Future Forward

André Dumont
February 07, 2011
By André Dumont

At Ferme avicole Ste-Croix, when it’s time to go forward, nothing is done halfway. Last October, Daniel Martel and his son Stéphane inaugurated Quebec’s largest layer barn equipped with enrichable cages.

The open house was an amazing success. More than 350 people came to admire the new construction in Metabetchouan-Lac-à-la-Croix, in the distant Lac-Saint-Jean region, 200 kilometres northeast of Quebec City.

“This is the second largest layer barn in Quebec,” co-owner Stéphane Martel told Canadian Poultry magazine, with a hint of pride in his voice. Since last November, the barn houses 60,000 layers under a single roof.

For the Martels, the pride of the moment also came with a feeling of relief. During construction, the unexpected struck, nearly claiming the lives of workers on the site.

On a windy summer day, a strong gust of wind entered near one of the ends of the barn that had not yet been closed. The wind tore the structure apart from the foundations and lifted it about four feet in the air. Inside, workers ran for their lives.

The barn came down four feet away from its original location, damaging parked vehicles. Luckily, no one was injured. Everything had to be rebuilt from scratch, except for the foundations.

TWO IN ONE
The barn is divided by a solid central partition, separating the flock into two groups of 30,000. The total size of the barn is 46 by 446 feet, along with a 50- by 150-feet manure storage shed, big enough to hold a full year’s manure.

Each of the four rows of cages is six tiers high. A metal catwalk was added between tier 3 and tier 4, for easier bird observation and maintenance.

The cages are the Euro 2010 model from German manufacturer Meller. The system is “enrichable”: the cages are ready to be modified and to receive the additional parts that will turn them into “enriched” cages.

“Should regulations change, we will be ready,” says Stéphane Martel. “Within a week’s time, we could install all the required parts for an enriched system.”

Ferme avicole Ste-Croix is the largest poultry operation in Quebec to use enrichable cages and only the second one to have them installed.

The Meller cages were purchased from Distribution Jean Blanchard, of Sherbrooke. According to Chris Bill, of Meller Canada, enrichable cages are not really more expensive than conventional cages. “The extra cost will only come when one decides to enrich them.”

For about $2 per bird, the cages can have the following added: a perch, an auger for scratch grain, an artificial grass matting the birds can scratch in and a nest box. The transition also involves removing three galvanized steel partitions, in order to join four cages into one.

Meller enrichable cages are each 81 inches long. At Ferme avicole Ste-Croix, they will each host eight layers, even though current regulation would allow nine. Cages are 30 inches high, about four or five inches higher than regular cages.

“For the next decade, I think the regulations will keep allowing standard cages. But after the next 10 years, it’s anybody’s guess,” Chris Bill says.

THE MOTIVATION
At Ferme avicole Ste-Croix, a new layer barn had become necessary in order to comply with current animal welfare regulation and to allow for future growth.

Since last November, the new layer barn holds just above 60,000 hens. According to Stéphane Martel, capacity will allow up to 70,000 layers. The old barn will soon be converted into a pullet-breeding barn. The building was previously so cramped that the Martels had to rent out their new quota allocations to other producers.

Expansion projects began in 2002, when the Martels understood that should they want to grow, they would need land to spread their hens’ manure. From an initial 47 acres, a series of purchases has made them owners of 800 acres.

Fields are used to grow part of the grain that enters into the feed. But self-sufficiency is not the first objective. “Our priorities are to be able to dispose of our manure and to make our land as profitable as we can,” says Stéphane Martel.

Corn is tough to grow in Lac-Saint-Jean, unless it’s for silage. The Martels purchase the corn they need for their feed, and grow barley, soybeans and canola. Last summer, they successfully produced brewery-quality barley.

In this far-away region, land is less expensive, Stéphane Martel admits. However, transportation costs can be higher, due to long distances. Even though there are only three other layer operations in the whole region, all services are available.

“We are far from everything, but we are used to this,” he says. “There are transportation services just like everywhere else and we don’t feel like we’re so far away from everything.”

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