The total estimated annual electricity and natural gas needs of the facility are between 80,000 to 120,000 kWh (with one GJ of natural gas consumption equivalent to 278 kWh). The existing solar panels generate about 29,000 kWh, so at this point, only about a third of the facility’s power needs are taken care of on-farm – but it’s a facility which holds many keys to how a layer facility might be designed and operated so that it produces as much energy as it consumes, known as “net zero.” Egg Farmers of Alberta describes the site as “establishing precedent for what additional solar (or other energy generation) would be required to get to net zero energy consumption,” and that it will “eventually provide all of the information we need to in order to communicate what a net zero layer barn looks like, and what it costs.”
The free-run aviary barn is owned by the Brant Hutterite Colony (population 105) in Brant, Alberta (near Lethbridge) and houses 13,000 laying hens. To help offset some of the construction costs, the colony received a $250,000 grant from the Alberta government. Its partners, Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AAF), also secured some funding from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (through Growing Forward 2) to help make the project a reality.
The idea for a net zero egg facility came about in 2014 after EFA had completed a “life cycle analysis”(an examination of resource use and other factors) of the province’s egg farms. It showed that on-farm energy use represents nearly 15 per cent of the climate change impact of egg production in Alberta. “EFA was and is in the process of building plans and strategies to improve the carbon footprint of egg production and this [project] was a natural fit,” notes EFA Industry Development Officer Jenna Griffin. “Similar projects were initiated with Pork and Milk, but each organization took it in a different direction and I believe we were the only ones that went down the path of building a commercial facility.”
To find an egg farmer partner, EFA sent information to all those in the province known to be building a new facility and narrowed it down to a few that met certain criteria. “For example, we wanted the facility to be near a major urban centre, and be of a size that was representative of an average Alberta egg farm,” says Griffin. “The intent was to give ourselves the best chance of successfully getting to net zero and to ensure that the data generated is applicable to most farms.”
In describing why Brant Colony went ahead, Brant egg manager Darrel Mandel highlights the collegiality within Alberta’s egg industry. “There is a passion for your fellow producer,” he says. “When one has achieved a new and efficient way to better his or her farm…it is shared…For us, it did not seem right to let this pass and not do it for the industry.” The agreement with EFA and AAF required that Brant Colony provide data about barn energy performance and also install a web cam inside the barn, and Mandel says that while “providing data did not seem to be such a big issue” at the time, “agreeing to install cameras, allowing tours, were some big things to consider, and there were multiple reasons why we felt that first off, why should the public see what we or our birds are doing? It seemed like a very strange and out-of-place puzzle piece…[but] then we asked ourselves, what is there to hide? Why is this making us afraid on sharing what we do best, that being caring for our animals?…Adding the cameras would not change our everyday lifestyle. We love our animals…They need to be treated with the best care possible. By doing that, it gives the consumer a healthier egg…and gives us farmers an accomplishment that we are proud of and willing to share, be it on live stream or face to face with the public.”
Using input from EFA and AAF, Brant Colony designed the building and purchased very high-efficiency systems and equipment. “The highest priority was for full laying-barn energy metering of electricity and natural gas,” notes AAF engineer Kelly Lund. “The next highest priority was for an investigation into using modern Heat Recovery Ventilator technology to save on heat energy.” Another main priority was choosing high efficiency equipment in the egg cooler. Electricity consumption is slashed low through the use of LED lights, which initially cost more but reduce light energy use by at least 80 per cent compared to incandescents, and have 30 times the lifespan.
The barn is heated through hydronics, a system wherein heat radiates from warm water circulated through a set of tubes, in this case hung from the ceiling. The water is heated using a natural gas boiler and circulated by electrically-powered pumps. Retaining as much heat as possible is very important to keep energy consumption down, but in a poultry barn, extra insulation won’t really help. That’s because barns lose about 80 per cent of their heat in the winter through ventilation – and that’s why a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) was included in the barn design.
HRV’s maintain air quality while preventing large amounts of heat from being exhausted outside through transferring heat from outbound warm barn air to the incoming cold fresh air. The airstreams pass through an elongated grid system and never mix. The amount of heat that can be retained depends on factors such as air velocity and the temperature difference between the airstreams. Moisture must be removed when the exhaust air temperature is reduced to the dew point. “In freezing weather, there is potential for frost build-up with this condensation,” notes Lund. “Most HRVs (including this one) have a defrost cycle they are able to run if required.”
The HRV system will become operational this fall. Lund says they are anticipating some potential problems in colder weather, “not so much with the heat exchanger itself, but with the method of interior air distribution, which is a free air jet to a central redistribution fan system. If the incoming airspeed is not fast enough (which could potentially happen in particularly cold weather when the incoming airflow rate is reduced to prevent freeze-up), the incoming air may not reach the target location within the barn to be properly circulated.” Brant Colony has looked closely at the situation with EFC and AAF, and also hired an independent engineer. Mandel says everyone has concluded they need to run a distribution duct in order to get a good air flow to the centre of the barn. “We have decided it is better if we wait until the flock gets depopulated in early 2017,” he says. “We will still try to do some initial HRV testing once the heating season starts to see what the air distribution pattern looks like, but are prepared to shut it down if we notice problems.”
When might this particular egg production and cooling facility reach ‘net zero’ energy consumption? Lund says once they have one to two years of data monitoring, they will have “a much better sense of the energy use” and of “the amount of solar panels it would take to make it fully net zero.” She adds that Brant Colony’s decision to go fully net zero will likely be based at some future point in time on “whether the marketplace was ready to reward that level of initiative.”
Mandel notes that overall, being involved in the initiative gave him and his Colony colleagues the impression that the barn really could not be efficient enough, which spurred them to continuously look for efficiencies in all aspects of construction and operation. Besides the HRV system which hasn’t begun operating yet, Mandel says everything else is functioning well. “We can see the energy loads of the equipment in the control system and in the boiler room, and the cooler unit and solar are showing positive signs that the research was a worthwhile cause.”
Chickens, like all vertebrates, are governed by a circadian rhythm that is governed by the natural light/dark cycle of day and night. As such, chickens mostly rest and are inactive at night, especially when it is dark. Although they do rest during the daylight hours, most of their feeding and activity is performed during this time.
Studies show that just as in humans, major abrupt changes to the day/night cycle of the chickens, such as waking up the chickens at night with loud noises, will lead to stressed and anxious chickens.
In addition, studies have shown that loud noises such as found near airports, rail road tracks or loud hydraulic or pneumatic equipment and machinery close to the chickens leads to lower egg production, stunted growth, higher blood pressure, stress and fatigue in the birds. A study has shown that loud noise simulating noisy ventilation fans and operational machines found at slaughterhouses led to increased plasma corticosteroids, cholesterol and total protein.1 This study recommended the control of noise pollution near the chickens and chicks.
Other studies show that noise levels past the 85 dB level can lead to a decreased feed intake of between 15 to 25 per cent. Lower feed intake stunts chicken growth — something the poultry farmer or processor does not want.
But all is not lost. Below are some tips and advice to reduce the noise level to an acceptable and healthier level leading to happier and healthier chickens – both psychologically and physically.
First identify the sources of noise pollution equipment. Use a sound measuring tool if necessary.
- Erect sound barrier secondary glazing in windows.
- Establish your chicken farm in a quiet area away from airports and industrial areas and rail yards.
- Maintain your ventilation fans and feeding machines making sure they are not producing excess noise.
- Try to buy machines that produce the least noise possible.
- Avoid repairs and renovations with noisy equipment, especially during the rest and sleep hours of the chickens
- Muffle noisy equipment.
- Make sure that family members do not honk the car horn too often during chicken sleep hours.
- Investigate “active noise control” - a noise cancelation anti-noise system that produces sound waves of the same amplitude as the noise pollution, but in opposite polarity causing a cancelling of the noise pollution.
- Train employees and family members to respect the sleep hours of the chickens - they should not be screaming out to each other, joking etc. around sleeping chickens.
We simply see that it’s about common sense and respect. We need to respect the fact that chickens are living beings that need many of the same things that we need, including a good night’s sleep and some peace and quiet during the day. We just have to sensitize ourselves by imaging how we feel when we are woken up while we are asleep. We feel grouchy the next day and are less productive in the office. If we internalize this reality, we will treat the chickens with more respect, which not only is the proper thing to do, but it is actual good business sense.
The results will be healthier, bigger chickens. Thus, everybody gains by respecting the chickens needs not to be exposed to high levels of noise pollution: the commercial poultry farmer, the backyard chicken farmer enthusiast, the processor and the chickens.
1Stress in Broiler Chickens Due to Acute Noise Exposure (2009) Chloupek et. Al Acta Veterinaria Brno, 78:93-98.
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.
If there was one moment that stood out at the International Egg Commission’s (IEC) Global Leader Conference in Berlin last September, it was the moment Jim Dean described the devastation on his farms during the 2015 avian influenza (AI) outbreaks in the U.S. (see Canadian Poultry, Feb/March edition pages 34-36). Dean, CEO of Centre Fresh Group, had the room’s attention from the moment he opened his mouth. He didn’t use slides or stats; he spoke straight from the heart – and experience. It wasn’t difficult. After all, he had lost some 9.9 million birds to AI in that outbreak. No one was more surprised at that time than Dean. “We thought we had the most robust biosecurity program that we could even think of,” he said. “We thought that we were fine.”
The thing is, they did have a robust biosecurity program. In fact, just one month earlier Centre Fresh Farm had gone through a full government audited bio-security inspection. “We received a score of 100 per cent without any deficiencies,” Dean said. “We were infected April 27, 2015.”
The story stood out not so much because of the sheer devastation on the farms, but for the simple fact that it meant no one was safe. That revelation was painfully clear on the faces of the conference’s attendees, who shuffled uncomfortably in their seats. To this day, Dean is uncertain how his farms were infected.
“I’m not sure anyone will know for sure,” he said. “Two complexes broke on opposite ends of the complexes. One was not near a doorway, so we believe wind. The other one broke possibly by a door, so a worker could have tracked it in.”
Envisioning the ideal farm
What would a model farm look like today if you had the best biosecurity possible? That’s the question Andrew Joret of Noble Foods in the U.K. asked the conference attendees. “None of us probably has a model farm,” he said. “It’s about how far away from that we are and if we can do anything about changing the farm to get something like what we think is safe.”
According to Joret, the most ideal location for a poultry farm is somewhere far from open water sources, migratory pathways and neighbouring production units and populations.
Ideally, the perimeter of that farm would be fenced with a single point of entry. “At that entry point you have to have a barrier to disinfect, and when you decide you’re going to actually let a vehicle on your farm, then you can disinfect it,” he said. “There are many, many farms with no fence at all, and that’s an enormous risk.”
The employee car park should be located outside of that fence. “This will force them to walk through the fence on foot and then through whatever biosecurity measures you use on your farm,” Joret said.
The buildings, he said, should be vermin and bird proofed. They should be designed with a cleanable concrete apron, and provisions for rainwater removal. Even where outdoor access is provided, buildings should still meet those standards for periods of shut in.
“Some people would certainly say that there shouldn’t be outdoor access at all,” Joret said. “It presents an increased risk.”
According to Joret, farm size needs to be addressed, too. Consider the impact of stocking density on immune status and animal welfare. While he didn’t suggest an optimum size for farms, he did say that it was something that should be looked into.
“The movement of people also presents a risk,” Joret said. “But contrary to what one might think, regular staff present a lower risk than visitors to the farm. The biggest risk of all is the people who move from one farm to another, for example, the service providers or engineers.”
Depopulation biosecurity: Managing the crisis
Biosecurity isn’t just about preventing pathogens from entering the farm. In situations where biosecurity measures fail, it’s equally important to have a biosecure depopulation plan in place. Culling crews, their tools and carcass transports can still spread disease, Klaus-Peter Behr of AniCon Labor GmbH reminded the conference attendees.
The solution to this problem, he said, is to have as few staff working the site as possible. Treat staff well, he said. Pay them well, provide them with food and clothing, and facilities for hygiene.
He also recommended disinfecting the dead birds before loading them onto the carcass transport. Also, the carcass transport containers should be well sealed, he pointed out.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Behr recommends setting up a mobile disinfection unit for staff, as well as for trucks and equipment. Lastly, staff should be paid to stay away from poultry farms and facilities for the 72 hours following cleanup.
Crisis management beyond the farm gate
While the biological event itself sees the biggest investment when AI strikes, in a recent interview Brian Evans of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said that crisis management success is dependent on addressing two other elements simultaneously: communications and relationships.
More specifically, Evans said that it’s important that public health officials and animal health officials speak in a coherent manner. It’s important for the reputation of both sectors and shows the public that there’s alignment between human and industry, the public and private spheres.
“Full disclosure is in everybody’s best interest to rapidly contain and deal with the circumstance, and it’s the most effective weapon that can be used to maintain or rebuild public confidence in the aftermath,” Evans said.
Evans used the example of BSE in Canada to highlight what full disclosure can do for the industry. “Unlike in other countries in the world, the Canadian experience of BSE was one where we actually saw beef consumption rise in the country instead of fall,” he said.
This was possible, he added, because there was consistent messaging from government, industry, third parties, academics and public health. “They all reiterated the fact that what was being done was based on 20 years experience gained in the U.K. and other countries,” he concluded.
When you’re going through an emergency there will be stresses. Difficult decisions have to be made that can have economic impacts on the livelihoods of producers, the food supply chain, and on food costs to consumers.
“These are not decisions that can be taken lightly,” Evans said. “It is important that when you’re going through these circumstances that the communication level is good because you are also establishing the basis of trust that you will have going forward in the recovery phase, hopefully, and building a better situation to prevent these things in the future.”
“Diseases will happen; no country can prevent that,” he continued. “But countries that handle emergencies well tend to be those that trade well.”
There is no doubt that over the past two decades, the term “sustainability” has become widely used in a variety of contexts. It also has a large range of meanings to different people, but for the purposes of this article, we shall assume the definition developed in 1987, at the time “Our Common Future” was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development. This stated “that a sustainable development was attained when current generations could meet their needs without undermining or destroying the future generations’ chances of having their needs met.”
First, a distinction needs to be made between “industrial poultry” systems and the much less intensive small-scale “village poultry,” still encompassing large numbers of poultry in some countries. The latter might also include backyard flocks in developed countries such as Canada. While many of the issues around sustainability are relevant to all systems, some are specific to industrial production and these will be given added emphasis.
In terms of environmental impact, poultry have comparatively less impact than other farm animals. The carbon and water footprints for both poultry meat and egg production per unit of output are much less than for beef and dairy cattle or pigs. This has been shown to be primarily due to genetic improvements in productivity and feed efficiency. Nevertheless, the use of concentrated feeds has its own environmental impact, particularly with respect to the water footprint involved in producing the high density feed ingredients required. And with many of these ingredients, poultry use material that might otherwise be consumed directly by people. Another interesting consideration here is the feeding of organic poultry. The European Union has proposed to transition all poultry feed to organic sources at some future date (currently January 2018). There is an implication here of converting to more local feed ingredients that do not compete with human food. But it is also recognized that such ingredients may not meet the needs of highly productive birds for methionine, thus leading to over-feeding protein with consequent increases in nitrogen excretion. Nothing is simple when it comes to sustainability!
Pollution is another aspect of environmental integrity. Ideally, egg and poultry production should be a component of an integrated farming system. In the past, this may have been largely the case, but in many (perhaps even most) industrial poultry operations today, manure is considered a waste, and special arrangements have to be made for its disposal. These inevitably involve transportation, with consequent use of fossil fuel causing some degree of pollution. Novel means of manure utilization such as composting, anaerobic digestion, and perhaps others as yet undiscovered or unexploited, will help to minimize impact on the environment.
Especially in highly specialized poultry production systems, employees have been shown to be at high risk of a variety of health problems: exposure to dust, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allergies to antibiotics and possibly feathers and feather dander. Catching chickens for market has also been shown to place employees at high risk of injuries and illness. In some industries, contract production places farmers at both economic and physical risk, and employees at risk of exploitation in the absence of workers’ unions or negotiating capability.
Gender balance is an interesting social aspect, as in many circumstances such as village poultry production, more women than men are in positions of power and decision-making.
Breed diversity and animal welfare
Both meat and egg chickens used in intensive production come from a very limited genetic base and are bred to be extremely uniform. Conversely, village poultry and small flocks embrace a huge variety of genetics, although often poorly controlled. However, these small flocks represent a valuable reservoir of genetic material. They most likely contain adaptations to local environments, diseases and novel feed ingredients, all of which might become part of a more sustainable industrial system. To formally maintain these resources for future use has been, to date, an insurmountable task.
The point is made that in the poultry industry, a few breeding companies control a large proportion of the market. But as long as their products meet the various demands of the market, it is difficult for this writer to understand how this compromises sustainability; competitors will surely emerge if/when new demands are not met by the large breeding companies.
In terms of sustainability, animal welfare is approached from the desires of advanced society to adopt methods that are ethical and provide animals with a secure and non-suffering existence. Most developed countries now have more or less strict regulations or accepted practices that provide such conditions, but in some areas, notably Europe, ever stricter rules are developed that make industrial poultry production increasingly difficult. It is accepted that poultry meat has evolved over the past century, from a luxury food to “the cheapest source of protein” in developed countries. The question seems to be whether the methods used in the 21st century are sustainable. There are abundant economic conflicts between the desire to produce competitively priced food and the simultaneous goals of animal welfare, corporate competition, resource conservation, and climate change.
Concentration of production is regarded as a disadvantage to consumers as it limits their choice in the marketplace. The concept of a “Concentration Ratio”(CR) has been developed to measure the market dominance of a specified number of companies. For example CR4 measures the market share of the four largest companies; in the U.S., CR4 in the broiler industry was 58.5 per cent in 2010. Some critics have suggested that a CR of more than 40 per cent is undesirable.
There are many areas in which different parts of the production system conflict with each other. For example, feed production may be extremely efficient, yet possibly harmful to some aspects of the environment.
A clear case of conflict arises in the area of organic production systems. While meeting many of the criteria of sustainability, they also produce far less nutrient output per unit of input. Growth rate, egg production and feed conversion efficiency are all much lower than when intensive methods are used.
Resolution of many of these, and other conflicts, seems to be possible only when large-scale production methods are abandoned. In a perfect world, poultry would be integrated into small farming enterprises along with crops and orchards, in both urban and rural settings. How the current systems of commercial poultry production might evolve into such a situation requires a gigantic imagination. However, it is very much the norm in the many “village poultry” enterprises found around the world. In some countries, birds kept in such conditions outnumber those in industrial operations.
This article is largely based on the publication “Sustainable development perspectives of poultry production” by M. Vaarst, S. Steenfeldt and K. Horsted, Worlds Poultry Science Journal, December 2015, pp 609-620.
As is the case in so many sectors, egg processing leaves material behind that ends up in the landfill site. But what if the inedible egg leftovers (called slurry or spinnings) could themselves be processed into something valuable? That’s exactly what Perth County Ingredients (PCI) of St. Mary’s, Ont., has accomplished, through upgrading a processing facility and working for a year to work out processing bugs.
Raw materials from local farms, grading stations and egg processors is converted into a high-protein powdered ingredient used in animal feed and pet food manufacturing. “Currently, the demand is very high for this product for the pet food industry and new opportunities are opening up for the future,” says Austin Currah, PCI’s plant and sales manager. “Right now, this product is shipped all over Canada and we have some current interest from Australia and Japan.”
It was 1952 when PCI’s parent company, Vanderpol’s Eggs Limited, decided to get into egg processing. Vanderpol’s established the Perth County plant in St. Mary’s in 1984, where workers use advanced processing and drying technologies to make dried, liquid and frozen egg products. These include standard dried albumen, high-gel albumen, high-whip albumen, standard, dried and free flow yolk, standard, dried and free flow whole egg, spray-dried whole egg and spray-dried high-protein egg product. Plant employees also isolate and extract lysozyme, a natural antimicrobial found in egg white.
PCI ingredients are used in a large range of products in the food, beverage and sports nutrition industries (domestic and international), including baked goods of all kinds, protein drinks, nutrition bars, fish cakes, sausages, pasta, sauces and much more. The company says that its high-quality dried eggs products offer a wide range of
cost-effective advantages in comparison to liquid eggs, related to performance, storage and shelf life.
WASTE TO WONDER
It was in 2011 that Vanderpol Eggs began looking into how inedible spinnings could be converted into a powdered high-protein ingredient (named SD 50% and SD 65%). While staff at Perth County Ingredients re-started a moth-balled facility that had been closed for five years, staff at Vanderpol Eggs did all the research and development on the processing itself. “The St. Mary’s plant is central to several large egg and hatchery operations, so it became a great opportunity, but it took a lot of capital to get the things up and running,” Currah says. “In 2011, we had to get a business plan together and we were able to access some provincial and federal funding to deal with the initial start-up costs. We are always doing testing and continue to work with our current government to get assistance to hopefully help the facility grow.”
The process to make the spinnings product employs high-tech dryers, a pressurized membrane system and modified centrifuge technology. “The main steps include reducing the moisture content and raising the solids of the inedible raw material before the drying process occurs,” Currah explains. “We maximize the dryer performance for maximum throughput.” Challenges in making the process work included fine pits of shell in the finished product and trying to keep the slurry from the different processors at a more constant level. “Overall,” Currah says, “it took about a year of tests and trials to get the protein and fat levels that we are at today.”
The facility started in 2011 with about 15 people and currently employs 31, with plans of an expansion in 2016 that will result in hiring ten more people. Currah says the expansion will involve installing a third dryer capable of drying egg yolk and whole egg for the food industry.
Owners of egg processing and hatchery operations in the area are very pleased about PCI making something out of spinnings. “This material was a big waste for the local egg industry and yes, they are now getting paid for what they use to have to dump or pay to get rid of,” says Currah. “It’s worked out well for everyone.”
For its hard work in developing a new egg industry product and markets PCI won the Premier’s Award for Agri-food Innovation Excellence in late 2015. In Currah’s words, the achievement shows PCI’s commitment to helping the egg industry sustain a great future in southwestern Ontario. “Anytime you can take a waste product and find a use for it,” he says, “is great in the type of economy we have today.”
The Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) announced a landmark decision on Feb. 5 that the organization will commence a “coordinated, systematic, market-oriented transition from conventional egg production toward other methods of production for supplying eggs.”
The announcement is not unexpected and was inevitable, given the increasing pressure to ban conventional housing, as well as the number of foodservice companies making cage-free announcements.
However, the timeline given to make such an industry-wide transition – EFC says it will be completed by 2036 – has been met with criticism.
The Monday following EFC’s announcement I received a Letter to the Editor from Stephanie Brown, director, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and Liz White, director, Animal Alliance of Canada, in which they applaud EFC’s efforts, but lament on the timeframe:
The February 5th announcement from egg farmers is focused on enriched cages for hens, not cage-free systems, as consumers are requesting. Eggs produced in enriched cages won’t satisfy retailer requirements for cage-free eggs. Tim Hortons, Burger King, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Taco Bell, General Mills, Nestle and others have responded to public pressure and are calling for cage-free eggs. It is regrettable egg farmers still promote cages for laying hens. Whatever the alternative caging is called – ‘furnished’, ‘enriched’ or ‘colony’– it remains an unacceptable confinement system. About 95 per cent of laying hens in Canada are now confined to battery cages with each hen having less space than a standard sheet of paper. Even with growing public pressure against battery cages, the EFC wants until 2036 to change from small battery cages to larger confinement operations. Twenty years is too long for the Canadian egg industry to move hens out of battery cages. The European Union made its change in 12 years.
Twenty years is a long time, but it is realistic. I would point the authors and other critics to a fantastically written article “The Insanely Complicated Logistics of Cage-Free Eggs for All” on Wired.com.
As the manager of the nation’s egg supply, EFC must ensure that eggs produced on Canadian farms are meeting consumer and customer needs – and meeting this obligation may not mean that 100 per cent of production must be cage-free, even 20 years from now.
Results from a commercial-scale study comparing enriched, conventional, and cage-free housing, commissioned by the Coalition for a Sustainable Egg Supply (CSES), show that both enriched and cage-free housing systems have welfare benefits, and that birds in enriched housing actually fared a little better. Mortality was considerably higher in the cage-free aviary system, so why is this deemed the gold standard? I don’t understand how it is OK to accept more animals dying just to have them in more aesthetically pleasing surroundings.
EFC has, in my opinion, done the right thing by commissioning research and participating in initiatives such as the CSES to try to make the best decisions for its growers, purchasers and the birds. This is ongoing and it could very well be that in 20 years, the market deems all egg production be cage-free.
However, at this time, it’s too premature to demand only one type of production and dismiss enriched housing based solely on its looks.
The Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding system (prototype is behind chick eating from hand) is proving that it results in more uniform birds
Broilers have been genetically selected for increased growth rates, which is associated with increased appetite. Feed restriction is the management strategy used commercially to prevent breeder hens from expressing their genetic potential for growth. Uniformity of flocks remains a key challenge encountered by hatching egg producers as poor body weight uniformity results in low reproductive success. Feed restriction does not match nutrient supply to nutrient requirement in non-uniform flocks. This problem is exacerbated during puberty and after peak egg production when feed allocations must be reduced to control body weight, but be sufficient to maximize chick production.
Dr. Martin Zuidhof and his research team from the University of Alberta have recently completed a study to develop, and validate a Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System (PBBFS). This unique feeding system accurately distributes feed to individual birds when their body weight is lower than their target weight. Following results obtained from pilot studies, a beta prototype of the PBBFS was developed.*
This article focuses on a production study performed with this prototype to determine if flock uniformity and body weight control was improved by precision feeding (PF) compared to conventional feeding (CF) restriction regimes. The study was performed using 10-week old Ross 308 broiler breeder pullets with five individual PF target body weight profiles versus the skip-a-day CF restriction regimes. Additionally, Dr. Zuidhof and his team investigated the effects of the PBBFS on feed efficiency, birds’ available metabolizable energy for growth and maintenance, behavioural traits, and water consumption.
Overall, the findings show that PF birds matched the target body weights within two per cent variation and flock uniformity reached 100 per cent. Feed efficiency was improved, maintenance metabolizable energy requirements were lowered, cumulative feed conversion rate was reduced, and no difference was observed in water consumption. Behaviourally, the birds were less active, performed more sitting and laying, and less feather pecking and foraging compared to CF birds.
As Dr. Zuidhof continues to optimize this PBBFS, he anticipates that improvements will be made to overcome limitations identified in this trial. Currently the research team is determining the impact of stocking pressure on birds transitioning to PF and developing standard operating and remedial protocols to ensure all birds are fed by the PF system. The researchers aim to facilitate the implementation of this PBBFS for large commercial flocks of free run broiler breeders.
This project was funded by the Poultry Industry Council, OBCHEPA.
Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency, Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Danisco, Alberta Hatching Egg Producers, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Alberta Chicken Producers, Maple Leaf Poultry and OBHECC.
Initial pilot study results were published in the October 2014 issue of Canadian Poultry Magazine.
The spring and summer of 2015 have been challenging for the American egg industry. After losing more than 35 million laying hens to Avian Influenza, producers were put to the test in containing and mitigating the situation. Thankfully, American farmers are repopulating their barns and getting back in the game.
Their unfortunate situation has certainly made us wonder if such a crisis could occur in Canada.
While it certainly could, the difference between our industry’s structure and that of the U.S. makes it less likely. In the U.S. they have a little over 200 egg farms concentrated in certain regions to feed more than 300 million people, we have over 1,000 egg farms across Canada to feed 35 million people. Obviously the number and scale of operations is also different between the two countries. The average flock size in Canada is 20,000 whereas in the U.S. the average is more than 1 million birds. This concentrated production, and the higher volume of vehicles, equipment and people in those areas, increases the potential for negative consequences due to Avian Influenza.
What allows our relatively small family farms to operate and thrive is supply management. By making it possible for smaller farms to stay in business generation after generation, we maintain ample farms in every province and in the Northwest Territories. That means all Canadians have access to local eggs, and it also means both farmers and consumers have price stability. This stability allow farmers to reinvest in national animal welfare and food safety programs and industrial R&D.
That’s not to say we’re in any way impervious to Avian Influenza. In Canada, a large outbreak occurred in 2004 in B.C., and there were subsequent cases in 2008, 2009 and 2010. We also had cases last year in B.C. and earlier this year in Ontario. Canada has world class standards for on-farm food safety and biosecurity. Because of this, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, working with industry and stakeholders at the national and provincial levels, was able to contain and eradicate each outbreak. U.S. biosecurity standards are very similar to Canada. However, the sheer size of U.S. operations make them more vulnerable to breaches due to the higher number of inputs and outputs at each farm.
In the wake of this crisis and with the fall migratory season looming large, Egg Farmers of Canada has invested $500,000 in research being led by the U.S.’s Egg Industry Center. This work will provide practical solutions for producers and ensure a safe and secure way forward for the North American industries.
So, while it is impossible to speculate about the future impacts, and while Avian Influenza remains a clear and present threat that knows no geographic boundaries, surely this is an illustration where our relatively modest size and scale of operations can be seen to be a strong plus on the side of sheet of things that work in our favour. And alongside that, would be a host of other factors—from price stability to continuous reinvestment to smaller scope and scale - that help us manage the risk.
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.
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.”
Aug. 27, 2015, Herefordshire, UK – Cargill’s European poultry business has signed a 20-year agreement to convert poultry manure to energy with technology from BHSL.
It has taken nearly 40 years for U.S. government nutritional guidelines to catch up to Canada. In February, the top nutrition expert panel in the U.S. lifted its warning about consuming cholesterol. The recommendation comes from the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee.
In its regular five-year review of dietary guidelines the Advisory Committee recommended lifting restrictions on consuming cholesterol, saying it is “not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This important recommendation will be considered by the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) as they develop the 2015 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
It’s a move that reverses nearly 50 years of U.S. government warnings about cholesterol-rich foods and whose guidelines influence millions of people. The recommendation validates what research and the egg industry have long been saying.
The announcement is also a significant win for the Canadian egg industry, who has battling cholesterol scare since the 1970s, when research studies began reporting that high-cholesterol foods, especially eggs, raise blood cholesterol levels leading to a higher risk for heart disease. And, as egg farmers know, when people began to think of an egg as a cholesterol time-bomb. That thinking took hold and by the 1980s and ‘90s, food manufacturers were labelling their products as “cholesterol free.” The change in the U.S. recommendation reflects a new evaluation of the existing data that show diets high in saturated or trans fat, not dietary cholesterol, are mostly responsible for increases in blood cholesterol levels.
Scientists have long concluded that the earlier link between eggs and blood cholesterol was largely exaggerated. Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have recognized that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol in the general population. But in the U.S., government dietary guidelines continue to advise limiting egg consumption and other cholesterol containing foods. This advice has perpetuated the myth that eggs are bad for your heart.
In general, studies show that for healthy people with no history of heart disease, diabetes or high blood cholesterol, eating an average of one egg per day does not increase the long-term risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown the same to be true for double that intake. Sadly, the “eggs are bad” myth survives where the exact opposite may be true.
In fact, avoiding or restricting egg consumption due to cholesterol concerns may actually be harming not helping us. One large egg contains no trans fat, 70 calories, six grams of high-quality protein and five grams of total fat, most of which is the healthy, unsaturated type that lowers “bad” cholesterol. Ironically, eggs also provide benefits that may actually help to protect heart health. These include antioxidants like the vitamins A, D and E, carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as B vitamins like folate, B6 and B12. Egg yolks are a significant source of iron which, as with the iron in meat, is highly bioavailable. Iron together with folate and vitamin B12 are important for healthy blood.
Nutritionists who’ve commented on the new report say that health warnings about cholesterol all these years may have also caused people to shift to foods high in carbohydrates and sugar which are known to increase heart disease and obesity.
In a complete 180, eggs are now entering the “functional foods” category. A functional food is one that provides health benefits beyond its basic nutrient content. One recent study by a Purdue University nutrition researcher found that adding boiled eggs increases the carotenoid absorption from raw vegetables. Prof. Wayne Campbell, concluded that: “Americans under consume vegetables, and here we have a way to increase the nutritive value of veggies while also receiving the nutritional benefits of egg yolks.”
And according to new research from the University of Eastern Finland, egg consumption may actually lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. In some studies, high-cholesterol diets have been associated with risk of type 2 diabetes. That is why diabetics are still advised to limit their egg consumption. The Finland study found that men who ate approximately four eggs per week had a 37 per cent lower risk of type 2 diabetes than men who only ate approximately one egg per week.
Here’s the Point: It takes science to refute science and science takes time.
You’re not just a farmer; you are the voice of farming. There are people who want to hear your story. Are you ready to tell it?
Bern Tobin likes to tell stories. As a journalist and videographer, it’s what he does best, and he’s good at it. Now he’s added another skill to his resume: teaching farmers to tell their story through a training campaign called Speaking Up For Agriculture, started in 2014 by the Farm and Food Care Foundation.
Ten years ago, no farmer would sit for a day in a classroom to learn how to tell their story. “The world is different now,” Tobin told the audience at the Farm and Food Care AGM in May 2015. So far, over 170 farmers had done just that: dedicated a day to honing their presentation skills, learning what to say and how to say it with confidence.
It turns out that farmers are well positioned to tell their story to the general public. Statistics gathered by Farm & Food Care indicate that information from farmers ranks third in believability, after information from a university environmental science professor and an environmental engineer for environmental issues, and second after veterinarians for animal welfare issues.
It’s up to farmers to help the public shape their perception of agriculture, said Tobin, instead of allowing others to fill that void. Either they hear straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, or they tune in to Dr. Oz, activists or the mainstream media.
But what do you say? Who will listen? What happens when you are faced with difficult questions? Those are the kind of questions that the Speak Up For Agriculture training will answer, helping you to tell your own story.
Aaron Stevanus has taken the course. He did a mock presentation to the “Lions’ Club in Waterloo” - actually the audience at the AGM – to show what a presentation could look like. He took out the jargon and made a connection with the audience by inserting photos of his own farm and family in slide templates that were supplied as resources in the program. He didn’t have to worry about the format; he just had to fill in the blanks.
The young 4th generation farmer told us about the corn, soybean and wheat rotation, the bees that give them honey and pollinate the crops, and the CSA program that feeds 100 families that they run from their incorporated family farm. He joked that there wasn’t a slide big enough to show all of the crops that they grow. As a farmer in the Grand River Watershed, he talked about using to no-till cultivation, continuously evolving his land stewardship by rotating crops, using cover crops, and fertility testing the soil to ensure that it is “alive”.
“I love being a steward of the land,” Stevanus told us, sharing his passion and pride in creating a positive environment in which the fifth generation of his family could grow.
It was obvious that the Speak Up training agenda had given Stevanus the tools he needed to address a group: an understanding of the public perception of food and agriculture, templates and resources to back up his discussion points, and the confidence to tell his personal story to the public. The audience could be the local Lion’s Club, or a high school class, Municipal council or Chamber of Commerce, but whoever they were, he would be prepared.
What if the questions got tough? Tobin drew on his advice as a journalist to tackle that issue. He called the technique “blocking and bridging”, a technique often used by Steven Harper as a prime example. “It’s a great skill,” said Tobin, which involves turning the discussion back to familiar ground, speaking about what you know.
It helps to know your audience too. Polling has indicated that there are 11 percent of people at either end of the agricultural knowledge spectrum, firmly negative or positive, but it’s the 78 percent of people in the middle that form the most receptive audience. “Spend your energy in the middle,” said Tobin, ”there’s tremendous opportunity.”
Make that connection, said Tobin, and tell your story at the dentist’s office, on the bus, anywhere there is an opportunity to dispel myths and share facts. Many consumers are just looking for someone to trust. They’re just regular people with many of the same values. As he said, “It’s our industry, your business, and your children’s future.”
A recent study led by Dr. Jianping Wu of the University of Alberta has found antioxidants in raw egg yolk extracts. Antioxidants can improve public health by reducing the risk of chronic diseases like inflammation, diabetes, and cancer.
The Canadian egg industry contributes approximately $1.4 billion to the economy annually and that egg consumption is increasing. The industry continues to work proactively to develop eggs with additional nutritional and nutraceutical attributes.
“Research to explore the presence of health-promoting components in eggs is essential to reinforce the positive image of eggs,” explains Dr. Wu.
The objective of Wu’s study was to further characterize the presence of antioxidants in eggs and determine the effects of cooking and digestion on their formation and activities.
“Eggs are a protein-rich food commodity; it is very likely that antioxidant amino acids and peptides may be generated during gastrointestinal digestion to further enhance the antioxidant activity of eggs,” he explains.
The research commenced in 2012, and included quantifying and characterizing the total antioxidant activity of egg yolk extracts and determining the effects of cooking methods and subsequent simulated gastrointestinal digestion on the antioxidant activity of the eggs.
Results showed that free amino acid and carotenoids were the major antioxidants found in raw egg yolk, and that the free amino acid content of egg yolk is approximately 10-fold higher than that of egg white.
Cooking in general reduced antioxidant activity of the egg yolks, whereas simulated gastrointestinal digestion substantially increased the antioxidant activity by releasing free amino acids and peptides. The carotenoids remained stable after digestion.
Overall, the eggs antioxidant activity increased six to 10-fold after digestion.
“Peptides released from proteins are the major contributor to the increased antioxidant activity in cooked digested eggs,” says Wu. “These findings will have a significant impact on the current well-defined knowledge on egg nutrition and may give rise to a paradigm change in the nutritional evaluation of eggs.”
This research was funded by Egg Farmers of Canada, Alberta Egg Producers, Agriculture and Food Council of Alberta, Food for Health Initiative, Burnbrae Farms Limited, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and Poultry Industry Council.
The story behind the Ontario Fuel Safety Program Advisory
Have you gotten a notice about unvented heaters in your poultry barns and wondered what it meant?
Dan Ward is an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) engineer out of the Stratford, Ont. office. Because of what he called a “random” inspection at a job site, Ward says flags were raised about how the unvented heating systems were being operated in barns.
The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is a private company delegated by the province of Ontario to enforce Natural Gas and Propane Installation Code. One day in 2011 a TSSA inspector happened to drop by a jobsite for an impromptu visit but was allowed look around a turkey barn under construction where unvented gas heating equipment was being installed. A few deficiencies with the equipment and the installation were identified that needed to be addressed to bring them into compliance with Gas Code or the inspector could shut off the gas to
The farmer was irate, said Ward. He had birds coming in; there were timelines, but four months later he was still trying to negotiate a solution. What’s wrong with my heaters, he was asking? He had three types of unvented heaters in his various barns and these were the same type of heaters commonly used in the Ontario poultry industry, so why were they not good enough now?
It turns out his question opened a can of worms.
But first, a bit of background: the Natural Gas and Propane Installation Code CSA-B149.1 is the technical document describing requirements for the safe installation and operation of gas appliances. It’s a national document that is adapted by each province and addresses details like the separation distance between a heating appliance and combustibles, the venting of the products of combustion, gas shutoffs, etc. Only approved appliances - those bearing the required certification sticker from the Canadian Standards Authority (CSA) or Underwriter Laboratories of Canada (ULC) - may be installed under the Gas Code.
The code also states that unvented infrared heaters shall be provided with mechanical ventilation to remove the products of combustion outdoors, primarily CO2 and water vapour, with a ventilation volume of at least 300 cfm per 100,000 Btuh of heater capacity. The ventilation system also needs to be interlocked with the heater(s) so that the heater(s) automatically shuts off or won’t start unless the fan is running.
Where it is not possible to interlock heaters, section 7.22.2 describes the use of a carbon dioxide detector equipped with an audible and visual alarm. While Ward says this is possible, in his experience it is neither common nor necessarily reliable inside the challenging barn environment.
When located in a large and adequately ventilated space, section 8.24.5 states that an appliance may be operated by discharging the combustion products directly into the space, subject to the approval of the authority having jurisdiction (this is the TSSA in Ontario) and provided the maximum input of the appliance does not exceed 20 Btuh/cubic foot of the space in which the appliance is located. This clause attempts to put an upper limit of the size of the heater for the space.
There are three types of unvented heating appliances commonly used in poultry barns and none are interlocked with the ventilation system as per the code requirements. The unvented infrared brooder heater does not vent outdoors and is common in poultry barns. The direct-fired box heater, common in both poultry and swine barns, draws air for combustion from either inside or outside the building and discharges all products of combustion into the barn. The stationary infrared tube heater pulls air for combustion from outdoors and could be vented outside but many are not.
The 2011 site visit incident uncovered several unvented heater infractions. The first problem was that there was no mandatory interlock between heaters and ventilation fans. The second issue was that the minimum ventilation rate would not be met during the initial brooding period due to ventilation settings. Some of the heaters were also missing the proper certification stickers.
A meeting was held with the TSSA to discuss a number of possible solutions to the unvented heater issue for this farmer and the agriculture industry as a whole since it was estimated there could be up to 2,000 barns with this type of equipment in Ontario, mostly for poultry and swine.
The first solution to be brought forward was to vent all heaters outside the barn, which would work for radiant tube heaters but not the box heater or pancake-style brooder heaters, which meant that these would have to be replaced.
A second solution would be to continue to use unvented heaters but that would require each farm to undertake a costly paperwork process to apply for a variance from the TSSA.
A third solution was to actually seek changes to the Gas Code for unvented heaters in livestock and poultry barns. Similar exemptions have been made for the greenhouse industry in the past to allow the use of carbon dioxide generators inside these structures with specific operating requirements.
The focus was on the third solution – an amendment to specifically address the use of unvented heaters inside livestock and poultry barns. Ward says that five commodity groups (Chicken Farmers of Ontario, Egg Farmers of Ontario, Ontario Broiler Hatching Egg & Chick Commission, Ontario Pork and Turkey Farmers of Ontario) came together to hire David Stainrod, a private Gas Code expert, to draft a Gas Code amendment. This document was presented in May 2014 to the Ontario technical committee for review and then taken to the National Gas Code Review committee meeting in Calgary in June 2014.
The amendment was well received at the Ontario technical group, where most discussions are usually around residential applications of the Gas Code, not agricultural. But nationally, the support wasn’t there for the adoption of the amendment. “It put us in a bit of a lurch,” said Ward. On the provincial level though the TSSA was in agreement, they proposed to add the amendment to the Code Adoption Document each province uses to implement the latest version of the National Gas Code.
On Aug. 25, 2014 the TSSA issued a Fuel Safety Program Advisory (FS-212-14) that outlines specific requirements for the use of unvented natural gas or propane heaters in livestock and poultry barns. The requirements came into effect for new heater installations as of Oct. 1, 2014; existing barns have until Jan. 1, 2016 to comply with the new requirements. This is a notice that farmers would likely have received from their commodity boards, said Ward.
If you have an unvented heater, TSSA basically wants third party verification by a licensed Ontario engineer to sign off on barn ventilation system design. Two calculations are required to be posted in a prominent place at the entrance to each barn:
- Minimum ventilation rate of the barn (mechanical or natural ventilation) when the heaters are operating is not less than 300 CFM/100,000 BTUH (0.003 CFM/BTUH) of heaters input (clause 7.36.1c)
- Maximum input of the heating appliances does not exceed 20 BTUH/ft3 of the space in which the appliance is located (clause 7.36.1d)
These calculations will continue to be valid as long as no equipment changes are made to the ventilation system, said Ward, and will affect any barn with unvented heaters.
If farmer hires an engineer to verify the ventilation system as per amendment 7.36.1 for an unvented heater then the farmer is exempt from the requirement of having the mandatory interlock.
The TSSA does have the authority to enter private property to inspect if a safety issue with the gas equipment is suspected, but it is more likely that farmers will be asked by a licensed gas mechanic who may be installing or servicing gas equipment or the fuel supplier to provide the signed calculation sheet for each barn.
The specified ventilation rates are not hard to meet, said Ward, since the minimum ventilation rates to control humidity levels is usually higher than the above rate. The exception maybe in the first day or two of brooding in broiler or turkey barns but this can be addressed by increasing the ventilation rates.
Your other options are to vent your heaters outside if you are using radiant tube style heaters, or hook up a CO2 sensor to your ventilation system.
And what about the farmer at the core of all of this? He was granted a two-year variance to continue operating his barns, said Ward, while an industry solution was developed. He now has the same options as everybody else if he wants to continue to use unvented heaters in his existing barns after Jan.1, 2016.
"Good, better, best: never let them rest, until the good is better and the better is best.” While it’s not clear who said this originally, it certainly applies to a new initiative that has been developing in the livestock industry in Ontario.
It’s called IMPACT - Innovative Management and Practical Animal Care Training – a $2 million Growing Forward II program being administered through Farm and Food Care Ontario that promises to develop practical educational and training resources to help improve farm animal care.
Taking the good, making it better, striving to be the best: in other words, making an IMPACT.
“Everyone is sick of acronyms but this one actually tells what we’re doing,” project Lead and poultry veterinarian Mike Petrik told delegates at a two-day kick off event in Cambridge, Ont. in February 2015. At 10 months into the two-year project, Petrik was there to explain the IMPACT program to industry leaders from all animal agriculture sectors, from dairy, poultry, swine, sheep, goats and rabbits to alternative livestock.
“Anyone who is in contact with animals can improve welfare,” said Petrik, who also holds a master’s degree in Animal Welfare. The IMPACT program is being developed in answer to public concerns, to pro-actively offer standardized training in animal care that will recognize livestock caregivers as professionals in their fields while keeping everyone from veterinarians and farmers to truckers and handlers up to date with the latest standards and developments.
Jackie Wepruk is the general manager with the National Farm Animal Care Council. Since all IMPACT materials will be developed with information based upon available National Codes of Practice, Wepruk sees the IMPACT program as a great way to get the National Codes into Provincial hands.
Wepruk said, “A lot of blood, sweat and tears go into developing the Codes,” which were originally designed in the early ‘80s as extension tools and are now used as reference material for regulations and as a foundation for on-farm assessment programs.
The Codes of Practice are all developed by consensus, bringing groups to the table that may not normally talk to each other. Wepruk is often asked why humane societies join producers and researchers in discussions? “Diverse groups feel like they’re on opposite sides of the table,” Wepruk explained, but she finds that, as talks unfold, they find common ground and build trust and find resolutions. “It’s far better to have everyone in the room,” she says, “and the learning goes both ways.”
The code for chicken, turkeys and broiler breeders (generally referred to as the “meat” bird code) is currently being updated, as is the code for laying hens. Both are expected in 2016. The IMPACT program funding will have run out by that time but Petrik projects that opportunities will be created for program templates to be incorporated into future resources.
TEACHING ADULT LEARNERS
It’s been a long time since many of us sat in a classroom or took a course, and teaching adults poses it’s own challenges. Sarah Probst-Miller is a veterinarian and training specialist. As president of AgCreate Solutions Inc. she has been developing IMPACT lessons on pain control and procedures for pig, dairy, and cattle so far and will possibly do so for sheep and goats.
Probst-Miller explained that around the age of 25 the learning brain shifts to the adult world, where everything is questioned and needs direct application to be relevant. “What’s important changes,” she told conference delegates, and that makes adults more difficult to teach, something that had to be kept in mind when developing programs.
The delivery format of the program is also important. When we read something we may retain 10 per cent of the information. We retain 20 per cent of what we hear, and 30 per cent of what we see. If we see it and hear it, then we retain half, but if we talk to someone about it, that shoots up to 70 per cent retention. Actually doing something helps us to retain 80 per cent of the information, but the best retention – up to 95 per cent - is when we have to show someone, to teach it. A teacher needs to be able to read what the other person wants and needs to present the information in a way that matters.
With this in mind, various delivery methods are being explored, from videos that explain common procedures such as castration, euthanasia or dehorning, to classroom and hands-on sessions, to a smart phone app that can tell a stockman practical information such as how many pigs should be loaded for transport on a hot day.
REGARDING AGRICULTURE AS A PROFESSION
Probst-Miller sees IMPACT as an opportunity to promote working on a farm as a profession, even a calling. As she says, we need people to understand the importance of their daily activity or it’s just a job, not a profession.
Why is that distinction important? David Fraser is a Member of the Order of Canada and a professor of animal welfare at the University of British Columbia. He has watched as attitudes towards animals have changed during our lifetimes, and draws comparison to the historical debates surrounding the industrial revolution, when workers at home could no longer compete with large factories.
He suggests that what we are seeing today is a replay of the industrialization debate, where the “workers” are now the animals. But “very different welfare outcomes occur in the same type of physical environment,” Fraser said, depending on the skill and knowledge and attentiveness of the staff. In animal welfare, the standards focus on the physical environment; welfare depends on management. Unlike industrialization, animals are in their barns 24 hours a day, not just for the duration of their work shift. This creates a complex set of demands requiring a high level of skill.
Fraser sees that animal production can evolve to be considered a profession, much like nursing, which was given the same consideration as prostitution and acting before Florence Nightingale led the way for it to become a registered profession.
It’s not there yet though, said Fraser. It will take a level of animal welfare that exceeds regulations, an increase in public trust, and an increase in the sense of ownership over the whole process. Fraser predicts that production producers will achieve that trust by being professional and that’s where IMPACT will play a role.
For poultry, the top three areas of concern identified through industry surveys were euthanasia, animal handling and housing. Since housing wasn’t something that IMPACT would address, transportation moved up to be the third area of concern.
Petrik was surprised by the focus on euthanasia, revealed as the number one concern in the field. In his practice he does see lots of people who don’t want to kill birds, or where hospital pens become hospice pens when people can’t give up on an animal. Despite its finality, euthanasia promotes animal welfare, said Petrik. People need to be confident in the process and the decision.
As part of the IMPACT program, a euthanasia decision tree poster that is already available for poultry, developed by the Poultry Industry Council (PIC), will join a manual of approved euthanasia methods that is nearing completion. Petrik says that while the manual won’t be an exhaustive list of euthanasia methods it will be heavy on pictures, giving lots of advice on avoiding mistakes. “We have had great industry support and input,” and while Petrik acknowledges that this has slowed down the process a bit, it has helped to create a much better document.
Once these euthanasia resources are in place the PIC will develop a classroom style course for farmers and co-ordinate instructors to teach it. That course may be three to four hours in length. Petrik expects this phase to be completed by May 2015. Delivery of the classroom portion is still in negotiation but Petrik anticipates the commodity boards will “make it work” since neither PIC nor IMPACT are expected to have funding for delivery.
When farmers have completed the classroom training they are eligible to have on-farm training, available by the end of June, possibly delivered by trainers who may be veterinarians, feed or hatchery representatives, grader representatives or board staff. “Each commodity is different,” said Petrik. The trainer will evaluate the current euthanasia techniques on each individual farm, reviewing important aspects on an individual basis. Upon completion of the training the farmer will receive recognition of demonstrated competency through a certificate that can then be kept on file for use in quality assurance programs.
WORKING WITH PARTNERS
A good example of how IMPACT has been able to work with industry is through a partnership with the Poultry Service Association (PSA). Susan Fitzgerald is the executive director of the PSA and as she explained, they had already identified the gap in training from their industry meetings in 2013; they knew what they wanted to do but with a limited budget they did not have funding to make it happen.
On their horizon are changes to the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures - what Fitzgerald called the “Chapter 12” changes – that come into effect in March 2016. At that time anyone handling or transporting poultry must have training in humane handling, although no specific training program is prescribed. As Fitzgerald explained, current Canadian Livestock Training (CLT) is light on poultry welfare and not a specific industry requirement.
OMAFRA provincial poultry specialist Al Dam has been offering training with catching courses and the Poultry Industry Council’s “Should this bird be loaded?” poultry decision tree training but they are fairly narrow in scope and not sustainable under the present structure.
“The IMPACT funding allowed us to move forward and also challenged us to go over and above what we had initially envisioned for the poultry welfare piece,” said Fitzgerald. “We did not originally plan on writing a new manual but there was no one existing resource that was either a) applicable to Ontario in its entirety, or b) comprehensive enough to cover farm to live receiving.”
IMPACT has allowed the development of that one manual that covers poultry welfare practices right from the hatchery to lairage and live receiving. The complete package is based on the American Poultry Handling and Transportation Quality Assurance (PHTQA) Certification Program and accompanying training material, with permission from Eva Wallner-Pendleton on behalf of Pennsylvania State University and Rafael Riveria on behalf of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.
“We ended up revising, rewriting, deleting or adding to at least 65 per cent of the original content but it is certainly much easier to start with an existing document than from a blank page,” said Fitzgerald. They also drew on other available resources such as the National Codes of Practice and Dam’s current training material to develop the new Ontario Handling and Transportation Manual.
PSA members wanted a composite training program; “The missing piece is the on the ground training and information transfer which is what this project [IMPACT] is all about rather than just creating and distributing a print resource,” said Fitzgerald.
The new manual will have a section called “Preparing Poultry for Transport” that will be delivered along with euthanasia training in an effort to integrate the responsibility for poultry welfare from the farm to the processing plant. Other sections of the manual will cover biosecurity, vaccinations, preparing market birds for transport, dealing with end of lay hens and emergencies, and live receiving at processing plants.
The new manual will meet the requirements of three-year CLT certification and provide a certificate of completion for Ontario Poultry Handling and transportation training. In three years, at the end of the current cycle of training, re-certification resources are expected to be online. The training manual will be available in English, Thai and Spanish.
IMPACT funding is also able to subsidize the regular cost for the three-year CLT certification, which is normally $375. During the IMPACT funding term the cost is only $175 per person, for up to 300 participants. “After the funding term, PSA will look at offering just the poultry welfare training (and not the CLT component),” said Fitzgerald. “The cost of that is yet to be determined.”
The commodity boards will roll out IMPACT as it fits their needs. Egg Farmers of Canada has already mandated euthanasia training this year. Other commodities may start now or wait a while. For IMPACT to work, Petrik acknowledges that industry needs to be motivated to form partnerships with the program.
By the end of the two-year IMPACT funding in May 2016, Petrik is aiming to have practical resources developed that can be accessed online and potentially shared with other provinces. For example, even though the Poultry Service Association is a provincial organization the new Ontario Poultry Handling and Transportation manual will be made available in electronic format to anyone across Canada.
While Petrik holds out a gold standard of animal care, success will include improvement at any level of husbandry, making the good better and better, the best. “We want to be ‘welfare central’ – the first place you look when you have questions,” he said.
The Poultry Industry Council (PIC) is partnering with Zoetis to deliver a one-day education and extension event for Ontario poultry producers in Stratford on June 18, 2015.
Poultry Health Day offers producers an in-depth analysis of current and emerging poultry health issues, together with practical advice that can be applied in the barn.
The event is something that PIC hosted in the past, and the organization felt its resurrection would be valuable. Given the recent outbreaks of Avian Influenza in British Columbia and Ontario, the event will provide a good opportunity for producers to hear about some of the lessons learned from these outbreaks, and think critically about the systems and practices being used — for example, the realities of dealing with a disease outbreak and what it really takes to be prepared for disease.
The PIC holds annual Producer Updates in the fall and early winter, and each update begins with a one-hour presentation on regional health issues by a poultry veterinarian. These presentations often generate a lot of questions, but often there is not adequate time to address them. Having a day specifically devoted to health issues will thus be beneficial.
“Our goal in hosting this event is to raise the overall level of poultry health in Ontario,” says Keith Robbins, Executive Director of the Poultry Industry Council.
In the morning, producers will learn about emerging diseases being tracked both in the lab and in the field, examine the cost of disease on the farm, and catch up on the latest findings from Reovirus researchers.
Dr. Raja Krishnan, Senior Director with the Swine and Poultry Biologicals division of Zoetis, is the day’s featured guest speaker. Using examples such as the company’s new vaccine for Georgia 2008 infectious bronchitis virus (GA 08 IBV), Dr. Krishnan will explain how the company develops solutions to emerging and re-emerging animal health issues and diseases. The GA 08 IBV vaccine, developed by Zoetis in collaboration with the USDA and the University of Georgia, has performed well against the disease in affected states in the southwestern US.
The afternoon’s presentations look at the practical implications of disease on the farm. Topics include lessons learned from the recent avian influenza outbreaks, high early chick mortality, and challenges and strategies related to growing birds without antibiotics. The session will wrap up with a producer’s perspective on disease and a talk on the role of biosecurity on the farm.
To register for Poultry Health Day, click on the Education, Extension and Events tab at poultryindustrycouncil.ca.
The goal of the Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System is to control individual bird feed intake by precisely matching individual real-time body weight measurements to body weight targets
The hatching egg industry faces increasing production and welfare challenges due to ongoing genetic progress in broilers. The gap between growth potential and target body weight is increasing. Commercially, the genetic potential of individual birds is often not achieved because equal distribution of increasingly restricted amounts of feed is difficult. Feeding management (quantity of feed, frequency, and timing of feed delivery, feeder design, and feeder space) affects uniformity of distribution of feed, which ultimately affects uniformity of body weight. Poor body weight uniformity results in reduced reproductive success because of overweight and underweight birds.
For these reasons, Dr. Martin Zuidhof and his research team at the University of Alberta have been developing a Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System toward providing an innovative integrated feeding management solution that will dramatically improve flock uniformity, increase chick production from each hen by close to 10 per cent, and improve bird welfare by providing feed more frequently than commercial management systems currently allow. The aim of the feeding system design is to control individual bird feed intake by precisely matching individual real-time body weight measurements to body weight targets.
The initial prototype was built and tested in 2013. With it, the researchers completed a 20-week pilot study with a small group of free run broiler breeder pullets, identifying design issues along the way and improving the design. A beta prototype has been manufactured, and a full 60-week broiler breeder precision feeding trial is underway. Although two pilot studies have now been conducted, this article focusses primarily on results from the scientifically replicated second pilot study on the first prototype.
In free run birds, the Precision Feeding Station controlled individual bird feed intake by accurately matching real-time body weight measurements of individual birds to body weight targets. All birds were able to individually enter the feeding station and eat in a protected enclosure. Birds were weighed in the station and offered feed if they were below the target body weight or gently removed from the station if they were heavier. Meal size and the amount of time they could spend eating were controlled by software settings. Output from the bird and feeder scales (2 readings per second) illustrate the form of the data the researchers were able to collect with the system. The meal size was less than the daily feed required to grow at the target rate so that birds received multiple meals each day. This allowed individual birds to “graze” throughout the day, which stabilized their metabolism. It is likely that more frequent feeding is beneficial for gut health. Wilson et al. (2013) found that feeding broiler breeders daily compared to skip-a-day improved gut health compared to every-other-day feeding.
Pilot research project #1
The first pilot study ran for 14 days, with a small flock of 25, 52-week-old Ross 708 broiler breeder hens. Birds weighing less than 3.5 kg were allowed to eat feed from the station for a 2.5 minute feeding bout before being gently ejected from the station. The researchers observed a significant decrease in the coefficient of variation in body weight of 0.17% per day. Birds in the low body weight group (those under 3.5 kg at the start of the trial) had a higher rate of gain than birds in the high body weight group (3.5 kg or higher at the start; 14.1 vs. -6.5 g/d). The results confirmed that short term precision feeding improved flock uniformity in older free-run broiler breeder hens.
Pilot research project #2
A second pilot project was started with 40 birds, but due to a design issue that has been corrected for the second generation prototype, the researchers were only able to feed 20 young birds reliably with the first prototype. At 4 weeks of age, 20 Ross 308 broiler breeder pullets were randomly assigned to two treatments (10 per treatment): Control, where the target body weight was updated hourly, and a Frog Feeding treatment, where the target body weight curve increased in ‘jumps’ once every 3 weeks. The frog feeding curve was designed to intersect the Control body weight curve approximately 1.5 weeks after the ‘jump’. On average, the body weight targets were the same in both treatments. The Frog feeding treatment was designed to simulate over- and under-feeding of broiler breeders that may occur in practice, particularly if flocks are not weighed often enough.
Since the body weight treatment was applied to individual birds, each bird was an experimental unit, even though they were housed in a single pen. If a bird was over its target body weight, it was ejected from the station. It received feed whenever its body weight was below the target. Meal size (amount of feed in the feeder) was adjusted and feeding bout duration (how long the birds were allowed to eat) several times over the course of the experiment to optimize functionality and to ensure birds could divide their feed over multiple meals per day.
Training day-old pullets
To train day-old pullets to eat feed from the station, a simple protocol with low labour input was developed. Feed was provided on chick paper on the litter outside the feeding station, and feed was also placed inside the station to entice birds to enter. In a matter of less than an hour, the first curious pullets had entered the station and started eating feed inside the station. The chick paper outside the station was removed, and after 3 days, the inside of the feeding station was the only place birds could eat feed, and all of the pullets ate ad libitum from the station for the first 3 weeks.
Flock uniformity at 20 weeks of age was very high. The coefficient of variation in body weight was consistently below 5%. This compared to a coefficient of variation of over 9% in the extra 20 birds that were fed once per day in a conventional manner. Birds fed with the Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System had a flock uniformity of 100% (birds within 10% of the mean body weight) in both treatments for 7 of the last 10 weeks of the pilot study.
The Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System can be used by all broiler breeders (pullets, hens, cockerels, and roosters). The researchers have successfully achieved two different body weight profiles, confirming that the Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System was able to feed individuals according to separate body weight targets (Figure 1) by allowing differential access to feed. Figure 2 illustrates the variation in feed intake that resulted in achieving the different treatment body weight curves.
The prototype Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System worked better than expected, and the researchers wanted to let people know what they have developed and discovered to date. They produced a YouTube video to disseminate the results of the pilot project to help potential users of the system and the general public understand its benefits. The video provides background to the problem of achieving high flock uniformity, tells the story of the Precision Broiler Breeder Feeding System development, and identifies key results to date. The anticipated benefits are also outlined. The video can be viewed on YouTube or on the Poultry Research Centre Website.
To read more, please visit www.poultryindustrycouncil.ca.
Three graduate students are currently working on the project. Teryn Gilmet, an MSc student, will build on her behavioural observations during the second pilot study. Her main objective is to determine how the PBBFS impacts welfare and bird behaviour, particularly in relation to behavioural vices such as aggression.
Paulo Carneiro and Sheila Hadinia, both PhD students, are evaluating the efficiency and metabolism of broiler breeder hens and roosters fed from the PBBFS compared to conventional skip-a-day feeding regimens. They will relate individual feed intake patterns to efficiency and body conformation. Flock uniformity and productivity in both systems will be the focus of their work.
Once preliminary studies are underway, we intend to apply for funding to run a full-scale commercial trial. Because of the information we can collect on individual birds, and the ability to control feed intake at a bird level, we can actually run a broiler breeder experiment with an ‘n’ equivalent to the size of a commercial flock (e.g. 5,000 hens and 500 roosters)!
Thanks to the entire project team shared a common vision for the PBBFS, and continually challenged each other to improve the design and functionality of the feeding station.
- Dr. Martin Zuidhof (Principal Investigator)
- Dr. Irene Wenger (Project Manager)
- Chris Ouellette (Agricultural Engineer)
- Airell DesLauriers (MSc student – modelling energy efficiency)
- Dr. Clover Bench (Ethologist)
- Teryn Gilmet (MSc student – animal behaviour)
- Josh Perryman (summer student)
- Mark Fedorak (Electrical Engineer – Xanantec Technologies Inc.)
- Chris Kirchen (Mechanical Engineer – Karve Machine Inc.)
- Dr. Edmond Lou (Electrical Engineer – Xanantec Technologies Inc.)
- Dr. Koos Van Middelkoop (Consultant – Koosidee, the Netherlands)
Financial support for the project was provided by Poultry Industry Council, Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, Agriculture and Food Council, Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, Danisco, Alberta Hatching Egg Producers, Canadian Hatching Egg Producers, Alberta Chicken Producers, and Maple Leaf Poultry.
Figure 1. Body weights (BW) of birds on Control and Frog Feeding treatments, illustrating the ability of PBBFS to manipulate BW automatically using real time measurements of BW to decide whether or not to allow birds to eat feed.
|Figure 2. Actual Feed intake of birds on Control and Frog Feeding treatments, illustrating the ability of PBBFS to use real time body weight (BW) measurements to allow birds to eat feed, or not. BW targets were updated hourly in the Control treatment, and once every 3 weeks in the Frog Feeding treatment.|
Efficiency motives Earl Martin. And in his drive to create efficiencies on his beef and poultry farm, he credits his most recent enterprise — installing an on-farm anaerobic biodigester.
Martin first considered installing the biodigester, an innovative approach to solving a problem, as a solution to an on-farm disposal issue. Farming with his two sons, Martin also owns and operates a provincial poultry processing plant, ENS Poultry, outside of Elora, Ont. Since the outbreak of BSE in 2003, costs of disposing offal — or unwanted chicken organs — have skyrocketed, so developing the on-farm biodigester was Martin’s solution to eliminating the expense and recycling the offal. The biodigester also heats the poultry plant, two houses on the farm and generates a profitable revenue stream from hydro.
“It’s a great idea – we take waste products and make a more valuable product,” says Martin, who feeds the biodigester system with poultry offal, cattle manure, waste water from the poultry plant and, based on availability, additional waste products from food manufacturers.
With the ability to generate 100kW of continuous electrical capacity, Martin has been selling power generated from his 500 cubic metre biodigester to the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) for almost three years. He sells the electricity to the OPA and buys back hydro for his own use. “We make a few pennies off every kW we sell,” he says, explaining that despite the additional benefits of the digester, he relies on the hydro revenue stream to pay for the system. Martin expects to have his digester paid off in 10 years, and faster if the system was operating at maximum capacity. The biodigester has only been running an average of 68-70 kW since set up, something that concerns Martin.
Feeding the animal
“Originally, I wanted to get rid of my hydro bill,” says Martin, listing the opportunities of installing an on-farm biodigester. But his expectations of the system grew when he realized how much work it takes to run the boidigester efficiently. Biodigesters need a delicate balance of contents for the bacteria to digest, or break down the products efficiently, creating methane gas. A genset (generator and motor combination) connected to the biodigester converts the methane gas into hydro. Methane gas runs the motor while the generator produces hydro, creating excess heat in the process.
The hydro is sold to the OPA and Martin uses water pipes to carry the heat from the genset system to heat two homes and the farm’s poultry plant. “Feeding the digester is like feeding cattle, it needs a balanced, low-protein diet,” he says. “The difference is cattle will quit eating when they’re full, but the digester never stops, even when it can’t digest something properly, making it sick.”
Martin’s biodigester is “fed” on-farm waste, a mixture that keeps the bacteria healthy and can be easily broken down to produce the desirable gas. Adding additional feed, like natural sugars, can give the bacteria a boost, increasing efficiency and maximizing output. Martin’s biggest headache is sourcing off-farm products to boost the bacteria activity and increase gas and hydro production. Byproducts from food processors are ideal additives to feed the biodigester, but according to Martin, are currently in limited supply.
Without the right balance, or content mixture, the biodigester loses efficiency or kills the bacteria. The vital bacteria can die within 24 hours and take up to 10 days to grow back, resulting in significant downtime and production loss.
“It’s hard for someone to tell you how to run a biodigester, you have to get a feel for it,” says Martin, explaining that, despite, or because of his challenges keeping the biodigester healthy and fed properly, he’s developed a “feel” for the system. Intuition has become part of Martin’s management skills. Even the texture is important, he explains, because, while the consistency doesn’t yield additional gas, keeping the contents of the biodigester flowable is part of an efficient system. Martin uses wash water from the poultry plant to maintain a desirable consistency of the system’s contents, and is pleased with the efficiency of recycling the water into a new product.
The consistency helps produce another benefit, or byproduct, of the biodigester — digestate. Martin’s biodigester produces, on average, 24 cubic metres of digestate daily. A liquid byproduct, the digestate is high in ammonium-nitrate and used as a valuable fertilizer source on Martin’s 400 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. “But it’s still important to take soil samples to check the nutrient value of the digestate,” notes Martin. Digestate hasn’t replaced Martin’s purchase of field crop fertilizer completely, but it has helped reduce input costs.
The popularity of biodigesters is growing throughout Ontario. Innovation and efficiency are developing practical on-farm systems like Martin’s biodigester, and the compounded benefits are proving farmers have a lot to gain. In Martin’s case, he needed to find a way to dispose of a waste product and cut his hydro bill. In addition to achieving his initial needs, he’s been able to eliminate his home and on-farm heating bills, produce his own field crop fertilizer and generate a new revenue stream selling hydro. Martin admits it’s a lot of work, but the pay offs continue adding up.
This article is one in a series produced by Farm & Food Care Ontario.
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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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