Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features Profiles Researchers
Rock Solid

Three generations of farming in Newfoundland


October 2, 2009
By Kristy Nudds


Topics

Nestled off the TransCanada highway on the Avalon Peninsula in Ocean Pond, Newfoundland is Munn Poultry Farm Ltd., a modern layer facility with a rich family history.

Nestled off the TransCanada highway on the Avalon Peninsula in Ocean Pond, Newfoundland is Munn Poultry Farm Ltd., a modern layer facility with a rich family history.

DSC_0303
Munn Poultry Farm Ltd. is a three-generation farm on the Avalon peninsula. (Left to right) Leslie Munn, office manager Jim Jewer, Curtis Somerton, William Munn and Winnifred Munn.

Advertisment

It all began in 1962, when William Munn was working for the only hatchery business on the island, selling chicks, feed and equipment.  William saw an opportunity in poultry and took a chance during the “dog eat dog” era of poultry production before supply management, and bought a property in Portugal Cove and started rearing and selling pullets, forming Wychhazel Farm.  “It gave me my first taste of birds,” he says.

Knowing nothing about hens, “I read every book I could,” says William.  His wife, Winnifred, worked at the hatchery, becoming a qualified sexer, and helped her husband raise pullets.  In 1970, a layer operation was having financial trouble and approached the Munns. “They couldn’t get anyone else to buy it,” says William, who purchased the operation, called Newfoundland Hatchery Inc., and continued rearing pullets.

But it wasn’t until William went on a course given by Shaver Breeding Farms that he really got interested in poultry, he says.  “I loved every moment of it,” he says.

20a
 
20b
 
Curtis
Somerton and Leslie Munn stand in front of the truck Curtis uses to
deliver eggs to a local grader. The mother and son team relocated the
farm in 2005 to avoid urban encroachment.


 

He also had a bit of luck.  The year after purchasing Newfoundland Hatchery, the Canadian Egg Marketing Agency (now the Egg Farmers of Canada) was formed, and the provincial market became supply managed.  The Munns were granted quota for 50,000 layers, allowing them to see a return on their investment in birds.

Daughter Leslie was the only one of their four children interested in continuing the family business, but it took leaving Newfoundland to discover this. Like many Newfoundlanders before her, Leslie left home soon after finishing high school and went to Ontario to “see if the grass was greener on the other side.” While there, she got a job working for Shaver Breeding Farms in Cambridge, staying for four years.  “I always enjoyed the challenge of it,” she says.

She returned home to work on the farm with her parents.  Several years later, William had to have open heart surgery, and Leslie took over the day to day responsibilities. Two years later, her son Curtis Somerton was born, and he now runs the farm.  “I’ve been on the farm all of my life,” says Somerton. “I didn’t have much choice, but it’s where I wanted to be.”  He took the helm the day after graduating high school in 1999.

But he and the family had a decision to make a few years later when nearby St. John’s, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, started expanding and Portugal Cove started becoming a distinct suburb of the city. 

“I knew that if my generation was going to survive, we had to get outside of St. John’s,” says Somerton.

Their existing buildings were old and needed replacing, and they knew manure management would become a problem.  Says office manager Jim Jewer, “We were proactive with the move.  We were constantly under urban encroachment and we knew that the town council would not give us a permit to do anything.”

The family purchased land in Ocean Pond, about an hour away from Portugal Cove.  A condition for the move, says William, was that the new facility be “state-of-the-art.” They chose to quit grading their own eggs and focus solely on pullets and layers, increasing their layer quota to 69,000 birds.  With the move also came a name change, from Newfoundland Hatchery Inc. to Munn Poultry Farms.

They built three barns, one for the pullets (36,000 in total) and two for the layers. The birds are housed in Hellman pullet and layer cages, and a chain feeding system is used as well as a manure belt drying system. The cages are six tiers high, with a catwalk to access the top tiers. All systems are computerized and integrated into a single unit manufactured by Hotraco Agri that has touch-screen controls. Enhanced biosecurity was a top priority, with the main entrance to the farm from the road having controlled access and an anteroom for visitors.

“We are pretty content where we are now,” says Curtis.

The family also now has a land base to utilize manure. They produce hay on 75 to100 acres, allowing them to become “self-sufficient,” says Leslie. Prior to moving to Ocean Pond in 2005, they were dependent on dairy farms on the island to take the manure created on their farm. Leslie’s partner clears the land, expanding every year and much of the hay goes to feed Leslie’s longtime “hobby” – her three horses.

Curtis ships eggs two to three times a week in a farm-owned truck to grader Newfoundland Eggs Inc., located less than 10 km away. Spent hens are sold to local mink farmers for feed.

Curtis became a director with the Egg Producers of Newfoundland and Labrador two years ago, which he says “gives me a little more insight into what’s going on, especially on a national level.”

He is also expanding his knowledge of the challenges faced by other farming sectors as board director with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture, and also by serving one year with the Agri-Adapt Council Inc., the body responsible for delivering regional funds from the Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Program.

For the operation to succeed and diversify throughout three generations is due in part to supply management. “We wouldn’t have existed without it,” says William.