint-Bonaventure, near Drummondville, the new building uses contrasting red and grey siding to create a contemporary look on the outside. Poirier chose the colours, drafted a plan and took it to an architecture technician.
“I wanted something nice,” he says. “I wanted the result to be different (from other farms) and it wasn’t much more expensive.’’
It was also the right time to have a graphic design firm create a new logo for La Ferme des Poiriers.
The visual impact is not only meant to stand out among other poultry operations. Poirier wants to make a good impression when visitors drop by to see how eggs are produced. The hen house has a large window that offers a peek into the birds’ living environment.
The window is located at the end of a hallway. Visitors can have a look without having to go through biosecurity, since they don’t enter very far into the building.
As an ‘’ambassador’’ for the Fédération des producteurs d’oeufs du Québec (Quebec Egg Growers’ Union), Poirier regularly hops onto the Centre d’interprétation de l’oeuf, a trailer housing real layers in real conventional cages used to educate the public.
‘’This window for visitors is like a treat for us,’’ Poirier says. ‘’People want to know how egg production works. Kids want to see the birds. With my new enriched cages, I am not at all ashamed of showing how the birds are treated.’’
300 feet, 6 tiers
Built in the 1970s, the two older layer barns had become too small and out-dated. Quota from growth allocations had to be rented out and if it was not brought back to the farm, the Poiriers would eventually be forced to sell it or give it up. The farm was also losing its two most loyal employees. In a new construction, everything would be simpler for future workers.
The new construction houses six 300-feet rows of cages, six tiers high, with a walkway between tiers three and four. To allow for two age groups at the same time, the barn is split in two, each side with three rows of cages, for a total capacity of 62 000 layers.
The enriched cages are Hellmann’s model EU 24-241. They have a middle partition that splits cages in two sections, each holding a maximum of 24 birds. ‘’Research shows that when you have more than 30 or 40 birds in cage, they start picking at each other. That’s why we have middle partitions,’’ says Johann Benner, who oversees Canadian sales at Germany’s Hellmann Poultry.
Cages have two parallel perches, high just enough for eggs to roll under them. They also boast curtains around a nesting area located close to the front, to minimize egg movement.
Feeding troughs follow the whole length of the cages in front. They are rigid enough to be used as a ladder. These sturdy troughs are standard at Hellmann, Benner says.
A supplementary feeding system may be added along the central partition. ‘’If one day regulation changes and we need to add trough space, it will be possible,’’ says Stéphane Chouinard, Hellmann distributor for Quebec and Eastern Ontario.
The barn is ventilated with an air mixer, providing 25 cfm of fresh air directly to the birds in their cages and bringing manure water content down to 35 or 40 per cent. Air may also come from lateral air intakes in the summer, or be filtered and recirculated in the winter.
The facility also has a new water treatement system that will greatly improve water quality from the older now-demolished houses.
Hot water heating pipes were inserted in the cement floor, but only under the alleys between the cage rows. ‘’We wanted to reduce our construction cost, because we didn’t know if heating was needed,’’ Poirier said. He expects to heat during cold waves, in order to reduce feed costs.
Two different meals
The Poiriers also grow 100 acres of corn and soybeans, which provide for 20 to 25 per cent of the birds’ feeding needs. The feed is mixed on location, with advice from Shur-Gain experts.
The new barn has four feed silos: two for each layer age group. They will be used to introduce Shur-Gain’s Ecolay Tandem, a new program that provides layers with two different feeds, one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Recipes vary according to the needs of the birds’ metabolism during the day.
Construction at La Ferme des Poiriers is not yet over. For more than 30 years, the family has raised its own pullets. The old barn currently housing the pullets is not convenient to raise two age groups, to go along the new layer barn. Before the end of the year, pullets will also have a brand new home.
Tyson Schlegel (left) and Jihad Douglas of Aviagen Turkeys shake on a new joint venture. Also involving Canadian Select Genetics, the endeavour aims to offer Ontario and Eastern Canadian turkey growers “more choice” in supply and genetics.
When it comes to genetics, it’s no secret that choice is fairly limited for Canadian turkey growers. In the 100th anniversary (March 2013) issue of Canadian Poultry, Dr. Peter Hunton wrote: “…in the past 100 years, poultry breeding in Canada has evolved from hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of small, independent farms that did very little in the way of selective breeding, to the point at which most breeding work is done by a handful of multinational companies whose products are distributed and multiplied on an international basis.”
The companies that have survived concentration therefore strive to maintain a competitive edge, and ensure that the products and services they provide to their customers are meeting the needs of the market. But for Aviagen Turkeys, competitive innovation doesn’t always happen as a result of strategic meetings around a boardroom table – sometimes it’s simply the fruit of casual conversations with growers like Tyson Schlegel. It was one such chat - with Rob Walker, a technical sales representative with Aviagen - that a general dialogue about the Ontario turkey industry and what it needs to grow and progress, sparked some more legitimate ideas.
“We were just sitting down, about two years ago, throwing ideas out,” says Schlegel, who, at that time owned Great Lakes Poultry Farms Ltd., and has since acquired Belwood Poultry Ltd, with his father and brother. “We talked about the notion of a new hatchery, of perhaps expanding, and the potentials that could happen from there.”
Previously a wholly commercial turkey operation, Schlegel says the decision to move into breeders as well is 100 percent “new” for the family-owned operation. Schlegel’s Father, Peter, has been involved with poultry all his life, becoming involved in the commercial chicken industry in 1950. He then diversified and entered the turkey business with purchases of commercial turkey farms in the Wingham area in the early 1990s. Tyson purchased his own two farms near Lake Erie while still attending the University of Guelph in 2000.
Not long after his chat with Walker, the junior Schlegel was in more serious talks with Aviagen Turkeys’ President, Jihad Douglas, about the concept of a joint venture. The Schlegels already wanted to grow their business and were known to Aviagen as open-minded growers who understand the Ontario market well. Similarly driven by a vision to be able to supply Ontario and Eastern Canadian turkey farmers with quality poults, with core values that matched, the fit seemed perfect.
The venture itself can be broken into two parts. First, Belwood Poultry Ltd. will serve as the breeder farm operation – for now, at least. Breeder flocks are already on the ground in older barns, but new breeder barns are currently being built.
Says Schlegel, “Construction has already started on two state-of-the-art breeding facilities. The first, in Bruce Township, has the capacity for 8,000 breeders. The second farm is in Ashfield Township. There, we have four lay barns going up, one tom barn and an egg service room. It will house about 16,000 breeders, with capacity for about 20,000.”
The proposed complex will be enclosed, so that employees won’t leave until the end of the day. Use of tunnel ventilation will mean less interference from the outside. In fact, the whole concept is modelled on primary breeding complexes, maintaining the same high level of biosecurity. Based on a more European design, the facility will use a lot more concrete than in traditional breeder barns.
Second is the construction of a breeder hatchery, to be built in Southwestern Ontario within the next two years. The exact location will be finalized after considering factors such as airport and border access, and ready supply of labour. Canadian Select Genetics (CSG) has the responsibility to market the breeder eggs produced.
“The hatchery will be a facility with extremely high-biosecurity and state-of-the-art design for operating efficiencies. It will use single-stage hatching incubator machines and will meet and exceed all Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirements (CFIA) for hatching egg export opportunities. The ability to achieve the required results as mandated by the ownership structure will require a highly qualified team of veterinarians to add and oversee the complete health quality of this program.” says Douglas.
When asked about capacity, Douglas, Schlegel and Jorge Cota of CSG admit that that’s one big factor yet to be determined, but what they will ensure is that whatever the initial capacity the venture, the plan is to allow for an easily expandable business process as the market grows. The farm and building design, therefore, is vitally important.
“What we can say is that it will be large enough to supply Ontario and Eastern Canada,” says Douglas. “It will be at least that big, and able to export internationally.” From a primary breeder business viewpoint, having a hatchery in Canada will potentially allow Aviagen to offset disease risks by having production in several countries.
Cota notes, “We’ll work in collaboration with hatcheries we have in the U.S. so we can work as a back-up to them in case of disease issues. That will create a lot of synergies in terms of moving product back and forth and dealing with disease issues. Secure supply on each side of the border is very important to being able to serve our customers.”
As the President of Aviagen Turkeys, Douglas will be hands-off once the venture is off the ground, leaving Cota to serve as the general manager, while Schlegel will formally be the president. While focus will be on the hatchery and marketing of the eggs (currently, all eggs are being exported to the U.S., until the hatchery is built), Cota says CSG will also play a large role in the management of the farms. Douglas adds that there are specific areas of Southwestern Ontario where they know that labour is easier to find – the key is to ensure that anyone they hire has the proper technical expertise.
The fact that the Schlegels are growers and can identify themselves with other growers quite easily makes face-to-face perhaps the best way of marketing the new endeavour. Further opportunity to grow the business and service the market may arise after operating for a while, so Schlegel says they’ll be doing ongoing business reviews to ensure they’re on the right track. Logistically, the goal of serving local producers works in the short term but neither Schlegel or Douglas rules out export of eggs from the breeder farms to countries outside of North America - hopefully to create a strong and sustainable international business.
“If you look at the history of the multiplier-breeder business, nobody has invested in any new facilities for at least the last 10 years in Ontario,” notes Schlegel. “I think we’re one of the few that have invested money in brand new barns. In fact, we did a lot of research and visited some of Aviagen’s existing barns in the U.S. to see what we could do here.”
Determining what type of genetics best suit the Ontario and Eastern-Canadian markets is key to the venture.
“We have several products that could fit the Ontario market,” says Douglas. “We have the large product, the Nicholas 700 and which is a market leader worldwide. We have the option to do ‘super selection,’ which would place more genetic selection on the toms – something like 25 per cent. That will enhance the performance of the final product. It doesn’t impact the reproductive traits because we are selecting more on the male side.
“We have other options, if they fit the Ontario market and Eastern Canadian market, such as the Nicholas 500. Our newer product, the Premium, will be tested in Ontario shortly. Our focus, when it comes to genetics is threefold: give choice to the consumer; practice super-selection; and test options that could specifically fit the Canadian market. We look at weight, feed conversion, yield, liveability / legs and welfare – all of them as a package, because we have a balanced selection program.
“I think the options in Ontario were getting limited,” says Douglas. “We will be allowing the industry to have the luxury of choice. We believe that it’s in the best interest of the customer to have healthy competition. It’s good for us, it’s good for the competition and it’s good for the market. The risks are too high if you don’t have those options for Ontario and Eastern Canada. We need to be smarter, healthier, more innovative and more service responsive than our competition. If you are a good supplier, provide good service, good quality poults, good genetics and build relationships, you’re going to be rewarded by having good customers.”
Before anything moved ahead though, Schlegel is quick to point out that he and Douglas met with many fellow turkey growers - including the Chair of Turkey Farmers of Ontario, Ingrid DeVisser - to share their vision and ensure that it had support.
“We’ve been very transparent with the Ontario marketing board about the whole thing,” says Schlegel. “We told them how we see things working and what our plans are. We made sure we had support from the beginning.
“With us being a larger turkey grower, to have control and be part of the process to ensure that we’re getting as good of a poult possible on our farm is key,” says Schlegel. “We know what the returns are and we want to make sure all growers in Ontario and Eastern Canada have access to good, quality poults.”
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Western Meeting of Poultry Clinicians and PathologistsWed May 17, 2017
B.C. Poultry SymposiumThu May 18, 2017
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Canadian Meat Council 97th Annual ConferenceMon Jun 05, 2017