Alternative Housing
Blog number three follows what turned out to be a very busy November. I knew things were ramping up when I heard my husband Nick tell a salesman that he “wished there were two of him”.

First, I think I should elaborate on why we chose to convert to an enriched colony system. We looked at free-run and free-range, but our gut is telling us that the consumer will still want to purchase the cheapest eggs available in grocery stores.

Our son works at Food Basics and sees the specialty eggs passed over. Actually, they have to be shipped back as they are on the shelf to the expiry date.

As a family, including our children (all of whom are in their twenties), we decided we did not want to work in an environment where our hens would greet us openly upon entering the barn.

We also think an enriched system will give us more control with respect to animal care, our routine and the amount of time we spend in the barn.

In addition, we would probably have to have a bigger barn for free-run or free-range. That being the case, our present building site would have been compromised by size and perhaps would have had to be moved to a different location on the farm.

We decided to stay with Clark Ag Systems partly because they are only a half-hour away. Being nearby has aided in service calls for repairs to our conventional system.

What’s more, the Farmer Automatic system includes many interesting add-ons. I will discuss these more when we are at the housing installation phase of the build.

A busy month
In the last month, concrete work finally began. We built the forms for the concrete walls in the cooler, packing room and front area of the barn in a few days.

The first cement truck came on November 6th. This was exciting and relieved some stress for both of us, as we could see the barn build finally physically taking shape.

We had to bring in loads of stone. Also, the barn floor had to be levelled and packed with a roller to make a smooth floor for the concrete that would be poured on top in the future.

We used the services of Chris Best to haul in stone, move it, roll it and pack it. They also helped with excavating a new electrical line.

In the week of November 20th, three contractors were working on the same day.

Two were doing the concrete walls. Three were moving stone from the dump pile to a dump truck to the back of the barn site, spreading it on the floor and rolling/packing the stone to make a level floor.

And three men from Jorna Construction had started the preliminary work for building the first wall.

Nick is being the general contractor for the barn build project. He was overseeing all aspects, such as making sure the present water line from the deep well to our existing layer barn was buried beneath the floor, doing drawings for fan placement so the builder made the correct size of opening in the side walls and getting anything else that was needed.

Building a cistern under the cooler was a last minute decision. There was such a large hole under the cooler that it made more sense to use it as a cistern, instead of filling it in with gravel.

In that week, we also had the electricians come and install underground conduit for the electrical service. I think at least 10 truckloads of stone were brought in, and three loads made by the cement truck.

On Wednesday, November 22, the first west framed wall was up, and the size difference of the new barn compared to the present conventionally housed barn is quite impressive.

The opposite east wall was up two days later and we had the weekend to gaze upon all of the week’s efforts.

Saturday, Nick called upon a former worker to help him take down more of the existing pig barn so the carpenter has more working space at the south (far) end.

We are going to hold on to our hats for December, as it looks like we will need good weather to get everything enclosed before winter.

Even with all of this activity, barn chores still must get done. I find myself in the barn alone more, but know it is important for Nick to be present when building work is being done.

I can hear lots of extra banging, vehicles beeping, engines revving and hammering from inside the barn. I do think the chickens are getting used to this!
Published in Producers
"U.S. shift to cage-free eggs causing market disruption.” That was the title of an editorial blog published in July by WATT, publisher of WATT Poultry USA magazine. In it, Terrence O’Keefe, content director of agri-business, notes, “It will continue to be a bumpy transition for the cage-free egg market unless major egg purchasers set and stick to interim goals for cage-free egg purchases.”
Published in Eggs - Layers
Since my first article, I’ve come up with my “author” name – Cindy Egg Farmerette. Like it?

This time, I’ll add a little more about our present set up, task sharing and, of course, discuss what we’ve accomplished in the last month for the new site.

As a reminder, this blog is all about our journey from conventional housing to building a new Farmer Automatic enriched housing facility.

My husband Nick and I contribute fairly equally to the present workload for our egg business.

We gather eggs by hand at the front of the barn, with the cooler right beside where we make stacks of trays of eggs and, eventually, the full skid of 60 stacks of eggs.

I do probably 95 per cent of the record keeping, animal care checks and all of the bookkeeping.

I absolutely refuse to do the manure – that’s Nick’s job. With the majority of our equipment being 21 years old, the manure removal apparatus has several quirks that only he knows how to operate.

He monitors the amount of feed to order with the help of our salesman Neill Vroom from Masterfeeds. We’ve stayed with this feed company since the beginning.

I also work one morning a week for a lawyer and “retired” last year from teaching piano one day a week at Dunnville Christian School after doing this for 25 years.

Our two youngest children attend post-secondary schools and help on the weekends that they’re home. Our two oldest moved out in July to Hamilton, Ont. They have full-time jobs and will help when we need them.

In the last month, Nick has had to find workers willing to clear the barn site with him. His hired man was in a motorcycle accident and could not work while he healed.

He found a couple of guys to help for a few days here and there and managed to get everything cleared from the former farrow-to-finish pig barn that we’re converting.

The backhoe operator he had lined up was busy. It seems everyone in the construction industry is busy as well!

He was going through his contacts on his cellphone and remembered that his long-time friend Bill that we visited in the summer showed him the backhoe he had bought.

He asked him if he was interested in picking up some extra work and he agreed. He is a helicopter pilot, former dairy farmer and is sometimes home for weeks at a time.

We caught him when he had just gotten home for a good chunk of time. He started with digging the trench for the new driveway.
Next, he broke concrete into pieces that could be put in the driveway “trench” as a base for the new driveway.

Nick also moved pieces with his loader tractor, managed any helpers and split concrete pieces with a sledgehammer. He also ordered loads of crushed stone for under the concrete floor and for rodent control along foundations.

And Nick hired a bobcat with a jackhammer on the front to break thick concrete into smaller pieces. Lots of this was done in the beautiful stretch of weather that we had, but when the rain came one October day, we got soaked with four inches. Everything just had to sit for a few days!

The concrete contractor was supposed to be here the beginning of October, but we are still waiting for him. This is holding up the start of the actual building. The builder had called two months ago to warn us to order trusses right away, as there is a backlog.

The photos I've included are of the new driveway with concrete pieces and the backhoe and tractor working at the old pig barn site.

I hope you continue to follow along and see what happens in the next month.
Published in Producers
November 23, 2017 – Each year, Americans eat an average of 250 eggs, and right now there is a surplus in most parts of the country because of increased production. In California, however, there is a decrease in the number of eggs being laid.

Why? It could be a case of happier hens, new research suggests.

A law in that state titled the “Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act” (also known as Prop 2) requires all eggs produced in California come from chickens “that are provided enough room to turn around and fully extend their wings”.

Passed in late-2008, it came into effect on January 1, 2015 to allow producers time to transition.

Now, a study shows the regulations have already had a significant impact on hens, farmers and consumers – and not just in California.

It’s all part of new research from Conner Mullally of the University of Florida and Jayson Lusk of Purdue University titled “The Impact of Farm Animal Housing Restrictions on Egg Prices, Consumer Welfare, and Production in California.”

“You can change the animal welfare and the treatment of animals but it’s not going to be free,” Mullally says of the study results, which were recently published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

“We were able to look at how much people paid for a dozen eggs compared to some cities outside of California thanks to grocery store data.”

For the study, the researchers looked at 16 years of monthly data on egg production and input prices.

They found that by July 2016, both egg production and the number of egg-laying hens was about 35 per cent lower than they would have been in the absence of the new regulations.

Out-of-state eggs were able to compensate for falling California production until around the time the new rules were implemented, at which point imports of eggs into California fell.

For consumers, the study found that the average price paid per dozen eggs was about 22 per cent higher from December 2014 through September 2016 than it would have been in the absence of the hen housing restrictions.

The price impact fell over time, from an initial impact of about 33 per cent per dozen to about 9 per cent over the last six months of the observed time horizon.

These price increases correspond to welfare losses of at least $117 million for the three California markets over the observed time horizon.

The results suggest that because of the policy change, California consumers can expect to experience annual welfare losses of at least $25 million in future years from higher retail egg prices alone.
Published in Eggs - Layers
Zurich, Switzerland, November 17, 2017 – Nestle, the world’s largest packaged foods company, has committed to sourcing only eggs from cage-free hens for all its food products globally by 2025.

This includes all shell eggs and egg products directly sourced as ingredients by the company.

In Europe and the U.S., Nestle will make the transition by the end of 2020.

For the rest of the Americas, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania it will happen by 2025, with the move in Asia to be completed in the same transition period, as conditions allow.

In some parts of the world, such as in Europe, over 40 per cent of eggs Nestle uses are already from cage-free sources.

In a statement, the company explained the timeline for its transition.

“Switching to cage-free supplies worldwide requires time and investment.

“We will manage this in a sustainable and cost effective way during the implementation period, ensuring consumers continue to access affordable high quality foods throughout.

“We look forward to working with our suppliers, farmers, civil society and customers to drive progress.”

Several of the company’s rivals have already made similar pledges, including Kraft Heinz, Conagra and Mondelez International.
Published in Companies
As the due date approaches for the transition from conventional cages to either fully enriched or cage-free layer systems, we will discuss the differences between these systems. We also will explore the other question many farms are facing: build a new barn or retrofit an existing structure. Join us as we share on these important topics, and respond to your questions.
Published in Webinars
Numerous major North American food makers, restaurants and retailers have formed a united front committed to sourcing only cage-free eggs by 2025. That being the case, it seems inevitable that most producers will shy away from enriched housing as the industry phases out conventional cages.
Published in Emerging Trends
My name is Cindy Huitema and I’m a proud egg farmer from Haldimand County, Ont., situated between Dunnville and Cayuga. I grew up near Kitchener, Ont., on a mixed farm including 2,200 laying hens.
Published in Producers
June 23, 2017, Indiana - The cage-free revolution has been driven by consumers, many of whom think the change is better for chickens (though many also may believe eggs from uncaged hens are better quality).

Animal protection groups argue it definitely is: Birds that are not confined to small wire cages can at least spread their wings and engage in natural behaviors like dust-bathing and perching, even if they never see the light of day.

But egg producers and researchers caution that the switch is not as simple as just opening those cage doors — and that mobility brings with it a new set of concerns for chickens’ welfare that most farmers have never confronted.

A major 2015 study of three different hen-housing systems found that mortality was highest among birds in cage-free aviaries and that they also had more keel bone problems. READ MORE 
Published in Eggs - Layers
Dec. 8, 2016 - Nestlé Canada (Nestlé) has announced that it will move to using only cage-free eggs in all of its Canadian food products by 2025. The company says this is part of its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain.

Nestlé purchases almost 500,000 pounds of eggs annually, but says it is dedicated to working with Canadian farmers to make this transition by 2025.

“Canadian farmers are important to us, and in addition to eggs, we also purchase approximately $44 million worth of dairy products every year. Working alongside Canadian farmers is an essential part of our commitment to the health, care and welfare of animals,” Catherine O’Brien, senior vice president, corporate affairs says.

The pledge to use 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs is part of Nestlé’s global commitment on farm animal welfare, launched in 2012 and strengthened in 2014. As part of the commitment, the company outlined its plan to eliminate specific farming practices, like tail docking for cattle and pigs, gestation crates for pigs and veal crates. Nestlé works with World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organization, to assess its suppliers against these commitments.

“[Nestlé's] commitment to move to cage-free eggs will have a huge positive impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of hens," Josey Kitson, executive director for World Animal Protection Canada says. "Unlike conventional barns, cage-free systems allow hens to move around freely, perch and lay their eggs in a nest box.  World Animal Protection has been pleased to support Nestlé’s work to improve the lives of farm animals. We applaud Nestlé Canada’s commitment to hens today and their ongoing efforts to give other farm animals better lives as well.”

Nestlé is developing pilot projects with its suppliers and World Animal Protection to establish a roadmap for sourcing cage-free eggs in Europe and the rest of the world.
Published in Companies
Fortune magazine in September took a deep dive into the cage-free egg movement, chronicling how McDonald’s made its decision to go cage-free and the company’s prospects for being able to follow through on its pledge.

McDonald’s announcement a year ago spurred a tidal wave through the food industry. Around 200 companies, including every major fast food chain and many major brands, have said they will go cage-free. Most of them target 2025 for completing the transition.

The Fortune article cites results from Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) research that examined three different hen housing systems – conventional cage, enriched colony and cage-free – and concluded there are positive and negative trade-offs with each.

Food beat writer Beth Kowitt cites that the CSES study considered the housing systems as a whole – worker health, animal health, food affordability, food safety and environmental impact, while activist groups focus solely on animal welfare. An excerpt: In the end, science wasn’t the deciding factor. The study intentionally excluded one component – consumer sentiment – and that turned out to be the most important of all. The phrase “enriched cage” means nothing to the average person. So if McDonald’s had shifted to that option, it wouldn’t get any credit from consumers. “Science was telling us enriched, but when talking with the consumer, they had no clue what enriched was,” says Hugues Labrecque, who runs the egg business that serves McDonald’s at Cargill. Once that became clear, cage-free became the inevitable consensus.

In a Forbes op-ed, contributor Steve Banker, who covers logistics and supply chain management, cites the Fortune article and analyzes what will have to happen in the marketplace in order for McDonald’s to meet its cage-free commitment by 2025. He concludes, “McDonald’s shows us that companies have a chance to do ‘good,’ where ‘good’ is defined in a way that resonates with their customer base….”

In a Forbes article back in May, “Supermarket Guru” Phil Lempert noted there currently is no United States Department of Agriculture legal definition for “cage-free” and that, “…transparency of what the term actually means will anger many as they discover their imagery of a happy-go-lucky hen running through the field is far from the truth.”

People with strong feelings about hen housing tend to bypass scientific studies such as that conducted by CSES. Food companies want to give customers what they want regardless of the science.

There are a number of barriers to consumers integrating scientific information into their decision-making process. The influence of group values, confirmation bias, scientific illiteracy, the tribal nature of online communication and other factors all pose challenges to successfully introducing technical information into the social conversation about food and agriculture.

Many of the barriers can be overcome by following the formula developed through CFI’s research. Establishing shared values opens the door for technical information to be introduced into the conversation. It begins by first identifying and then communicating values from a credible messenger.  Only then can incorporating technical information be viewed as trustworthy, building on a message platform that encourages informed decision-making.

Building trust is a process. Authentic transparency and continued engagement will encourage objective evaluation of scientific information that supports informed decision-making. Encouraging informed decision-making requires meeting people in the communities where the discussions are taking place, acknowledging their scepticism and committing to long-term engagement.

The Center for Food Integrity
CFI is a not-for-profit organization whose members and project partners represent the diversity of today’s food system, from farmers and food companies to universities, non-governmental organizations to retailers and food processors.

Visit for more information.
Published in Eggs - Layers


The rapid escalation in cage-free sourcing announcements from fast-food and quick serve restaurants in recent months has become concerning.  The words “cage-free” have become a marketing gimmick, and less a about the welfare of laying hens.

Opponents of animal agriculture will look upon this tidal wave as a win for animal welfare, and continually claim that these restaurant chains are answering consumer concerns over hen housing. But, I suspect that most food businesses are, for the most part, bowing to pressure placed on them from animal activist groups.

Releasing a cage-free commitment announcement has essentially become an insurance policy for a company against having its name associated with disturbing undercover videos or other forms of negative press and social media backlash.

Until recently, this battle hasn’t affected individual farmers in Canada to a great extent.  It’s provided an opportunity for some to expand or transition and supply what is still considered a niche market.  However, when major grocery store chains follow suit, the entire egg industry is going to be affected — and so is the average consumer.

Restaurant and foodservice providers can make blanket statements about sourcing one type of egg because it’s too complicated for them to offer, for example, a breakfast sandwich made with either an egg that’s cage-free, conventional, organic, enriched or free-range housing – it’s confusing and a logistical nightmare for their supply chains.  Whether a consumer is actively choosing a particular restaurant because the eggs are cage-free or not is a moot point when virtually every chain offers the same egg option. For a consumer, the decision of where to eat becomes a matter of convenience, price, and taste.

However, the grocery store is still where a consumer can make a conscious decision on what type of egg to buy.  But that may change. In mid-March grocery members of the Retail Council of Canada(RCC), including Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Wal-Mart Canada Corp., announced they are “voluntarily committing to the objective of purchasing cage-free eggs by the end of 2025” (see page 6).  

No longer is the cage-free issue a way for a company to differentiate itself within a competitive marketplace, it’s now on a path to become the majority. There’s no doubt that cage-free housing offers improved animal welfare compared to conventional housing, however a multi-year intensive study by the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) determined that when all factors of sustainability were examined, including important parameters such as food affordability and environmental impact, cage-free systems did not reign supreme. The CSES study determined that enriched colony housing offered the best for the hen, farmer and consumer – yet it’s a system that is rarely mentioned by restaurants and retailers.

The Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) hope to change this. It’s not about pitting one system against another – it’s about providing the consumer and retailers with choices, and keeping eggs an affordable source of high-quality protein.  

There’s still time to turn the tide – but it’s going to be a battle the Canadian egg industry will be fighting for the next several years at least.




Published in Broilers

May 25, 2016 - Recognized welfare outcome assessments within farm assurance schemes have shown a reduction in feather loss and improvement in the welfare of UK cage-free laying hens, according to the findings of a study from the AssureWel project by the University of Bristol, RSPCA and the Soil Association. READ MORE

Published in Consumer Issues

March 10, 2016 -A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. has announced a major commitment to become the first national quick service restaurant in Canada to serve eggs from hens raised in better cage-free housing. According to a company press release, the company expects to achieve this goal within two years. "A&W has already established its leadership role by being the first and only quick service restaurant chain to serve eggs from hens in enriched housing and raised without the use of antibiotics," the company said. "Currently, there are no open barn housing options available that meet A&W's supply needs and allow for an antibiotic-free environment."

A&W is committing to improving and redesigning housing for egg laying hens, and will source eggs from hens raised without the use of antibiotics while simultaneously advancing the best practices for egg laying hens.  

In the press release, the company said that "as a part of its commitment to improving egg laying hen housing, a $100,000 A&W grant is being made to Farm & Food Care Canada, a leading Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to building public trust in food and farming. With this investment, the organization will bring together industry experts from many fields to help build on existing work and set better direction for hen housing in Canada."
Farm & Food Care Canada released the following statement to clarify  A&W Food Services of Canada Inc.'s assertion that the charitable organization will be receiving funds to further hen housing research:
Contrary to media reports, Farm & Food Care Canada will not be funding research into finding better cage-free housing alternatives for hens. On March 10, A&W announced plans to contribute $100,000 to Farm & Food Care Canada. In its press release, A&W stated the following: “As a part of its commitment to improving egg laying hen housing, a $100,000 A&W grant is being made to Farm & Food Care Canada, a leading Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to building public trust in food and farming. With this investment, the organization will bring together industry experts from many fields to help build on existing work and set better direction for hen housing in Canada.
Farm & Food Care Canada was approached for this work earlier this week as a third party coordinator to host a session to bring egg industry partners, retail and food service from across Canada together with the US Center for Food Integrity’s Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply. The principle of the discussion would be to broaden it beyond hen welfare to include all issues impacting sustainable eggs including food safety, environment, hen health, worker health and safety and food affordability and determine areas that the Canadian egg sector felt this funding would be best spent.
No agreements have been or will be signed for the funding or its terms until after the Farm & Food Care Canada board of directors and egg industry partners have discussed best options. Farm & Food Care and the new Canadian Centre for Food Integrity does not advocate for positions on issues or for specific companies. 
Susan Senecal, President and Chief Operating Officer, A&W Food Services of Canada Inc. said the company is "committed to finding better hen housing options within two years that can benefit Canadians, egg farmers and the entire food industry. "We are investing in innovation to accelerate the pace of change because right now there are no viable cage-free egg options that meet our supply standards regarding the use of antibiotics. We are committed to change because we think it is the right thing for the animals, the industry, our business and Canada."
As the only national QSR serving eggs from enriched housing, A&W says it is already at the forefront of egg laying hen health and welfare. 
"We have a long history of innovating.  We worked with highly committed Canadian egg farmers to move from conventional cages," Senecal said in the company release. "While it costs more, we made the switch because it was the right thing to do. Now we are advancing to the next stage. We have led our industry in the past and we will continue to lead in the future."


Published in Researchers

February 18, 2016 - The owner of Jack Astor's and Canyon Creek restaurants will soon start serving eggs laid by hens not raised in cages. 

SIR Corp, the owner of the two restaurant chains and several  others, announced February 18 all 64 of its restaurants will make the shift by September. 

The promise comes after public pledges by several other companies to start dishing up only cage-free eggs as well, including Tim Hortons, McDonald's, and Starbucks. However, most of these companies 
say it will take between four and 10 years to make the change. 

Published in Eggs - Layers

February 5, 2016 - Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) is pleased to announce, on behalf of the more than 1,000 Canadian egg farms, the commencement of a coordinated, systematic, market-oriented transition from conventional egg production toward other methods of production for supplying eggs. This collective approach will take hen welfare, human health, other resource implications, environmental impact and food production sustainability all into account.

"In response to the best available scientific research and in light of changing consumer preferences, I'm pleased that the entire industry has agreed to an orderly transition plan that will further diversify our production practices," said Peter Clarke, Chairman of Egg Farmers ofCanada. "We see immense potential to leverage research and innovation to achieve the best possible outcomes across all factors of sustainable food production, which includes everything from environmental impacts to food affordability," he added.

This major shift will yield an almost 50% restructuring in as early as 8 years from now and includes a commitment to cease the installation of any new conventional housing. Presently about 90% of egg production is in conventional housing. The other 10% or so is in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range. Under the plan, to be overseen by a national working group in collaboration with the entire egg supply chain, the industry expects to achieve about a 50-50% mix in 8 years, about 85% (alternative production) in 15 years. All production would be in enriched housing, free-run, aviary or free-range by 2036 assuming the current market conditions prevail.

Because the market, affordability for consumers, pullet rearing and other supply chain aspects, resource implications, and a number of construction and equipment realities all must be factored in, these projections represent a realistic forecast of what is achievable. The steady, coordinated and cross-supply chain approach will be executed with the utmost respect for ensuring supply—both that there are no supply shortages and that there is no production of eggs for which there is no market—while pursuing production diversification.

Alongside this announcement, the industry hopes to discuss with stakeholders and consumers the benefits of enriched housing, which do not seem to be well or widely understood outside of the industry. These include food safety, the minimization of mortality, cannibalism, and other aggressive behaviours (hens flock together and enjoy small groups), ensuring adequate feed and water for all (hens have a pecking order), human health and the lowest possible environmental impacts.

"Egg Farmers of Canada is proud to represent egg farmers across all systems and to offer consumers choice when it comes to eggs," saidPeter Clarke, Chairman of Egg Farmers of Canada. "We are about to take our already high performing industry and best practices in production to even higher levels."

The welfare, health, production, resource and other tradeoffs between each production method was further assessed by the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply's four-year, commercial-scale study that looked at the sustainability of three different types of hen housing (conventional, aviary and enriched). The study, widely supported by a range of stakeholders, illustrates the complexity involved in evaluating different production methods. For example, it showed that while one production type might have an even higher impact on hen welfare, it also has impacts in terms of human health, the environment, and the economy of the sector that must be considered.

"Egg Farmers of Canada is committed to research, both around production practices and consumer preferences, and to ensuring evidence-based decision-making when it comes to industry practices," Mr. Clarke concluded.

The Canadian egg industry's investments in production method research have shown that enriched housing is a production means that provides the benefits afforded by conventional production and additional features. Enriched housing allows hens to exhibit specific behaviours which may include perching, scratching, foraging, dust bathing and nesting. The industry looks forward to discussing these important aspects, and the broader transition plan, with any and all stakeholders as this process unfolds.


Published in Eggs - Layers


In September 2014, A&W announced itself as the first national fast food restaurant in North America to serve eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet. A month later, the chain became the first in North America to serve chicken raised without the use of antibiotics. In March 2015, McDonald’s also announced that it would switch to chickens raised without most antibiotics, and in April, raised pay for workers at company-owned stores, which represent about 10 per cent of its American locations.

As of early September, McDonalds in Canada and the U.S. followed up these statements with another one – this time the surprising sourcing commitment to transition to 100 per cent cage-free eggs (known as free-run in Canada) over the next 10 years.

McDonald’s Canada says it will begin this transition immediately by sourcing five per cent free-run eggs now. And to ensure a sustainable supply of free-run eggs, McDonald’s Canada stated in its press release that it “will work with industry stakeholders to identify the best path forward.” There are more than 1400 McDonald’s outlets in Canada with more than 85,000 employees from coast to coast.  

For over ten years, McDonald’s has been pressured by the Humane Society of the United States to make this move. Other companies such as Subway and Starbucks had already committed to switching to free-run eggs, but neither has presented a timeline. We asked McDonald’s Canada why it has decided to go free-run, instead of sourcing eggs from enriched cage systems for example. Was it pressure from animal rights groups, an attempt to match what competitors are doing or to boost slumping sales?

Media spokesperson Adam Grachnik says “I can tell you that at McDonald’s Canada, we are always listening to our guests and our announcement on September 9th was about updating Canadian consumers about the progress we are making on a topic many of our guests have told us matters to them. This move is another step in our continuing journey to evolve our entire food experience to meet our guests’ changing expectations.” Grachnik adds “We know our guests care that the food they eat is made with responsibly-sourced, high-quality ingredients which is why we are making the move towards sourcing only 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs for our Canadian restaurants. McDonald’s has been actively engaged in this topic since 2003 when we were the first food service company to adopt a standard for hen housing systems, which provided more space per bird than the official industry standard.”

Housing Research
McDonald’s is part of a group called the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) ( This spring, the group released results from a three-year study showing that free-run systems have some disadvantages relating to both consumers and birds, and that they do not provide the highest sustainability scores, so we asked why McDonald’s went this way instead of with enriched cage systems, for example. Grachnik says the CSES research was done to better understand the impact of various hen housing systems on animal health and welfare, the environment, worker health, food safety and food affordability. “The goal of the research was not to identify a best hen housing system, but to instead help us better understand the benefits and potential drawbacks of a variety of hen housing systems. As we make this transition, we’ll use these insights to help identify opportunities and direct our focus on ways to improve cage-free hen housing systems.”

It seems that Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC, also a CSES member) is being consulted by McDonald’s now, but it’s unclear if the association was consulted before McDonald’s made their free-run announcement in early September. The association directed us to a statement on its website which says: “EFC, on behalf of Canada’s more than 1,000 farms, welcomes and accepts [McDonald’s] request for stakeholder and expert advice as they work through the important operational and financial details of converting their supply chain.” When asked for its take on why McDonald’s Canada went with free-run, whether other big chains in Canada will follow suit, the ten-year timeline feasibility and the challenges for farmers to switch to free-run, EFC again directed us to its website statement. “As further evidenced by the recent study by the CSES, each major production system—conventional, enriched, free run, free range, and aviary—has trade-offs across a wide variety of factors (e.g. costs, welfare, energy, human health, environment). Thus, we respect McDonald’s decision to leverage the research and transition over time and with the assistance of the North American industry.”

Burnbrae Farms is the sole supplier of eggs for McDonald’s Canada. We spoke to President Margaret Hudson about whether her company was consulted before McDonald’s made their free-run announcement, and answer was yes. Hudson says Burnbrae was definitely part of the process and that the timeline is one Burnbrae felt it could achieve. Burnbrae has been producing free-run eggs for almost 20 years, and production has grown to being currently just under 10 per cent.

We asked whether Burnbrae is aiming for a certain amount of free-run production each year over the next ten years, and Hudson says “It will evolve as it makes sense, with our farms and contract farms. With such a long lead time, equipment needs to be replaced and it will be replaced with enough free-run equipment to meet McDonald’s needs. With that long of a timeline, I don’t see an issue.”

Will Burnbrae need to assist their contract farmers to deal with conversion costs? Hudson believes most farmers will be able to manage on their own. “We have a whole team of people whose job it is to interface with our farmer partners, and that will be a part of this,” she explains. “It’s an ongoing conversation. It’s a little more capital [for free-run] but not insurmountable. We are there if we are needed, but we don’t see that [our financial help] will be required.” Hudson notes that Burnbrae has farmed eggs for 70 years and served McDonald’s for over 30 years. “We’re excited about this process and working with them,” she says. “If this what they want for their customers, we are happy to move forward with them.”

In the U.S., McDonald’s already buys about 13 million cage-free eggs a year, but this represents only less than 1 per cent of the 2 billion eggs it purchases annually. That total is expected to rise as McDonald’s USA will begin offering some breakfast menu items all day starting in early October.

United Egg Producers (UEP, a cooperative representing about 95 per cent of all U.S. egg farmers) states that only about 6 per cent of the layers in that country are presently in cage-free facilities. UEP was not consulted before McDonald’s made this announcement. We asked President and CEO Chad Gregory how American McDonald’s restaurants will be able to access enough free-run eggs even in 10 years (because the U.S. lags behind on the adoption of enriched systems, let alone free-run) and he says he believes ten years is ample time for suppliers to convert.

“UEP supports consumer choice, and we respect the decision made by McDonald’s,” Gregory says in a general media statement. Further in the statement, he adds “Over the years, many evaluations of hen housing systems have been conducted, including…CSES, that compared three different hen housing environments. Both UEP and McDonald’s are members of CSES, and through this process, as well as through the ongoing counsel of UEP’s Scientific Advisory Committee, our members have gathered information about developments in hen housing and appropriate care for hens.”

It may be that all fast food chains in Canada and the U.S. – as well as other restaurants and food service outlets – will eventually all demand only free-run eggs. The days of buying eggs from hens housed in battery cages, whether those eggs are at the drive-thru or from your favourite grocery store, could be numbered.




Published in Eggs - Layers


A large increase in egg quotas combined with a new B.C. Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) order increasing the minimum space/bird are forcing B.C. egg producers to consider how best to meet the new requirements.

Since the BCEMB has not outlawed caged egg production (as some U.S. states have done), some producers have chosen to simply add extra footage and extra cages to their barns and reduce the number of birds/cage. Others have decided to make a complete change in their operations.

Ken Vanderkooi of Kenettas Farms chose the latter option. Aug. 12th, a week before the first layer barn was to be populated, he invited industry to tour his brand new state-of-the-art multi-million dollar farm.

Not just the barns and equipment are new. Vanderkooi has been farming in poultry-dense Abbotsford but his new farm is located across the Fraser River where the nearest poultry barn is about a kilometre away.

“I am isolated over here but still only half an hour from Abbotsford,” Vanderkooi says, adding “after avian influenza hit the area in 2004, I said it wasn’t going to catch me a second time.”

He bought a second farm in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island (operated and now owned by his son, Dwayne) “to be away from all the farms here in the valley” but continued to farm in Abbotsford.

He almost waited too long to move the rest of his birds. Just over a month after starting to build the new farm, AI again surged through the Fraser Valley but, fortunately, he and most other local farmers escaped unscathed.

New Barn Features
The new farm includes two 40X450 foot layer barns and a 36X255-foot pullet barn. All three barns are built with the Octaform system with its food-grade PVC-finish.

“Octaform is completely sealed, Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved and cleans up a lot better than plywood,” says equipment supplier Leo Apperloo of United Agri Systems. “I expect the coating to last at least 15-20 years.”

The layer barns have tunnel ventilation with TPI shutter inlets instead of doors while the pullet barn has a two-stage ventilation system, also with TPI shutter inlets. New to B.C., the TPI inlets keep the tunnel ventilation system slimmer, eliminate the need for an outer alcove and better direct the air. When inlets first open, they direct the air towards the ceiling but when the system fully kicks in (400 cubic feet/minute), the shutter position forces the air to the floor maximizing airflow through the barn.

As isolated as the location is, as impressive as the buildings are, as innovative as the ventilation system may be, they pale in comparison to the equipment within: the Valli enriched colony system. Although Valli international sales manager Paolo Zazzeri notes there are already “many” units in the prairie provinces, this is the first in B.C.

Vanderkooi says his son Jon, who will run and eventually own the farm, selected the system.

“Jon is responsible for everything we have done here, including the barn design. He had seen the Valli system working in Italy and told me that’s what he really wanted,” he says. “I agreed as he has to be happy because he is the one working the system and the one who will eventually have to pay for it.”

Vanderkooi admits the system is unlikely to increase productivity but will improve livability, noting it meets the requirements of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other animal welfare advocate groups.  

“I believe this is where the industry’s future is,” he says.

The system includes 711 “colonies” in three tiers. Each colony is 10 feet long and 5.91 feet wide and designed to accommodate 72 birds, giving the entire system a total capacity of 51,192 layers. This gives the Vanderkoois plenty of room for future quota increases as their current quota holding is about 45,000 birds.

They can even increase their flock size well beyond 51,000 birds in future as the barns are tall enough to accommodate a fourth tier.

“We use heavy-duty steel construction so we can go up to 12 tiers if we need to,” Zazzeri states.

Colony features
Each colony includes a feeding/living area with LED lighting and a darkened nesting area. The feeding area includes 12 cm of feeding space/bird and 15 cm of perch/bird. There is both a central feeding system and an external feed trough. In an interesting innovation, there is a perforated guard the birds step on as they access the feed trough. The perforations are intended to shorten the nails.

Strips hanging in the nesting area keep light to a minimum, a plastic mesh on the floor keeps birds from touching wire while they are laying and a cover on the outside grate prevents them from accessing the feed trough.

“If they’re not eating, they’re not defecating, so you cleaner eggs,” Zazzeri says.

The egg belt is 14 cm wide and guarded by an egg saver wire and shocker wire. The wires lift up several times a day to release the eggs onto the belt. The belt is programmed to move three times a day so the entire belt is filled even though 98 per cent of eggs are being laid in the small nesting section of each colony.

“The egg belt has capacity for two days lay although most farms do egg collections once a day,” Zazzeri states.

A manure dryer and blower unit running down the centre of the colony ensures manure is relatively dry. The manure belt has a support every foot and discharges into an external manure storage building.

“We have built enough storage so we only have to empty it once a year,” Vanderkooi says.

The pullet barn has 1332 rearing cages in three rows of three tiers each. Each cage measures 1000 X 705 mm and intended to hold 20 birds for a total capacity of 26,640 birds. Although the piping for the manure dryer has been installed, it is not being used.

“We are going to put at least one pullet flock through without the dryer and see how it goes,” Vanderkooi says.

Although this is the first such installation in the province, Apperloo says it will not be the last. Another is being installed in December and several other farmers have expressed serious interest.

“We have been incredibly busy,” Apperloo says, “with the change in regulations and today’s low interest rates, farmers are investing in new barns and new equipment. We have put in 40 aviaries in the last three years as well as conventional cages and the Valli enriched colony system.”


Published in Eggs - Layers

September 9, 2015 - As part of an ongoing journey to meet customers' changing expectations and preferences, McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Limited today announced that it will transition to sourcing 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs (produced in free-run systems) for its restaurants over the next 10 years.

"Our guests increasingly tell us they appreciate the efforts we go to in responsibly sourcing high quality ingredients," said John Betts, President and CEO, McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Limited. "Our decision to source 100 per cent Canadian cage-free eggs reinforces the focus we're placing on our food and menu to meet our guests' changing expectations, allowing them to feel even better about the food they enjoy at our restaurants."

"We're proud of the work we're doing with suppliers and farmers to further advance environmentally and socially conscious practices for the animals in our supply chain," said Marion Gross, Senior Vice President of McDonald's North America Supply Chain. "This is a bold move and we're confident in our ability to provide a quality, safe, and consistent supply."

On an annual basis, McDonald's Canada purchases approximately 120 million eggs from Canadian farmers to serve on its breakfast menu, which includes popular breakfast sandwiches, such as the Egg McMuffin®. With today's announcement, McDonald's Canada will immediately begin this transition by sourcing five per cent cage-free eggs. To meet the increased demand and ensure a sustainable supply of cage-free eggs, McDonald's Canada will work with industry stakeholders to identify the best path forward, while continuing to work within the Canadian supply management system.

"Animal welfare has always been important to us and our guests," said Rob Dick, Senior Director Supply Chain, McDonald's Canada. "Today's announcement is another milestone building on our work with industry experts and suppliers to improve the treatment of animals throughout our supply chain."

"We value our partnership and look forward to providing healthy, nutritious cage-free eggs for all McDonald's restaurants in Canada," said Margaret Hudson, President, Burnbrae Farms Limited. "While the way we produce eggs has changed since our great-grandfather founded the farm in 1893, our commitment to do what's right for Canadian consumers has never been stronger."

McDonald's has been actively engaged in this topic since 2003 when it became the first foodservice company to adopt a standard for hen housing systems, which provided more space per bird than the official industry standard. In 2010, McDonald's USA initiated research with the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES) to better understand the impact of various hen housing systems on animal health and welfare, the environment, worker health, food safety and food affordability. This research was fundamental in helping better understand the benefits and potential trade-offs of various hen housing systems. As we make this transition, we will use these insights to help identify opportunities and direct our focus on ways to improve cage-free hen housing systems.

Published in Eggs - Layers


When California Prop2 went into effect in January it raised the question of just what are “cage free” eggs?  The only consensus is that eggs produced by free-run and free-range birds, qualify and that standard laying cages do not.  After that it starts to get murky.  Are convertible standard cages considered “cage free”? What about colony cages and do furnished colony cages make a difference in definition?  What about pasture pens or aviaries, or again does it depend on the design? It is much like the term “Factory Farm”; it depends on who is doing the defining. And it very much matters whether the term is being used for labelling purposes or production standards or marketing campaigns.  

Canadian regulators do not define the term directly. They refer to organic standards.  Nor do producer groups or retailers. The same applies to the few US state regulators where so-called ”cage bans” have been implemented. In California for example, the term is being used somewhat inappropriately. Under the new law, and contrary to public perception, cages are not banned. Instead, egg producers simply have to provide larger space in order to meet the state agriculture regulations in order to meet the very vague requirements under the HSUS inspired Proposition 2 ballot measure.  Or at least until HSUS and company take their next step.

The state has not weighed-in on types of housing and neither has the Prop2 measure. In a February decision, a court of appeals judge upheld the measure arguing that the requirements “can be readily discerned using objective criteria” and that “a person of reasonable intelligence can determine the dimensions of an appropriate confinement that will comply with Proposition 2.”

The USDA, through its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) verifies “cage free” claims when used on USDA inspected eggs. This claim indicates the eggs came from hens who were “never confined to a cage and have had unlimited access to food, water, and the freedom to roam” whether they are indoors or outdoors.  But a “cage” is not defined.

HSUS and their Canadian branch HSIC has been a driving force in the “cage free” movement. But they are being cagey (pun intended) by not pinning themselves to a definition either.

They refer to “battery cages” in their literature but knowing the public doesn’t discern, they leave the impression that no cages are now used.  According to their website, HSUS states: “As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns. Unlike battery hens, cage-free hens are able to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests, vital natural behaviors denied to hens confined in cages.”   And HSUS knows what it is doing. In January HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle toured California to publicize Prop2 and promote “cage-free” adding further public confusion.  

When HSUS formed a short-lived agreement with United Egg Producers on national standards in 2012, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle explained that HSUS believes in “practical, incremental reform” in animal welfare, and while a conversion to cage-free production would have been “ideal,” his organization “changed its position from “cage-free only” to colonies because the agreement exceeds all other housing regulations in the U.S. and abroad.” An even clearer statement was made two years earlier in a July 16, 2010 Position Statement Against Modified Cages for Laying Hens. A consortium of animal protection groups including HSUS, WSPA, and the Animal Welfare Institute stated: “The major animal protection organizations in the United States and European Union listed below that focus on the treatment of farm animals are opposed to modified cages, sometimes referred to as furnished, or so-called enriched cage, confinement of laying hens.”

And confusion continued when in February 2014 HSUS announced their new website, “While Prop 2 does not specifically mention cages, it has the economic effect of facilitating the transition of the egg industry to cage free systems, the announcement read.  “Some California producers are converting to colony cage systems, but The HSUS has never believed those systems are compliant with the standards set forth in Proposition 2,” the announcement added.

HSUS’s Canadian branch is a little more forthcoming. HSIC has partnered with the Vancouver Humane Society with their decade-old Chicken Out! Campaign designed in their words “to educate Canadian consumers about more humane alternatives to eggs produced by battery cage hens.” The campaign states that “… if you do choose to consume eggs, consider cage-free eggs. When you hear the term “cage-free” in Canada, it refers to one of three different types of production methods: free-run, free-range and organic. An enriched cage, while it does provide more space, is still a cage, and is not considered cage-free.” Aviary housing is not mentioned.

World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) defines “cage-free” eggs as “those produced in housing systems which permit hens the opportunity to engage in natural behavior… they include free run (or cage-free), free range, and organic. On their Choose Cage-Free page, begun in Canada in 2012, WAP says: “Furnished cages are larger than battery cages… but the cages are still crowded and hens’ movement is still restricted… Some producers have already adopted furnished cages. Eggs from these systems may be labelled as comfort coop or nest-laid.”  A fundraiser states, “while all these hens are guaranteed more space, some businesses have opted to simply use larger cages. Not cool, I know. But you can help. When you’re out shopping, make sure you’re still looking for cage-free eggs…”

The David Suzuki Foundation defines “cage-free” as “hens are not confined to battery cages, but that’s about it.” Adding: “You might see this claim on all three types of non-battery cage production eggs — free-run, free-range and organic.”

Egg Farmers of Canada, while not using the term “cage free”, very clearly explains conventional, colony and floor housing. The same will apply to the updated Recommended Code of Practice.

It gets even murkier when we get to “cage-free” certification standards.

There are many different third-party animal welfare certification organizations in Canada. And unlike industry and federal standards, each has their own specific criteria that must be met in order to be certified.

BCSPCA Certified and the Winnipeg Humane Society equivalent simply state that “caging of birds is prohibited.” No mention of colony cages or aviaries.

American Humane Certified is a program of American Humane Association and differentiates their certification for enriched colony cages and cage-free. For colony cages, each bird must be provided with at least 116 sq. inches and have access to perches and nest boxes.  Cage-free birds “must have 1.25 square feet (180 square inches) of floor space”, as well as access to perches and nesting boxes.

Certified Humane, a program of U.S.-based Humane Farm Animal Care, also operates in Canada. The standards clearly state that “battery, furnished or enriched cages as well as lock back aviaries are prohibited.

Animal Welfare Approved is a program of the U.S.-based Animal Welfare Institute and likely has the highest standards. However, they only certify flocks of fewer than 500 birds and no type of cage or pen, indoors or outdoors, are permitted. Aviaries do not comply.

With no clear and consistent definition of “cage-free” there is wiggle room for challenges that lie ahead.




Published in Emerging Trends
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