Poultry Equipment
Joni Rynsburger-Rathwell describes herself as “born and raised” in the poultry industry, and her enjoyment of it has never waned.

“We have a great industry with great people and I love being a part of it,” she says and smiles. “I’ve always loved being with the birds.”  

In the past, Joni and her parents also owned a feed mill in Regina and a hog farm just outside of Regina. But her turkey farm is the second poultry business she and her family have operated.

“At our original farm in Melville, Sask., owned by me and my parents, Jack and Olive Rynsburger, each year we raised 1,000,000 broiler chickens and 950,000 kilograms of turkeys,” she explains. “We also had over 450 head of commercial cattle.”

Eight years ago, in an effort to downsize, she and her parents sold the poultry farm in Melville and Joni purchased a turkey farm 15 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon. Here, they raise 1,022,000 kilograms of turkey every year.

“Between my father and I, we take care of the business end of things and weekend bird care,” Joni explains. “My dad has been in the industry a long time and still enjoys working on the farm. It’s so great having him around because he has such vast knowledge of business and raising poultry. And my mom keeps everything running smoothly, and keeps everyone organized and motivated.”

The farm employs a day-to-day manager and uses a group of local school-aged workers for bird loading tasks. “At this time in my life with two young children and a very busy husband, I seem to have less time to dedicate to the farm,” Joni says. “It’s great to have such a great team to help me out.”  

The farm has two brooder barns where the poults are raised until they are approximately six weeks old. They are then moved to one of three finisher barns and shipped either as broilers (at approximately 10 weeks of age) or as light or heavy hens (at 14 to 15 weeks of age).

“We haven’t built any new barns or done any expansion since we purchased the farm,” notes Joni, “but we have made some small improvements to operations and equipment, and significant improvements to the ventilation systems in an effort to improve animal well-being and growth. It has worked out well.”

Meanwhile, the land around the farm is rented out to a local farmer who manages all its aspects, including poultry manure management and crops.

Educational Background

Along with poultry-rearing experience that goes back to childhood, Joni also has a substantial amount of formal poultry-related education. In 2001, she began attending the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon for a bachelor of science in agriculture with a minor in business. During the first three summers of her degree, she worked as a summer student with the Poultry Research Group at the university. In her fourth year (2004), Joni took her skills on the road, travelling overseas to Australia to the University of New England to work again as a summer research assistant.

All this exposure to science left her wanting to do some of her own, so upon the completion of her undergraduate degree, she decided to do a master’s of science degree in poultry nutrition that she finished in 2009 – which focused on protein digestion in young broiler chickens.

Joni had married her husband Kent Rathwell the year before, and during October of the same year she graduated as a master’s student, their daughter Kaidan was born. “And in October 2012, one day prior to our daughter’s birthday, our son Xander was born,” Joni says.

On top of the farm business, Joni and her husband own and operate Sun Country Farms, a wild bird food manufacturing company, which supplies wild bird food to stores across Canada and the United States. “We are also heading the Sun Country Highway initiative, which involves the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles across Canada,” she explains.

Industry Involvement

In addition to all of this, Joni is currently a director on the Turkey Farmers of Saskatchewan (TFS) board. “It’s great to be able to share ideas and to be able to work together to improve our industry.”

One of the ways they do this is by facilitating poultry research. “Saskatchewan is unique in that we have a poultry extension program run by a poultry veterinarian and an extension person,” she explains. “Their work is completely funded by industry, and provides producers with up-to-date information and support at all times.  

The board has also helped fund the Poultry Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan to create a dedicated facility for turkey research.

The TFS has also been working to update its regulations and board orders. “Although this has sometimes been a slow and challenging task, I’ve learned a lot of valuable information about the way we are supposed to operate legally and how our board is governed,” Joni explains. In addition to provincial association work, she is also a member of the On-Farm Programs Committee at the Turkey Farmers of Canada.

“It’s very important to understand about other producers and their operations. Developing the On-Farm programs has also been a great learning experience. The poultry industries are leading the way in developing these programs and implementing them on the farm. It is our goal to create a program that promotes food safety and animal well-being while still being attainable on the farm.”

Meeting Consumer Needs

Joni recognizes the food industry is changing, and looks forward to continuing to meet the challenges.

“Consumers are becoming more concerned about how food is produced and the effect of that production on the environment,” she says. “At the same time, more and more of those consumers are further and further removed from farming and animal production. This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for us in the agriculture industry.

“We are providing a product and must therefore listen to our end consumers, but we must also be vigilant in promoting and explaining our methods. Our On-Farm Food Safety and production programs are an effort to do this – to instil consumer faith in our practices while creating consistency in the on-farm operation standards. It is a way to show the world that we are proud of what we do.”

Joni believes we are fortunate in Canada that we have supply management of the poultry industries. “We need to work together to maintain this system to ensure that our farms remain viable and sustainable,” she says. “This system also ensures that we have high-quality Canadian poultry products for our valued consumers with high standards of animal welfare and environmental management.”
Published in Producers
Much has happened at the Burns Poultry Farm, located in Freetown, P.E.I., in the 12 years since Nathan and Wendy Burns bought their egg farm from his parents, Don and Lorna, in 2001.

Nathan is a seventh-generation egg farmer, and since settling on the farm, he and Wendy have had four children: Mallory, Kendall, Mitchell and Shelby, ages 11, 9, 7 and 5, respectively.

“They love to help whenever they can, particularly when we get the chicks in,” Wendy remarks. “We hope we may be nurturing an eighth generation of Island egg farmers!”

Over the years they have made some major changes to their operation. In 2003 they bought a new state-of-the-art egg packer, which packs eggs every day from their three laying houses. The new machine’s technology means less egg breakage, which results in a better product being shipped out, says Nathan.

“We try to focus on preventing cracks through improvements in equipment handling and feeding our birds to maintain good shell quality during the laying cycle. A cracked egg costs the same to produce as one that isn’t cracked,” he adds.

“We have done a lot of things,” says Wendy. “We expanded our production by 38 per cent in 2005-2006. We bought more quota, which meant we also had to build a new barn.”

Currently, they manage over 32,000 layers in their quota and, at any one time, have 11,000 ready-to-lay pullets, which they produce on-farm from day-old chicks.

“With flocks in three separate layer barns,” she says, “we are able to stagger the flock placements to maintain a consistent, high quality supply of eggs for our customers.”

Their three layer barns are an in-line system, which means that the eggs come directly to the grading station via a main belt. “This very efficient setup allows us to have an extremely fresh product to sell,” notes Nathan. “An egg can be laid, washed, candled, graded, packed and in our cooler in about 15 minutes.”

Until 2012, Burns Poultry Farm focused on expanding, improving production and perfecting management, comments Wendy, in order to supply the best possible eggs for the industrial market.

“We have always maintained our grading station licensing and equipment for when the time was right to re-enter the fresh egg market,” Wendy says. “That time came in February of 2012. Since then we bought a newer egg grader and completely renovated our grading station. Grading and marketing is a new venture for us. There are challenges; but we are ready and excited to grow that side of the business.”

Burns Poultry Farm has always focused on producing quality eggs while minimizing input costs. In a supply-managed commodity, Nathan observes, “there is a limit to the price that can be earned by each dozen eggs we produce. The best way to improve our bottom line is to spend and invest wisely, as well as to be as efficient as possible.

“We upgraded the water systems for our flocks, providing ozonated water for all of the birds to assist their digestion and improve their feed conversion.”

Wendy notes: “We used to use a sprayer to disinfect the barns between flocks; but we now use a Pulsefog machine.” The Pulsefog produces a dense fog that reaches all areas of the barn, including the attic.

“It is a lot safer and faster, uses minimal water and does a very thorough job,” she adds.

They also built a grain dryer and elevator in 2009. “We have a custom drying grain business and we are also a dealer for Precision Planting Equipment to fit on grain drills and corn planters with parts and a monitor to ensure accurate seed placement, which increases the crop yield.”

As for other commodities, she adds, “We grow about 100 acres of corn and 60 acres of either barley or soybeans. These cash crops are fertilized with our on-farm compost and the manure produced by our hens.”

Besides Nathan and Wendy, the farm currently employs three people on a year-round, full-time basis and six others part time. “We are very proud of our staff and feel they do their best every day to help us grow our business.”

She and Nathan are members of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, members of the P.E.I. Young Farmers, and Nathan also serves on the boards of the Egg Producers of P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

Wendy is co-president of their local home and school association, “and we both volunteer with the school breakfast program each week where we cook and serve eggs to about 400 children from kindergarten to Grade Six.”

As for their off-farm recreational interests, the Burns family enjoys camping and “three of our four children are quite interested in dirt bikes. They got that from their father. Nathan has been dirt biking since he was four,” says Wendy.

“I enjoy running and exercise, and I get to drive the kids to their step-dance classes and 4-H activities. I am ‘Mom’s Taxi!’”
Published in Producers
In the summer of 2011, two brothers in Ontario decided to expand their swine and cash crop operations by introducing poultry into the mix, so they bought an existing two-storey barn near Seaforth, Ont. But after a year of raising broilers, the two brothers, Jos and Eric Schroeders, decided to make some changes.

“We noticed things that were going well, and things that could be done better,” said Jos, 25. “And as that thought process was going, Eric graduated from university. The obvious next step was to build a new facility using the things we could change or improve.”

As it ended up, when the Schroeders investigated the ways they could improve on some of the biggest issues in the poultry industry – namely ventilation and coccidiosis control – there were not many innovations available to the standard they wanted. According to Jos, the barns in Canada today operate in practically an identical way to those from 20 years ago, but that is not the case in Europe.

Therefore, Jos and Eric visited their homeland of Holland and spoke to dozens of processors and farmers, trying to find a way to improve their growing poultry operation.

“We had to find something that would help us get drier bedding,” said 23-year-old Eric, which would also allow them to reduce the amount of coccidiosis in the barn. “But that requires a lot of ventilation, which costs a lot of money on heat, which causes a conflict.

“But wherever there is conflict, there has to be opportunity.”


While in Holland, the Schroeders noticed that a number of poultry barns had large machines positioned just outside their barns. Upon closer investigation, they found that the machines (known as Clima Units and manufactured/distributed by the company AgroSupply) simultaneously heated the barn and dried the litter, while at the same time reducing the heating cost.

The units comprise two large tubes that are honeycombed – one blows air into the barn, while the other takes air out – through a process known as heat exchange. Simply put, the warmer air from the barn travels outside, but as it does so, it heats the cooler air being drawn in from outside that is destined for the barn.

“It works great,” said Eric. “One day in the winter, it was -10 C outside, but thanks to the heat exchanger, it warmed the air to 23 by the time it entered the barn. So our heaters only had to heat it seven degrees, as opposed to 40.”

And the installation is easy, said Jos, as the Clima Unit is a separate machine that is placed and installed outside the barn. You make two openings – the same as if you would be adding an extra fan – change your recirculation fan layout inside the barn slightly, and you’re practically done.

“You’ve renovated your entire barn and the way it operates without having really any downtime whatsoever,” he added. “You can even do it between flocks.”

In addition to the Clima Unit, the Schroeders also retrofitted their sidewall inlets, feeding system and water system, all controlled by two large panels near the barn’s-viewing window, with standard products designed by AgroSupply.

Seeing the new technology in operation got the attention of the Schroeders’ swine representative from Avonbank Ag Solutions, Frank Hogervorst. Since the unit was installed in late 2012, Hogervorst has become more involved with the Schroeders, even helping to create a new Agro Team division within Avonbank, and helping to sell the Clima Units across Ontario.

“Every farmer knows that improved bird quality requires higher air quality and drier bedding,” Hogervorst said. “They all know those needs, but can we bring it to the market so there is a payback? Now we can, with benefits to both birds and the farmer with practically no downside.”

Added Jos with a chuckle, “really, the only downside is not having done it sooner!”


Currently in their fourth flock of Ross 308 males utilizing the Clima Unit, the Schroeders have been the most impressed by the dramatic change in litter quality within the barn. When Canadian Poultry visited their barn in June 2013, the straw that they use for litter was still crunchy and dry, even beneath the water lines and feeders.

“I don’t have to scrape the litter off the floor, I can just sweep it straight out of the barn,” said Eric. “And the birds seem to like it – they grow even quicker with the improved air quality and lower pathogen load.”

Both Jos and Eric said that the biggest advocates of the new ventilation technology are not the both of them, but their chick hatchery and processor.

“The hatchery is happy, because the chicks they are delivering have a much better chance of getting a good start – they have fewer complaints and health issues,” said Eric. “And the processors are happy because nobody wants to have condemns – which is a loss for everybody.”

“But in the end, you have to make a choice. You have all these ideas on the table but you have make a choice, and we chose this product and technology from AgroSupply to help us out,” Jos said.

Other farmers have shown a lot of interest for the Clima Unit technology and the system installed at Schroeders Farm, so much so that the brothers welcome anyone onto the farm and give them the tour. And Schroeders are not trying to force the technology on any farmer, but simply want to show others what they have learned and have others make their own decisions.

“The benefits go further than just at this farm,” added Jos.
Published in Producers
One would think that when your dad co-owns the business, getting a top job would be easy. Not so for 28-year-old James Krahn, the operations manager of Paragon Farms in Abbotsford, B.C.

Paragon Farms is one of three divisions of the Krahn Group of Companies, which also include a feed mill run by James’ brother, Jonathon, and a construction/development company run by his other brother, Dale.

James’ father is Fred Krahn, a well-known and long-time member of both the B.C. Egg Marketing Board and the Egg Farmers of Canada. After growing up on their parents’ egg farm, Fred and his brother, Hans, started their first layer farm in 1965. The Krahns now have six farms and hold a 109,000-bird layer quota, grow close to 100,000 broilers each cycle and produce 2.25 million kilograms of turkey each year.

Although James is now responsible for the day-to-day operation of the six farms, it did not start that way.

“I never thought I would end up on the farm,” he says. In fact, after high school, he enrolled in a criminology program at the local university.

“I was newly married and my job at a local restaurant didn’t pay enough to support a family so I asked to manage one of the farms when the then-manager left,” James says.

“My dad told me I would need to be interviewed by (then Paragon operations manager) Terry Friesen. I thought it was a little bizarre at first but the more I think about it, the better it was. How would I feel if I had been working somewhere for a long time, thought I’d earned a promotion only to have the owner’s son come along and take it from me?”

After learning more about the farm, he dove in head first, switching from criminology to business administration. Then, when Friesen left the company, he took on the added responsibility of operations manager.

Although turkeys are the most labour-intensive operation (they ship turkeys weekly), layers get the most attention. After being a caged layer operation for over 40 years, Paragon has come full circle. “We’re back in free run,” adds James.

A few years ago, the Krahns purchased a nearby free-run farm with 7,500 birds and an additional 5,500-bird quota, which was leased out. The quota is now coming back, so James is busy converting a second farm to free run.

The transition is important to James for a couple of reasons. First, his goal since becoming operations manager has been to grow the business, and Paragon added a turkey farm since James took over. Second, since “it’s a waiting game to see what will happen to cage production,” he says, turning part of the layer operation into free run can mitigate some of the risks.

Coincidentally, the cages needed to be upgraded – so converting the barns to free run was timely.

However, the free run of today is nothing like the barns of old. They are incredibly high-tech operations, complete with multilayered roosts, automated egg collection, bird scales, climate sensors, and even remote-controlled cameras.

“We’re using the Lumina Fancom system to network all our farms. I can now open my computer and see the history of each barn,” James says.

He is particularly enthused about the cameras, especially the fact that he can observe the barns anywhere through his iPhone. “Birds behave differently when you’re in the barn so the cameras let me observe them unobtrusively,” he says.

While the Krahns continue to look at expansion, they intend to stay close to home. “My preference is to be local. We recently looked at a turkey farm in Keremeos (about four hours away) but we decided against it because of the travel.”

And travel already occupies most of James’ daily activities.

 “I live on one of our turkey farms and start my day by doing the chores on that farm. Then I go from farm to farm to make sure people are doing what they are supposed to. There’s also a lot of paperwork and a constant stream of meetings: with graders, processors, associations, suppliers and so on.”

But before the expansion plan gets too carried away, the Krahns need to deal with the elephant in the room: succession.

“That’s the challenge right now,” James admits. It may be the most difficult task the Krahn clan has ever faced, since Hans and Fred each have four children and only James and his two brothers are directly involved in the company.

“The three of us work well together and we want to keep the company together but how do you go through succession without breaking it up when only three of eight are involved? We don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

In the meantime, Fred’s three boys are all following in their father’s footsteps by getting involved in industry associations. James is a director of the B.C. Turkey Association (BCTA), Dale is a director of the B.C. Chicken Growers Association (BCCGA) and Jonathan is a director of the Fraser Valley Egg Producers Association.

“It helps us get more involved in the industry,” James says, adding “you can’t complain about change if you’re not part of the process.”

James’ role on the BCTA is focused on education and events, something he is extremely passionate about. “There’s such a lack of knowledge among consumers about what we do,” he says, “we get hit by everything.”

A few years ago, the BCCGA and B.C. Hatching Egg Producers Association created a “Poultry in Motion” mobile display barn to help teach urbanites about chicken production, and the BCTA recently signed on, allowing turkeys to be included in the display.

“The barn is very popular at the Pacific National Exhibition and we take it out to dozens of schools, fairs and other events each year,” James adds.

Krahn has also started taking on some of the responsibility of organizing the annual Turkey and Egg charity golf tournament. Each year, the industry raises about $50,000 for the Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside. “It’s part of education and it’s also a great cause.”

In turn, the Mission uses the funds raised to buy local eggs and turkeys for their daily meal program. It creates a market for local producers and “gives the Downtown Eastside something they can use which they don’t get a lot of. We will also go to the Mission several times a year to serve food.”
Published in Producers

Many producers have had a catastrophic loss associated with heat stress at some point.

The more insidious problem with heat stress, though, is the decreased gain and loss in egg production. According to Purswell et al., heavy broilers grown to 63 days were approximately 700 grams lighter when grown in a 26°C humidex compared with 15°.1 Even at 20°C, birds were nearly 400g lighter – and these changes were all due to severely impacted feed consumption levels.

At 26°C, 1100g less feed was consumed, while at 20°, 250g less was consumed compared to 15°. This paints the picture that increased panting causes feed conversion rates to skyrocket to over 4.00 on birds that are typically performing in the 2.05-2.15 range, although at 20°, values were approximately 3.00.

In a study by Feizi et al. in 2012, layers exposed to temperatures 5°C above recommendations lost 50 grams of body weight and declined nine per cent in egg production over 6 weeks.2 These differences illustrate the declines in all types of poultry efficiencies when birds are subject to heat stress.

Tunnel ventilation can be a great way to use wind chill to accentuate the effect of exchanging air from the building. In addition, wind chill can add as much as 6°C in additional cooling over conventional cross-ventilation, based on a wind speed of 500 feet per minute versus speeds typically under 100. These are critical degrees, and also can benefit the birds greatly when other cooling methods are added in extreme heat and humidity.

There are two options though: humidifying the air and sprinkling to cool birds.

The third option is the use of cooling pads, but due to water quality, water consumption and expense of installation, it is not a practical one. In Canada we only require auxiliary cooling for a few weeks every year, unlike the Southern United States and other sub-tropical and tropical countries. Cooling pads are waffled paper or plastic materials, usually about six inches thick. Air passes through the pad as water flows down the pad, adding humidity to the air, increasing its heat carrying capacity and therefore lowering the sensible temperature of the air.

Fogging and Misting
Fogging and misting are popular in Canada. However, adding humidity to the air by using high-pressure foggers can increase the heat carrying capacity of the air, indirectly cooling the birds by reducing the overall temperature of the barn.

At 32°C, with 60 per cent humidity – a maximum of 6-7°C of cooling can be attained. The maximum perceived cooling would actually be just over 3°.

The other problem with fogging is the need for continual maintenance, especially when water conditioning is not ideal, and wetness under the nozzles due to leaking between uses. Cake can also form because increases in air humidity result in increases in litter moisture, and humidified dust will stick to equipment and walls.

Sprinkling is another alternative cooling method in which a light spray of large water droplets stimulates the birds to stand. It is used as the only auxiliary cooling method in some parts of Canada, and in many and tropical areas of the world, it is used as an additional or primary cooling method in the evening when temperatures are still high, but humidity goes through the roof. Many producers would say that it is not the highest, driest temperatures of the afternoon that cause mortality, but the high and moist temperatures in the evening that cause problems. In a study by Liang et al., humidity in barns cooled with sprinklers had, on average, 20 per cent lower humidity levels.3 This equates to about an 8°C difference due to humidity, while the sprinkler barns were 2-3°C higher. This is a net of 5° in perceived temperature decrease compared to cooling pads or fogged barns. Some other benefits to this method are that birds tend to feed and drink when stimulated, helping to maintain daily gains, and dust levels decrease dramatically, resulting in cleaner barns.

Litter will cake less, and sprinklers generally run at well pressure and have check valves to prevent leaking between cycles.


  1. Purswell, J.P. et al. (2012). Effect of Temperature-Humidity Index on Live Performance in Broiler Chickens Grown from 49 to 63 Days of Age. Presented at the Ninth International Livestock Environment Symposium, Valencia, Spain, July 2012.
  2. Feizi, A. et al. (2012). Effects of Heat Stress (HS) on Production of Hy-Line Layers. Research Journal of Biological Sciences. 7(5): 206-208.
  3. Liang, Y. et al. (2012). Sprinklers Cool Birds and Conserve Water. University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture: Research and Extension. Fact Sheet (FSA1073).
Published in Housing

There’s a new tool in town, and not only can it help improve on-farm biosecurity, but it can also save money. On a farm, without preventive measures, micro-organisms can survive for days or weeks on infected footwear, potentially spreading wherever it travels.

In the past, in order to prevent pathogens from entering (and leaving) hatcheries and poultry barns, producers required visitors to disinfect or sanitize their boots and shoes using a foot bath – which can be both messy and somewhat costly.
Atesco Industrial Hygiene Ltd., based in British Columbia, sells a new solution: disinfection foot mats.

Atesco’s managing director, Peter Adamski, has been selling the disinfection mats in Canada for about eight months now.
He says that the company hopes to eventually have reps in all of the provinces, but for now it conducts its business entirely online, and has sold the mats all over Canada, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

Inside The Mat
The 24” by 35” foot mats are made of tarpaulin and are composed of a slip-resistant outer sleeve and grid, with a foam core. The outer sleeve, which is also waterproof, comes with a zip fastener to access the inner foam.

The 1.6” high-density polyurethane foam inside can withstand heavy loads, as well as be cleaned and replaced if necessary. While the inner foam is heavy duty, it is resistant only to chemical solutions.

Adamski is careful to note that the foam should not be filled with unmixed chemical disinfectants.

In terms of on-farm biosecurity, the foot mat offers the same level of security as the foot bath does for shoes, boots and other types of footwear. It protects against and kills possible pathogens, helping to keep them outside of the premises.

What makes the product unique is that it can be used with all types of registered disinfectants, says Adamski. However, he does not recommend using unregistered chemicals because you never know if they’ll work.

“It’s best to use the registered products with the mat,” he says.

The disinfection foot mat is a universal applicator that can be used with all registered disinfectants, and more efficiently that standard foot baths. In fact, says Adamski, the mat uses 75 per cent less disinfectant because it does not splash.

It is the ultimate indoor and outdoor solution for poultry farms, hatcheries and poultry processing facilities, he says.

“When customers call, there are three main questions we get,” says Adamski. “What kind of products can I use with it?

How often do I have to refresh? And how much does it cost?”

When to Replace
Since all registered disinfectants can be used with the mat, the choice of which to invest in comes down to personal preference. But when it comes to renewing the disinfectant, the decision should be based on a number of criteria, including:

  • the amount of traffic the foot mat has seen
  • the amount of organic matter on the mat
  • the type of disinfectant used (varies from product to product)
  • whether or not it has been diluted by rain or affected by sunlight
  • the quality of water used to make the solution

“Some manufacturers offer a pH indicator to enable users to see if the disinfectant is still usable,” says Adamski. “At best, this will only tell the user the pH of the foot mat and nothing else.”  

“The only reliable way to maintain effective biosecurity using a foot mat is to ensure that the correct concentration of disinfectant is used and that it is changed regularly,” he continues.

To purchase your Disinfection Foot Mat, place your order online at www.atescoindustrialhygiene.com.

Published in Health

The development and commercialization of the Zephyr E small animal dispatch tool is a great example of what can happen when research and industry work together.

Originally designed for stunning rabbits in abattoirs, the Zephyr was created for use by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Dr. Tina Widowski, the director of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare and an animal and poultry science professor at the University of Guelph, had an idea that the non-penetrating captive bolt tool could be adapted for use with other small animals, such as poultry and piglets.

Widowski enlisted the assistance of her graduate students, Marisa Erasmus and Teresa Casey-Trott, to test the device as a dispatch tool for turkeys and small pigs. The new prototype they developed uses a longer, more conical nylon bolt head than the previous version.

In their tests, the tool effectively rendered all test animals immediately unconscious, followed quickly by death in a one-step process. It also consistently administered the same force to the skull independently of the strength of the operator. During their research, the team also identified the most effective placement of the Zephyr for turkeys – directly above the cerebral cortex, in the middle of the skull between the ears and the eyes. This location is now depicted in the user manual of the Zephyr.

The development of this tool did not escape the notice of Farm and Food Care (FFC). Its head office is only a stone’s throw from the University of Guelph, and Casey-Trott was part of a Scholarship Program Partnership between the two. Her supervisor, Widowski, had also been part of a video and resource development team for a previous project on how to properly use, clean and maintain captive bolt guns for proper functioning.

FFC worked closely with Casey-Trott throughout her research to help determine the practical advantages of the Zephyr for on-farm use.

The main criteria for a euthanasia tool are: operator safety, rapid insensibility of the subject, consistent results, ease of use and compliance with recognized euthanasia guidelines. Since the Zephyr met all the criteria, Widowski contacted Randall Bock, president of Bock Industries in Pennsylvania, in January of last year to open a discussion about the commercial development of the Zephyr E.

Bock industries already had a similar captive bolt tool – the Turkey Euthanasia Device (TED) - a  portable tool designed for on-farm euthanasia of cull stock.

The distinction between the TED and the Zephyr E is that the TED is portable, working off a gas canister, allowing complete mobility around the farm or remote emergency use. While similar, the Zephyr E is designed to connect to a 120-psi air compressor in a fixed location.

As Bock explained, a fixed Zephyr E could have potential applications in a processing facility where a bird may be injured on a truck and it must be dispatched quickly at the receiving dock. On the other hand, if a truckload of turkeys overturned on the road, the driver would be able to quickly dispatch the injured birds by using the TED instead of blunt force trauma.

But why not just use blunt trauma? Bock explained that this change has been driven by the need to have a less dramatic, one-step process to appease the concerns of workers, the general public and consumers. A humane death is important in the eyes of both the consumer and the retailer.

"We’re not repurposing a hammer,” said Bock, “We’re designing a tool specifically to address this need.”

Bock has now sold these tools as far away as Australia, where customers will use them to dispatch emus and ostriches.

Now that the Zephyr is commercially available, it seemed a natural fit that FFC would promote the use of this device by bringing hands-on demos to industry events. The organization has also assisted in the development of educational resources, including an informational video and a fact sheet for farmers.

The Zephyr can be used to effectively euthanize rabbits, piglets and turkeys, as well as chickens, geese and ducks. The next step at Bock Industries will be to investigate the tool’s use in larger animals such as lambs or veal calves.

For more information, you can visit Bock Industries at www.bock-industries.com.

Published in Welfare

In 2011, Maurice Richard became the first egg producer in Quebec to use enriched cages on his poultry farm. Two years later, he says he never wants to go back to conventional housing.

It all began when he set off to western Europe in 2010 to tour poultry farms and study the newly installed enriched cage systems mandated by European Union directives. Upon his return, Richard, an egg producer with 76,000 layers on two farms in Rivière – Héva, Que., decided to demolish one of his own bird barns (circa 1975) housing 25,000 layers, to make the transition from conventional to enriched cages the following year.

Richard now operates an enriched cage production system on two floors, with three decks on each eight-foot floor that is ventilated through a forced-air system in the roof.

The layers like their enriched cages, says Richard, adding that 90 per cent of their eggs are laid in the nesting boxes.

“Each hen will lay more eggs if they have more space in the cages,” he adds. “You have to achieve a balance with the cage’s population density.” With this new system, each cage can contain 60 white birds or 48 brown birds.

Richard installed LED lighting in some scratch areas in the cages, leaving a darker area of the cage available for the layers’ nests. He also programmed his LED lighting for artificial sunrise and sunset to stimulate the productivity of his hens.

He told the Nova Scotia Egg Producers (NSEP) that he chose to heat his new layer building because he wanted to dry the layers’ manure, “The eggs they lay are very clean,” he says. “The enriched cage system seems to lower bird mortality.”

Productivity in the enriched cages is better than in conventional cages, with about 338 eggs per hen over 52 weeks of production, Richard estimates. The new cages are in a building that is 86.5 metres (284 feet) long and 13.7 metres (45 feet) wide, and each cage is approximately 1.2 metres (four feet) by 11.8 metres (39 feet).

“With the enriched cages it takes longer to clean the building because it’s bigger than the building it replaced,” he says. “Because there are more birds housed, it also requires more poultry feed.”

This year, he plans to tear down a second barn that holds conventional cages and replace it with another new structure holding enriched cages. The price per layer, not including the cost of foundation and footings, will be about $42: $17 per enriched cage and another $25 for the building itself.

Published in Producers

Apr. 18, 2013 - In poultry, ventilation is defined as the dilution process that occurs when fresh air enters a barn through an inlet. It is one of the key components used to control temperature, gases and relative humidity, as well as to reduce odors and dust. The primary goal of ventilation is to maintain optimal air exchange and distribution, thus promoting productivity and influencing economic output. Air circulates with the gaseous compounds and excess humidity, diluting their concentrations. This circulated air then leaves a barn via the negative static pressure formed from the pull of exhaust fans.

Specifically, there are a few guidelines that should be considered to maintain adequate barn environment. These include a temperature range of 18-22C, a relative humidity range between 50-70 per cent and an air speed of 8m/s at the inlet. The volume of air exchange should range from 1-2 L/second/bird, and the ventilation rate should range from 0.16-1.5 L/second/metabolic weight of a bird at the exhaust fans.

There are a variety of ways to measure the environmental factors involved with ventilation. A thermometer, which measures temperature, and a humidistat, which maintains relative humidity, are a couple of the simplest tools used. Once these numbers are identified in your barn, you can adjust accordingly to match the guidelines provided above. Some other examples include a manometer, which measures the negative static pressure in a facility and can be used to illustrate barn tightness. If there is an air leak in your barn, it will be indicated by a decrease in negative static pressure. The air will drop to the ground instead of circulating with air present. This air drop can decrease the overall temperature which can increase the heating requirements by as much as 30 per cent.

As well, there are a few tools that measure air speed: an anemometer and smoke pencil. They can be used to determine the air speed circulating through your barn, which can be adjusted by the degree of inlet opening. Ammonia strips measure ammonia levels in the air, which should not exceed 25ppm. Studies have shown that continued exposure to ammonia can decrease a person's sensitivity to the gas. With time, a person with decreased sensitivity will no longer be able to detect ammonia until concentrations reach levels of 50-60ppm or higher. Ultimately, utilizing these simple tools can assist you in determining if ventilation is at an adequate level for optimal broiler breeder production.

Now you may ask, since ventilation is key to long-term production, what can I do about it?

Well there are a few quick techniques or upgrades that have the potential to manipulate ventilation quality in your barn. Some ideas include a litter guard that captures water from the water line. These litter guards, decrease litter moisture as well as relative humidity in a facility. Another tool that could be changed or upgraded is the furnace or heating system. Over time, furnaces can mechanically degrade, thus influencing your heating costs. In electrical heaters, corrosion of the electro-mechanical contact points is a common problem.

Rodent control can also be useful in manipulating ventilation. Pests can easily destroy equipment such as fan cords and, over time, the damaged equipment may limit the overall efficiency of a barn. Another control that could be implemented is the addition of recirculation fans to maintain air mixing and quality. This is significant during winter conditions, when inlets must be open at minimum to prevent the barn from getting too cold. If there are no additional recirculation fans, air cannot mix adequately causing the relative humidity in a barn to increase. This results in condensation on the walls and absorption of moisture into the litter as well as uneven distribution of temperature throughout the barn. The extra fans assist in mixing the fresh air coming into the barn with the air already present, thus preventing excess humidity and the air drop discussed earlier. Depending on the size of the barn, extra fans should be located along the perimeter near the ceiling to promote circulation within the barn to maintain dilution. Although specific to broiler breeders, methods for manipulation of ventilation can be used in other poultry facilities.

At the other extreme, during summer conditions the inlets should be open at maximum to allow for optimal air exchange in the facility. Air moving through the barn is important to remove the stagnate heat that has accumulated from the birds' sensible heat loss. It should be noted that ventilation rate at the exhaust fans should be higher to maintain the static pressure in the facility. This can, however, result in relative humidity being to low, which can be seen by dust accumulation.

Poor ventilation, which is defined as improper air mixing within a facility, can not only decrease the quality of air and litter in the barn, but can also limit broiler breeder performance. It has been shown that poor quality air can impact respiratory health via activating the immune system and can cause chronic inflammation. The birds would then have to expend extra feed energy to control inflammation, meaning that less energy would go towards maintenance and production, more specifically, hatchable egg production.

Good management and a few simple changes can have a huge impact on your ventilation and subsequently production economics. Implementation of measurement tools to determine environmental factors influence overall ventilation rate and a quick response to any noted deficiencies can be useful for promoting breeding success.

For more information on ventilation, please visit http://albertahatchingeggs.ca.

Published in New Technology

It’s time to look at Plan B. Things aren’t working the way they used to anymore. Everything has changed – from climate to equipment to the birds we grow. The website Berkeley Earth (http://berkeleyearth.lbl.gov/regions/canada) calculates that Canadian temperatures are trending upwards, close to an increase of nearly 7°C per century and they are accelerating.

According to the National Chicken Council, average live weight of chickens has increased by 12 per cent in the last 10 years, and the National Turkey Federation states that the average live weight of turkeys has increased by almost 12.5 per cent. During this time, we have also pushed densities into the 10 lb./ft.2 (50 kg/m2) range.

Along with these changes, housing and equipment options have evolved as well. Growers on the leading edge of the poultry business have adopted these new technologies along the way, some proactively but most reactively. On the broiler side in the southern United States, free range gave way to confined curtain-sided buildings and solid sidewall cross-ventilated, then to tunnelled barns that required foggers to get to the next level.

Foggers then became the backup cooling method to cooling pads, but the latest trend is adding sprinklers to supplement cool pads or completely replacing cool pads to keep humidity and water consumption low. This has spread as temperatures rise, since birds get bigger and growers see positive results.

This trend is not limited to chicken. Turkey production has followed the same path, but resisted the changes, mainly due to producers insisting that turkeys were too different from chickens to benefit in the same way. But, often 10 to 15 years behind, the turkey growers have grudgingly made incremental changes to improve performance. Many turkey growers in North America have now made the jump to solid-side or curtain-side tunnelled buildings, adding sprinklers or foggers for cooling. Considering how much things have changed, maybe it’s time more of us started looking at these options, and not dismissing them as something that would never work for “our birds.”


Tunnel ventilation differs significantly from that found in typical curtain-sided natural ventilation and typical cross-ventilated chicken barns. The average bird is producing 11 BTU/hr of heat per kilogram of body weight. There are only two ways a bird can release heat on its own – through respiration (72 per cent) or by releasing it to the air (28 per cent).

Reduced feed consumption, combined with burning calories through excessive panting can be costly. All the way back in 1968, Siegel and Drury1 showed that at 85°F, taking wind speeds to 300 feet per minute or higher reduced panting rates from 150 per minute to approximately 20 – a nearly 85 per cent reduction. Additionally, Simmons, Lott and May2 showed that 600 feet per minute is the optimal air speed to take advantage of both cooling methods, but for a Canadian climate, 500 might be a more realistic target.

These results clearly show that tunnelling a barn does have benefits over natural or cross-ventilation, which simply cannot provide the air speed. We’ve built our cross systems based on air exchanges between 50 and 60 seconds, which means we have an average air speed somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 to 70 feet per minute. If we’re lucky and are able to drive all of the air to the floor, we may see numbers close to 100. This cannot possibly create the wind chill factor of 6-8°F that tunnel barns can create.

With natural ventilation, it’s obvious that we are at the mercy of the winds, unless we install a hefty circulation fan system or move to tunnel. A 60 x 500 feet turkey finishing barn would require 25 fans at 48 inches to accomplish what eleven large tunnel fans can. Not only is the initial setup cost similar, but also the power consumption for the circulation fans is nearly double that of the tunnel fans (17 kilowatt-hours versus 10 kilowatt-hours). And the actual wind speeds at bird level will still only be around 150 feet per minute.

Although this article is geared toward summer ventilation, it is important to realize that winter ventilation can be controlled more easily in a tightly sealed solid-sided barn. Adding ceiling inlets to a building with curtains that allow 40,000 cubic feet of air per minute (CFM) to pass through cracks and drop to the floor will not improve litter conditions, heater run times or bird health as much as expected, because there will still be a large amount of air entering before the inlets even begin to open. And that is not even touching the topic of light control with regard to bird behaviour such as picking and aggression, but I have received anecdotal feedback from those with solid-sided tunnel barns that this has been less of an issue. The option for a natural/tunnel combo should not necessarily be ruled out, as some people have had success with this in turkey grow-outs.

Wind chill is also a very important part of the equation when switching to tunnel ventilation, as is the management of tunnel levels. Additionally, air speed is the basis for CFM numbers when configuring and running the system. If we want to target 500 feet per minute, we need to figure out the cross-sectional area (width x average ceiling height) of the barn and multiply by the target feet per minute (500), and then divide that result by 85 per cent (expected fan efficiency).

For example, in a 40 x 400 foot building with a 10-foot ceiling, the calculation would be 40 x 10 = 400 feet2, multiplied by 500 feet per minute to get 200,000 cubic feet per minute. Then, after you divide by 85 per cent, your end result would be 235,000 CFM. To meet that, you would need eight 30,000 CFM 54-inch fans.

You could also transition from minimum ventilation around 65,000 CFM (5 CFM/ft2), keeping in mind tunnel ventilation should start around 8°F above the target temperature. At that point, the ideal wind speed should be up to about 300 FPM, with the levels at 2°F intervals, then initiating supplemental cooling methods when fans are maxed out. One detail that can’t be overlooked is static pressure: expect to see static pressure levels in the range of 0.02 to 0.06 inches of water column at the inlet end and 0.08 to 0.12 at the fan end.


The next step is to add a supplemental cooling system. An extra benefit of tunnel ventilation is that it has the great ability to move large quantities of air moisture quickly, which allows us to use evaporation much more effectively than we can with cross or natural ventilation.

Using fog or mist in a tunnel building will provide better conditions than other ventilation methods, but adding as little water as possible with a sprinkler system is an ideal way to go in all barns. Foggers can reduce the temperature significantly on dry days, but on humid days and evenings, they can be a detriment by further raising humidity. Although tunnel barns move air at the highest air speeds, birds tend to sit and therefore insulate themselves against the floor.

Sprinklers can use much less water than foggers and misters, as well as motivate these birds to stand, thereby allowing more air to move around them.

Tunnel ventilation can also greatly improve performance in both turkeys and chickens. In separate studies by Czarick3 and Yahav4, both species gained at least five per cent more weight when going from air speeds below 200 feet per minute to speeds over 400 at 85°F.

With all the other pressures on birds, including increasingly shorter growing times, increased live weight, lower feed conversions and high placement density, we need to do all we can to relieve the heat stress on the birds. There is no more effective way to accomplish this than by using tunnel ventilation – it is worth the time to do your own research on the method, as well as consult with professionals and other growers in the industry who use it.

  1. Siegel, H. S., and Drury, L. N., 1968. Physiological responses of chickens to variations in air temperature and velocity. Poultry Science 47, 1120-1127.
  2. Lott, B.D., Simmons, J. D. and May, J.D., 1998. Air velocity and high temperature effects on broiler performance. Poultry Science 77, 391-393
  3. Lacy, M. P., and M. Czarick, 1991. Performance of broilers in tunnel-ventilated houses during warm weather. Poultry Science, 70 (Suppl. 1):168
  4. Yahav, S. et al., 2001. Air velocity alters broiler performance under harsh environmental conditions. Poultry Science 80, 724-726.
Published in Housing

In a cold-climate country like Canada, keeping your poultry barn heated is essential, not only to your flock, but also to all the other systems involved in keeping your birds happy and healthy. However, heating your barn can also be very expensive, especially when chicks are first placed in the large area and don’t quite utilize all the space that is available to them.

The Smart Air Wall, developed by the European company Sidijk (www.sidijk.com), can reduce overall heating costs associated with your barn by using an inflatable barrier to temporarily reduce square-footage. This can help lessen not only energy costs, but also the time and effort spent cleaning and walking the barn.

The wall is made of the same plastic used for children’s inflatable bouncing castles in parks and playgrounds, but simply takes a different shape. Sidijk is so reputable in the inflatable plastics business that the company has been retained to install the safety air rails for speed skating in Sochi, Russia, for the upcoming Olympic Games, according to Dave Loerchner, a sales representative for Smart Air Wall.

Loerchner spoke at a Poultry Industry Council event late last year about the possible benefits of the Smart Air Wall system for poultry producers. He began by saying that the wall is simply designed to minimize the amount of barn floor space needed for the chicks, thereby limiting the amount of heat and light needed to operate the whole barn.

“The whole idea of this is to condense your barn for approximately the first two weeks of your flock, when you are usually heating the whole barn to keep the chicks on the floor warm,” he said. “If you move them all up to the front 40 to 50 per cent of your barn . . .  it reduces your heating costs by up to 50 to 60 per cent, but will vary slightly from barn to barn.”

The double-lined plastic wall uses a standard 1.1-kilowatt fan on 220 volts to fill it with air, which acts as insulation between the two separated parts of the barn. And because it is plastic, Loerchner adds, it will fit perfectly along the floor and ceiling to make sure that no air (or errant chicks) will get through. In addition, there are flexible holes for feed and water lines that can be adjusted with no risk of air escaping.

While the initial cost can be high, he says that thanks to the cost savings on the heating bill, the Smart Air Wall can pay for itself within a few years.

There are a total of five barns currently using the system: three in Holland, one in Germany and one in Ontario.

Jon Steenbeek, who owns and operates the only Smart Air Wall system in Canada at his Ontario farm just south of Varna, has been using it since his first flock was placed in early 2012. According to Loerchner, Steenbeek used 42,081 litres of propane to heat his barn in one year.

But, with the Smart Air Wall system, Steenbeek only used 18,588 – a savings of almost 60 per cent – or over $10,000, based on a propane price of $0.45 per litre.

“That’s pretty significant dollar savings for only having the wall up for the first two weeks of the flock,” he says.

Published in New Technology

Producers are commonly asked if they are prepared to handle an emergency (such as a disease outbreak) on their farm.

Now, farm animal veterinarians are being asked a similar question: how are they equipped to cope with a large-scale emergency in their region of practice? Coupled with this, are municipalities considering livestock in their community emergency response plans?

The answer may surprise you.

While data is still being collected, early reports from a survey being conducted by Dr. Cathy Furness, a graduate student at the Ontario Veterinary College, show that 72 per cent of large animal veterinarians have not considered emergency response planning.

What’s more, 75 per cent of those surveyed are not sufficiently prepared to maintain their own practices during an emergency.

Furness presented her preliminary findings at an Incident Commands System workshop funded jointly by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the University of Guelph, and hosted by the Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council.

She reported that while veterinarians indicated an eagerness to participate in emergency response, many also voiced uncertainty regarding their role in an emergency response plan.


Some emergencies are obvious, like heavy rains and snow or hurricanes such as Katrina or Sandy. Canada has its fair share of weather events across the provinces, with Ontario having experienced tornados, snow, ice storms and power outages. Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also have their share of weather events; as well, flooding can be a major issue. And, all across the country, the risk of wildfires is ever-present.

Disease outbreaks such as avian influenza or foot and mouth disease also require large-scale response planning, but there are some emergencies that are not so obvious.

Furness asked: What about when a border closes? Production doesn’t stop and those animals in the pipeline need to be dealt with.

She said that any situation where an animal cannot receive normal care is an emergency: A barn collapse or fire, an accident or injury of livestock caregivers, a truck accident or even an economic emergency where a producer simply cannot afford to feed their animals anymore - these are all situations that require an emergency plan of some sort.

“To me it’s all under emergency preparedness,” she said. “It’s an emergency for that producer; it’s an emergency for the animal. If that animal’s not getting fed, that’s an emergency.”


The first 24 hours are the most critical time for emergency response, said Furness. “I feel it has to start with the producer. [If it’s not a road accident] they’re typically the first responders at the scene. They need to take the initiative. The government help will come, but it’s slower.”

A farmer’s plan needs to be tailored to their own needs. The best generic plan is useless if it doesn’t match their production requirements and resources. The plan needs to be designed for the hazards that are most likely to impact production, which will vary with individual farms.

Every farm should prepare and enact an emergency response plan that makes it clear to others what the farmer needs. How many animals are there? How many generators will you need to milk the cows? The river is rising: How many trucks will you need to evacuate the animals? Where will you take them? And so on.

Having answers to questions such as these will speed up the response process.

If help arrives to evacuate 10 cows and finds there are a couple of horses, a few pot-bellied pigs and a handful of pocket pets, the process can quickly get complicated and slow.

Involving your veterinarian in the process is helpful, whether in discussions about overall planning, biosecurity or humane euthanasia. But as Furness pointed out, when an emergency arises, the vet needs to ensure that they’ve got their own preparedness plan in place for their family, their animals and their business, or they won’t be able to help the farmer.

Commodity groups play an essential role as well, not only in communications, but also as a resource hub through providing education, not only in case of emergency but also throughout the year.


“Poultry is amazing,” said Furness, because of the strong biosecurity and response measures already in place.

While she hasn’t included the feather boards in her survey, she still encourages them to participate. Industry groups that have signed on for the survey so far include Ontario Pork and Alpaca Ontario. Furness is still in negotiations with other commodity groups and has reached some beef producers through the National Farmers’ Union. These groups have supported the research by distributing the survey to their members, and Ontario Pork has also become actively involved through initiatives surrounding humane euthanasia.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has emergency plans in place for foreign animal disease (FAD) outbreaks, for example, avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, and vesicular stomatitis in horses.

If the disease is not reportable, the plans become province-specific, and Furness points out that some provinces have more detailed plans in place than others. In Ontario, the Emergency Measures and Civil Protection Act governs the response. Once the situation escalates beyond the farm boundaries, it may require assistance from the municipality.

But if it reaches beyond the municipality, two more groups – the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) – will provide advice and guidance. EMO responded to the 2003 SARS epidemic, for example, and the 2011 tornado in Ontario.

Municipalities have their own response plans in Ontario, and it is their job to carry them out unless they’re overwhelmed or the emergency encompasses multiple municipalities, said Furness. They are required by law to have a plan in place, but there is no requirement for livestock to be considered.

“Lots of agricultural municipalities recognize animal welfare is important, so they’re investigating the issue and how to cope with livestock,” said Furness. As it stands, many are unaware of livestock numbers in their jurisdiction, and many make the assumption that someone else will take the lead.


With the majority of data already in from veterinarians, Furness will focus on gathering and analyzing data from producers throughout the summer of 2013.

Her goal is to find out where emergency response planning is at before making suggestions for other plans with veterinarians, governments and emergency operations groups. As she said, this survey will lay the groundwork for what comes next. 

Results will be confidentially shared with participating commodity groups, followed by the release of the abstract to a wider audience, from veterinarians to emergency responders. Full results are expected by the fall of 2013.

Published in Emerging Trends

Full traceability is not yet mandatory in Canada, but the benefits to the agricultural industry as a whole are many. Whether it involves ready-to-cook seasoned poultry pieces, tomatoes or grain, it’s all about safeguarding our health in times when food safety incidents occur – and presenting an image of Canada’s agricultural industry as responsible and responsive.

As you may know by now, traceability of any food product is a matter of keeping track of three key pieces of information.

Product Identification is one – identifying animals, food products or components of food products as individuals, lots or batches. Premises Identification involves a record of where each component of the food product or the animal originated, and Movement Recording involves tracking identified products as they move between identified premises. Read on for an update on what’s happening with poultry and egg traceability across the country.

On a national scale, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) initiated a federal, provincial and territorial Traceability Task Team (TTT) in 2005. In addition, an Industry-Government Advisory Committee (IGAC) on traceability was formed, which includes representatives of more than 20 agricultural industry organizations. Working together, the TTT and IGAC created the vision of the National Agriculture and Food Traceability System (NAFTS), and the development of traceability systems is supported through the Canadian Industry Traceability Infrastructure Program (CITIP). Both Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) and Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) have been a part of this.

Under Growing Forward, NAFTS has provided funding for industry-led projects including Systems Development activities (e.g. strategic assessments, industry systems development, pilot projects) and Industry Systems Implementation activities (e.g. technology adoption, testing, and data collection). Under this program, each project is eligible to receive up to a maximum of $2,000,000, but CITIP is no longer accepting applications and the program will end on Mar. 31, 2013. The Growing Forward II policy framework will continue the development and implementation of traceability started under Growing Forward.

In February 2012, the EFC Board of Directors approved the Canadian Egg Industry Traceability System (CEITS) standard.

“This voluntary national standard spells out minimum requirements for tracking and tracing laying hens and eggs,” says EFC Communications Officer Gregory Kampf. “We’re currently working with our provincial egg board partners and other industry stakeholders on implementation. Basically, anyone who implements the standard will be meeting the NAFTS performance targets.” The standard requires data management systems that can work with systems such as the one used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, premises identification and movement tracking.

Printing on an egg is not required to meet the standard, but there must be some method in place of tracking where the eggs came from (in Quebec however, it is mandatory for graders to print a unique producer code and province of origin on each egg.) Flocks are to be given a permit number at the hatchery and it is added to along the way. EFC has developed a compliance audit process to ensure participants who wish to part of the CEITS meet the standard.

“As well, EFC and several Canadian egg industry stakeholders visited the UK in fall 2012 to learn about traceability,” notes Kampf.

A current CFC objective on traceability is to formalize current data sharing agreements between provincial boards and governments to build on the success of the traceability data that is collected, says Steve Leech, CFC’s Food Safety, Animal Care & Research national program manager.

Provincial traceability snapshots

Most of the current traceability programs in all provinces are winding down, and a new suite will be introduced under Growing Forward 2 in April 2013; however, some initiatives will also continue through the funding renewal.

Premises identification (PID) initiatives are handled provincially, with Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec having mandatory systems. In March 2012 in Ontario, Angus GeoSolutions Inc. (AGSI) was chosen by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to develop, implement, operate and expand the new Provincial Premises Registry (PPR).

The firm that built and was administering premises identification – OnTrace – lost out to AGSI in a recent tender process.

To register your premises under PPR, you are asked to provide the Assessment Roll Number (your tax assessment number from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation). If you cannot provide this, you will need to provide GPS co-ordinates, municipal address or Legal Land Description (Lot, Concession Number and Township).

The President and CEO of AGSI, Chris Cameron, says that there has been a good response this year from operations within different commodity groups, as well as from independent business owners. “We’ve had a 40 per cent increase in registrations over the previous total since we took over,” he says. “That’s partly a result of commodity organizations encouraging their members to get it done.” 

Cameron says his company provides a very secure system, so farmers can be reassured that farm location and other information kept in the PPR is safe from hacking. “We handle information for credit card companies, Elections Ontario, insurance companies and so on,” he says. Cameron adds that his company will pursue being part of the expansion of traceability in Ontario into product ID and movement tracking.

To move forward on that front, OMAFRA has introduced The Traceability Foundations Initiative (TFI), a three-year joint federal-provincial funding program that may provide up to 75 per cent cost-share funding (maximum of $5 million) to support voluntary, industry-led information-sharing networks that will enhance traceability. Projects selected for funding through Intake 2 (this year’s round) of the TFI “will support the design and implementation of Information Sharing Networks across sector organizations and value chains…leading to effective information sharing systems that include premises identification, animal/product identification and movement recording.” Projects will develop/enhance information sharing that meet identified business objectives and achieve measurable outcomes that align with TFI program objectives.

A fee-free pilot project to track the inter-provincial movements of all animals, even those in labs and zoos, called Zone Canada (www.zonecanada.ca) is being piloted at the Manitoba-Ontario border, an initiative of the Canadian Animal Health Coalition. All transport vehicles carrying animals across the border are expected to stop and report to the site at the West Hawk Lake, where manifests accompanying the animals are checked for accuracy. Senders and receivers of animals are also asked to report to the Zone database within which a confidential electronic Zone movement record is created, and can be accessed quickly in an emergency.

Manitoba has focussed its traceability efforts in the poultry industry on PID uptake. In BC, under the province’s Enterprise Infrastructure Traceability Program established in 2009, cost-share funding (75 per cent, cap $20,000) is available.

However, the single poultry industry applicant in 2011-2012 withdrew, and there were no poultry applicants in 2012-2013.

Similarly, no poultry industry commodity groups or businesses in Alberta have accessed the Alberta Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development programs during the past two years. These include the RFID Technology Assistance Project, which provides software and hardware for feedlots, the Traceability Pilot Program for exploring traceability technology solutions and the Traceability Training program.

In Saskatchewan, there is no traceability project funding that is suited to the poultry industry at present. In New Brunswick, current traceability programs include Enterprise Infrastructure (purchase and installation of equipment necessary to implement traceability systems, including animal/product handling systems, training, data recording and handling systems) and Pilot Projects. Pilot projects have also been funded through Nova Scotia’s Traceability Infrastructure program.

Published in Emerging Trends

Supply and demand. Economies of scale. It’s basic “Ham and Egg-onomics,” according to Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University.

If dollars and cents have taken us to the animal welfare issues that we face today, can dollars and cents pull us out of them?

Speaking to an audience at the 2012 F.W. Presant Memorial Lecture at the University of Guelph, Lusk proposed a market system for buying animal welfare, whereby consumers could purchase animal well-being units, similar to carbon credits.

Such a trading system could offer a way for consumers to encourage improvements in animal welfare by paying producers for their efforts.

Developing a market for buying animal welfare is one way to deal with an issue – a solution only an economist could think up, admits Lusk. But if you think about it, it can make sense.

Books from 1910 talk about using cages and applying factory concepts of efficiency to raising animals, but it is only through the evolution of technology that producers have been able to specialize and gain economies of scale.

“Farmers aren’t more greedy than 100 years ago,” says Lusk, “people are people.” The market is driven by consumer demand. It’s basic economics, not “evil agri-business” as the animal advocacy movement would like you to believe.

What we have now is higher production than ever before and consumers paying lower prices. We’re getting more for less, so what’s the problem? asks Lusk.

Have these benefits come at the expense of animal welfare? This concern has now become a major driver in animal agriculture, but what are the solutions?

Bans to certain production practices are blunt instruments that focus on an input, not an output, says Lusk. For example, poultry welfare in an aviary system can be worse than in a cage system. A ban is a solution that is expected to fit all, no matter how cold or hot it is where you live. Also, if you only ban something in one jurisdiction, retailers will just buy product from elsewhere. A ban can only work to change animal welfare if a trade barrier accompanies that ban.

In the United States, Lusk says, bans have been mechanisms of change, however, with initiatives placed on state ballots that have been successful. But some states don’t allow ballot initiatives, which means that bans become law in states where the political climate is most favourable, not necessarily where the most animals are produced, which does not provide an overall solution to animal welfare issues.

In many cases, consumers demand better conditions for the animals but are not willing to pay for an increased cost of production. That puts the producer in a pickle, says Lusk. “Consumers aren’t always consistent,” he acknowledges. In California, for example, 63 per cent of consumers voted for a layer cage ban but only five per cent are willing to pay the premium for cage-free eggs. When they are standing in front of the egg shelf at the grocery store, many simply buy the cheapest eggs, believing that others will pay the price.

Labels claiming higher standards of production are a low-cost solution but they can become confusing to the consumer (for example, what does “natural” really mean?). Meat taxes proposed by some animal activist groups such as PETA are not particularly desirable either. Meat demand is inelastic, says Lusk. Therefore, it would take a huge tax to change consumption, and the tax wouldn’t necessarily improve animal welfare.

What Lusk proposes is a system that will be consumer driven: if animal welfare were a purchasable commodity, then consumers could buy credits to support the improvement of animal welfare. In essence, consumers would be paying the farmer to do a better job.

Lusk proposes purchasing animal well-being units (AWBU) as a mechanism to buy animal welfare. Placing a score on certain production systems, such as feeding level, space provided and nesting arrangements for poultry, for example, would provide a measuring stick for an AWBU, resulting in an aggregate score for that farm. Payment for the AWBU could then provide compensation to the farmer for the extra effort.

Is Lusk on to a good idea? Ian Duncan, animal and poultry science professor emeritus at the University of Guelph, likes the idea of a separate “welfare index” for each animal product that could be traded or offset, similar to carbon credits.

However, he says, the problem would be setting up the welfare index.

After raising this issue during the question period, he further explained after the lecture that welfare would be much harder to measure than carbon: it’s complicated.

For example, to a veterinarian, a product coming from a system in which there was a very low incidence of disease should have a high welfare index. A behavioural scientist would say that a product coming from a system that allowed for a full repertoire of natural behaviour should have a high welfare index. A production scientist would say that a production system in which animals were producing to the maximum of their genetic potential should have a high welfare index, because this would show that the animals were not stressed.

As Duncan pointed out, welfare is affected by all of the above factors. As a result, animal welfare credits are, “a nice idea in theory but it is really difficult to balance some of these things against each other.”

Duncan’s behavioural research has focused on “asking the animal” what it feels about the conditions under which it is kept and the procedures to which it is subjected.

Using broiler breeders as an example, he explained that these birds are kept extremely food restricted, and normally only allowed 35 to 40 per cent of the food they would eat if given a free choice. How do the birds feel about this?

Duncan says they tell us that they are hungry by working extremely hard to get food. However, if we give them as much food as they want, they become obese, their production of fertile eggs drops dramatically, and soon they begin to suffer from all the diseases of obesity and they feel awful, Duncan explained.

So the vet and production scientist would say, “restricted feeding offers the best welfare”; the behavioural scientist would say, “unrestricted feeding offers the best welfare.” Duncan says this is an extreme example but in many situations a similar argument would take place.

Coming back to the concept of Animal Well-Being Units, would people be willing to buy animal welfare? Lusk asked. For those who feel strongly about animal welfare but have already changed their diet to reflect their preferences, buying welfare credits is an option that could appease their need to support animal welfare: they can’t not buy eggs anymore if they’re already not buying eggs. Agribusiness, animal welfare groups, you and me, we could all buy AWBUs and producers could participate and make money for doing so.

“The current market price for animal welfare is zero,” says Lusk. “Therefore not many farmers are going to sell it.”

From this economist’s perspective, we’ve just got the price wrong.

Published in Welfare

The new German-made Meller Euro 2012 enriched colony system is now available in North America.

‘’Everything has been rethought,’’ says Chris Bill, of Meller Poultry Equipment (based in Jarvis, Ont). ‘’There is more nesting space, more feed space and more perching space.’’

The Euro 2012 made its North American debut last November, at Rendez-vous avicole, hosted by l’Association québécoise des industries de nutrition animale et céréalière (AQINAC) in Drummondville, Que. The event was attended by a record-breaking 600 farmers and industry members.

The new layer cage system boasts an innovative layout that allows more hens to feed, lay eggs and perch at the same time, without being bothered by other birds’ movement. It is readily enriched, as opposed to enrichable, the latter system requiring that accessories be added in order to become enriched.

The feed trough runs inside the cage, which allows birds to feeds from both sides, along the whole length of the cage.

This doubles the feeding area when compared to cages with feed troughs in the front, Bill points out.

Birds may access a lower perch in the front of the cage with little effort. They may also jump onto a middle perch, which is high enough for other birds to walk under without bothering those perching.

The third perch runs the whole length of the cage, on top of the feeding trough.

The nesting area has been shifted to the front of the cage. This reduces the travel distance for eggs rolling to
the belt.

With 20 inches cage height at the back, the Euro 2012 definitely offers more headroom, Bill says. ‘’The reason the cage is so high is all the perches. European standards say birds have to be able to perch and have a clear height for their heads and their wing span.’’

Price tag

Bill says the Euro 2012 system is less expensive than its enrichable predecessor, even without accessories.

Even though Manitoba is so far the only province to have set a date for mandatory enriched cages in new constructions (2018), Meller believes the timing is right to introduce the Euro 2012 in Canada.

‘’We are forward-thinking,’’ Bill says. ‘’The writing is on the wall that this is coming. We want to promote the ideal cage now and give prospective buyers an idea of what is coming.’’

Bill anticipates Canadian regulators will turn to EU standards when making enriched cages mandatory, which makes the Euro 2012 system a safe bet. Farmers switching to enriched systems may simply use them with the current maximum density of one bird per 67 square inches and adapt when new regulation dictates lower density.

Published in Welfare

When the Big Bend Colony decided to build a new layer barn with enriched housing in 2009, it was done with the future in mind.

Canadian Poultry magazine visited the colony, located south of Lethbridge, Alberta, this past spring to talk with members about their experience with this new type of housing. Big Bend was the first in North America to order an installation of an enriched system.

“It wasn’t a quick decision,” says Joe Kleinsasser of Big Bend.  Although he’s not the chicken boss — that job has been held for the last 11 years by George Gross — Joe Kleinsasser has been involved with the layer operation and currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Egg Farmers of Alberta.   

Looking to replace its old layer barn, which housed just over 10,000 layers in a conventional caging system, Kleinsasser says the colony knew it didn’t want to have to upgrade in five to 10 years time, so they looked to the types of housing systems being used in Europe.  Although installing conventional-type cages again would have meant building a smaller barn, “we didn’t want to do that,” he says.

The idea of installing an aviary was decided against because it was “too labour intensive” and they were worried about having to deal with floor eggs, which they felt was a food safety concern.  Kleinsasser says they also did not feel that the science had proven the benefits of an aviary, and they saw European producers were moving away from loose housing systems and going back to enriched.

The colony leased an additional 8,000 birds (bringing the total close to 20,000) and built a new barn with Big Dutchman’s Colony Cage System (known as Avech), which provides 116 square inches per bird. Sixty birds are housed within each 146x46 inch unit, and share a large nesting area and perches.

The units offered a scratch area through the use of a rubber scratch pad, however Gross and Kleinsasser say that the scratch pads have since been removed because they were collecting too much dirt.  They noted that the birds did use this area, and they would include a scratch area again if the mats were proven to stay clean.  After viewing a presentation given by Dr. Tina Widowski, an animal welfare professor at the University of Guelph and the current Canada Chair for Poultry Welfare for the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) at the Egg Farmers of Alberta annual meeting, they are considering using a flat plastic scratch mat, something Widowski has been utilizing in her studies on enriched housing. Her preliminary research shows that these mats stay much cleaner than the rubber mats (which have piles that can collect dirt).

Gross says that they have had little problem with eggs laid out of the nesting area, estimating that 95 per cent are laid within the nest area.  As for production, over three flocks they have averaged 98 per cent, which is “an improvement over our last system,” says Gross.  He says there is little fluctuation in production, and mortality has been reduced by half.

When they placed the first flock, Kleinsasser says, they “tried their own research” and increased the density in several of the colony units to 65 or 70 birds.  “We didn’t notice any real changes in bird behaviour or production,” he says.  However, the first flock was “flightier” (the birds were a Shaver breed) — three subsequent flocks have been Lohmann and H&N, which are calmer, he says.    

One of the biggest improvements they have noticed is that the birds have better feather covering than those housed in the old layer barn, even when only a few weeks away from end of lay.  “The birds are in better condition, and they look good,” says Kleinsasser.  The birds are also more relaxed, he says.  Occasionally he will notice birds with their legs stretched out and he feels “there is no way they would be at 98 per cent production” if they were not relaxed.

The birds are more active within the enriched system, and Gross says that feed consumption has gone up a little, but “not substantially.”  However, he says that a learning curve for him was timing the feedings so that the birds would eat enough.  He and Kleinsasser feel there is so much for the birds to do, that adding an extra feeding (five times per days versus four times a day in the old barn) was necessary to keep the birds focused on eating.  

Big Bend raises about 10,000 pullets, and the other 10,000 are purchased.  All are cage-reared, but “have no trouble adapting” to the enriched system, says Kleinsasser.  The pullets are placed at 19 weeks of age and adapt to the nest area very well, he says.

When the new barn to house the enriched system was built, the colony also built a feed mill to produce its own feed for the layers as well as its hog operation.  The mill uses a micro ingredient feed batching method, blending wheat grown on the colony with purchased canola and soybean meal, canola oil, and premix, which has been formulated by a local poultry nutritionist. Although the feed mill is located near the hog barn, when feed mixed for the layers or pullets is ready, it is transported to the layer and pullet barns underground.  

Gross says being able to make his own feed has allowed for greater consistency.  Although the initial capitol cost to install enriched housing was high (about 40 per cent greater than that of conventional housing), the enriched housing combined with greater feed control has had “great benefits for production.”

The hens produce about 12,000 dozen eggs per week and cracks are less than two percent, and undergrades are less than three per cent — a great improvement over the old barn, says Kleinsasser.

The colony has also begun receiving a premium for the eggs. Their grader, Burnbrae, began marketing eggs from Big Bend Colony’s enriched housing under the brand name “Nestlaid” in Safeway stores and some Sobeys stores throughout the province. 

Although many people who came to an open house held by the colony in 2009 thought Big Bend was rushing into enriched and the industry wasn’t there yet, Kleinsasser says, “installing such a system is a very positive thing for the industry.”

Published in Housing

Poultry farmers and abattoirs could have a humane alternative for euthanizing spent or market-ready birds.

Animal science researchers at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture (formerly the Nova Scotia Agricultural College) have assessed a tool called the Zephyr – a non-penetrating pneumatic stun gun – for use on broilers and layers.

They say that the Zephyr gun could be a humane method for poultry euthanasia.

“This tool is a win-win,” says Jane Morrigan, co-researcher and animal welfare training and auditing specialist for Integrity Livestock Services. “It’s humane for the animal, quiet and easy to use for the farm worker or research technician.”

The University of Guelph and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs developed the tool, based on a model imported from the United Kingdom, to stun rabbits in processing plants. The Zephyr is a non-penetrating captive bolt stunner driven by compressed air that has been shown to work for all weights and sizes of rabbits.  

After learning about the Zephyr, Morrigan first supervised Nichelle Peck for her fourth-year student research project to study its effectiveness for fish euthanasia at the college’s Aquaculture Research Centre, with very positive results. She then turned her attention to its use in poultry, teaming with fourth-year animal science student Samantha Canning and Dr. Bruce Rathgeber of the Atlantic Poultry Research Institute to assess its effectiveness.

Their primary goal was to determine whether the Zephyr could deliver enough force to the skull to render the animal instantly insensible and free of pain – a necessity in ensuring humane euthanasia. Morrigan says they also compared the operator’s experience level, and tried to determine if the positioning of the Zephyr on the bird’s head had an effect.

To complete the research, Morrigan says they used 67 birds, a mix of broilers and laying hens. The Animal Care Committee at the university would not allow the initial research to be conducted on live birds, so the team worked with post-mortem birds just after they were stunned in a conventional electric stun bath.

Morrigan says that while it is unfortunate not to have studied the effects on live birds, their post-mortem work did enable them to assess the severity of trauma to the skull. She reasoned that a fractured skull is a good predictor of instantaneous loss of consciousness – and therefore absence of pain. Immediately after the birds were stunned in the electric stun bath, they were weighed and the Zephyr was applied to the top of the head, twice in quick succession, using air compressed at 120 pounds per square inch.  

Six different factors were compared: the strain of bird, their weight, comb size, operator experience, position on head, amount of skull fracture and damage to the brain (after dissection).

Their results show that the Zephyr could provide enough trauma to the skull to render the bird instantly unconscious, says Morrigan, and the optimal spot for positioning the Zephyr was determined to be behind the comb. Laying hens averaged the largest fracture, though their skulls tend to be smaller, she adds. Also, the experience level of the person operating the Zephyr had no significant effect on skull fracture and brain damage.

“The tool really proved to be effective, quick and easy to use,” says Morrigan, adding that the predetermined force takes the guesswork out for the farm worker, which in turn helps to reduce any anxiety that is experienced when faced with having to perform euthanasia.

Morrigan says they’ve learned that the Zephyr works smoothly when two people are working together, one to hold the bird upright with wings held close to the bird’s body and the other to move the head on a solid table or bench and position the Zephyr. It’s important to ensure that the head is positioned against something firm and solid to prevent head movement, she says. “We lay the head gently so the chin is resting on a solid table or bench.”

Morrigan says they found that applying one percussive force correctly behind the comb was enough, but applying two in quick succession can provide extra assurance. It is also important to also keep the Zephyr clean after the day’s use to prevent it from gumming up, she adds.

Following the Zephyr’s trial, Morrigan says their research technicians were so satisfied with its performance that they purchased the stun gun to continue using it in their facility. The tool has also been distributed through a number of programs to rabbit processing plants throughout Canada.

“It’s an impressive tool,” she says. “I would love to someday see this tool in every laying house and broiler barn. In addition to the gun itself, all that is needed is a small compressor and five minutes of training.”

Researchers at the Prairie Swine Centre have also recently tested the Zephyr and found it to be an effective tool for euthanizing piglets ranging in size from three to nine kilograms. They have also retained the tool for any ongoing euthanasia needs, post-research project.

The University of Guelph developers are currently seeking a company that can oversee commercial-scale development of the Zephyr gun, so that fish farms, poultry and swine operations can purchase their own at an affordable cost. Current models have been provided for research projects with support from the Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust.

Published in Housing

Nov. 21, 2012 - In 1938, Big Dutchman was established with the idea of changing the poultry industry by finding better ways of increasing productivity. Seventy five years later, it’s that same pioneering spirit that drives us everyday to develop products that perform for farmers around the world.

Providing a complete line of poultry and swine production equipment around the world, Big Dutchman leads the industry in the design and production of products geared towards fulfilling both current, and future needs.

Big Dutchman stands for long-lasting quality, service, and unsurpassed know-how, and as the industry leader our innovations will continue to positively impact the industries we serve. Everyday farmers the world over realize the benefits of Big Dutchman’s dedication to innovation. From our poultry, pig, and egg production systems, to our tightly integrated automatic controls, we continue to set standards for efficiency, productivity and reliability.

For more information on Big Dutchman and its products, please visit www.bigdutchmanusa.com.

Published in Company News

Nov. 16, 2012 - While Americans prepare to heat up millions of turkeys in their ovens on Thanksgiving, a geothermal energy system developed by a University of Missouri engineer will be keeping live turkeys toasty during the chilly autumn weather. In a prototype facility, environmentally and economically friendly geothermal energy is now keeping turkeys comfortable during both cold and hot weather. The geothermal system reduces utilities costs for the farmer, which could bring down the price of turkey meat and keep America as the world’s top turkey exporter. Using geothermal also improves the bird’s air quality.

“This is the first application of geothermal energy in a commercial livestock operation,” said Yun-Sheng Xu. “Our first set of performance data suggests that farmers could halve their heating and cooling costs. We have five units installed at the test farm. Other farmers could begin installing units on their turkey farms as soon as next year, for use next winter.”

Heating and cooling is important in turkey operations because the temperature in their enclosure must be kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit while the birds are young, but lowered to 70 degrees F for older birds. Propane fuel for temperature control units can cost farmers tens of thousands of dollars per year. Propane burners in livestock barns produce humidity and carbon dioxide, which can smother the birds. Humidity in the bird barns moistens the foul waste from the fowl and leads to ammonia contamination of the air the birds breathe.

“Similar systems could be installed in other livestock operations,” said Xu. “It may work even better in a chicken coop, since they use solid walls as opposed to the curtains used to enclose turkey barns. Pig and cattle rearing facilities could benefit from the inexpensive hot water produced using a geothermal system. The system could even be scaled down to keep a doghouse comfortable in the backyard.”

Once a geothermal unit is installed, the operation and maintenance are much lower than operating a fossil fuel powered system. Geothermal systems use the constant 55 to 65 degrees F of the soil a few feet beneath the surface to regulate the temperature of a liquid flowing through buried tubing. Xu’s design is cheaper to install than other geothermal units. In his system, the tubing is buried horizontally, as opposed to other systems that rely on vertically placed tubes, which require expensive deep digging.

Using Xu’s system, a turkey farm can be both more economical and better for the environment than a farm run on fossil fuels. Geothermal energy produces no greenhouse gases and isn’t dependent on wind or sunlight. In addition to this, the system uses an artificial wetland above the buried tubes to further insulate them. The wetland provides critical habitat to amphibians, migratory birds and other wildlife.

For more information, please see this article in the MU Engineering magazine: http://engineering.missouri.edu/2012/06/laying-the-groundwork-for-agricultural-use-of-groundsource-energy/

Published in Researchers

Wet litter can be one of the most costly environmental conditions that can occur in a turkey barn, from both a financial and a bird comfort/animal welfare standpoint. Increased litter moisture negatively impacts air quality and can provide favorable conditions for pathogenic microorganisms to grow. Both of these impact bird health as they reduce feed intake and birds begin to eat litter. The resulting low-grade enteritis also adds to the increase litter moisture pushing it to an unacceptable level. Poor environment and litter conditions invariably exacerbate one another – birds remain “loose”, litter moisture continues to rise, which stresses the birds, reduces their resistance and increases the severity of the enteric problems. The end results can include poor feed conversion and weight gain, flock unevenness, poor carcass quality (including breast blisters and buttons), footpad dermatitis, enteritis and respiratory issues.  In addition to the performance issues mentioned, there is also a higher energy cost related to reducing the environmental impact.

As managers, we need to understand why this is occurring in order to determine which environmental management techniques would be most appropriate to halt this vicious cycle from spiraling out of control.  This article will address some of the key management factors to control environmental conditions, including understanding the digestive process, ventilation (air flow and heat) and litter management.

Effects of ventilation on barn environment and litter conditions

Cold weather ventilation is most critical in controlling litter condition and barn environment.  Typically, ventilation rates are reduced or sacrificed to maintain adequate temperatures to keep birds comfortable.  As energy prices increase, the fuel used to keep birds comfortable becomes more critical.  This fuel is not limited to the propane typically used in North America, but also includes the feed energy that birds consume. The thermal neutral zone for adult turkeys is between 13 C and 24 C (55 F and 75 F).  Therefore, when the effective temperature (what the bird feels) is above or below this temperature, feed energy is used to maintain metabolic function rather than body weight. For young turkeys, this zone is more critical and the minimum temperature is increased.  Not only is whole barn temperature critical in cold weather, but temperature uniformity from end to end and side to side within the barn can mean the difference between birds eating for body weight gain or eating and huddling for survival. Therefore, it is critical to maintain proper air flow and temperature throughout the barn during the entire growing cycle.

When it comes to ventilating turkey barns during cold weather, 95 per cent of the time we are primarily trying to manage barn/litter moisture levels.  It is well understood that as litter moisture increases so do the levels of a) ammonia which damages the respiratory tract, b) bacteria such as salmonella and c) leg issues due to footpad dermatitis.  

In general, for every 0.45 kg (1 lb) of feed intake, a bird will drink approximately 0.91 kg (2 lbs) of water. Water is added into the environment through bird respiration and fecal output plus heating.

At 2 weeks of age, 47 litres of water are produced per 1,000 male turkeys and dumped into the barn.

At 4 weeks of age, this increases to 188 litres per day and by 6 weeks of age 300 litres per day.

An additional 10 to 18 litres per 1,000 birds is added daily during brooding as a byproduct of propane heating. Most of this moisture must be removed from the barn in order to maintain litter quality and acceptable humidity levels. This is achieved by replacing the warm damp air in the barn with cold dry air from outside the barn, without chilling the birds and wasting fuel.

One of the most efficient methods for removing moisture in poultry barns is through negative pressure/minimum ventilation. Exhaust fans and inlets are designed to create a negative pressure in the barn, allowing the moisture to be removed (controlled), while at the same time conserving fuel and using the heat produced by the birds and artificial heat to maximum capacity.  Proper minimum ventilation starts with a tight barn with little air leak, so that all air enters the barn through the designed inlets.  When this occurs and the correct static pressure (Pascals) can be achieved, then the cold air can mix with the warm moist air concentrated at the ceiling. Remember: warm air from birds and heaters will concentrate at the ceiling as warm air rises and cold air falls.  

This accomplishes two goals. First, the cold air does not drop directly on the floor resulting in:

  1. birds that are chilled which leads to huddling, missed meals and subsequent binge eating
  2. condensation on the floor from the cold air, and
  3. reduction of the amount of heat required to warm the incoming cold air.

Second, the warm air at the ceiling tempers the incoming cold air, expanding this air, allowing it to increase its water holding capacity.  When air is warmed at 11 C the water holding capacity of the same air volume doubles.  So when 28 m3 (1,000 ft3) of air holding approximately 177 m3 (6 oz.) of water is warmed from 4 C to 16 C, the same 28 m3 (1,000 ft3) of air can hold 354 m3 (12 oz.) of water.  When air is preheated and expanded to be able to carry moisture, it can then mix with the air near the floor, picking up moisture and removing it through the negative pressure fans.  After birds are old enough to produce a significant amount of moisture, humidity levels should be maintained to 60 per cent or less.

The litter on the floor acts like a sponge. If ventilation rate and direction of air movement is not adequate to remove the additional moisture added daily, the sponge gets full.  This process may take days and can go unnoticed.  Once the sponge is full, either though poor digestion, enteritis, poor drinker management, or poor ventilation techniques, the litter is saturated and then cakes.  We then see high ammonia condition related to poor air quality, litter burns on footpads, and high humidity levels.  Before this occurs, humidity levels can be monitored and maintained to less than 60 per cent, in most cases, and will alert managers when minimum ventilation rates are insufficient to remove excess moisture.  There are tables available to be used as a guideline for minimum ventilation capacities, based on bird age, water consumption, and indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity levels (www.poultryventilation.com or www.poultryhouse.com).  During warm weather, ventilation to remove moisture is not a problem as temperature is the major concern and ventilation rates are high.  Litter can be caked due to enteric issues at this time.

Managing additional gases

In addition to controlling humidity in turkey barns, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Carbon Monoxide (CO) can have profound effects on bird performance, if they are not controlled.  According to research by Frame (2010), CO levels above 25 ppm and CO2 levels above 2,500 ppm have been proven to increase roundheart and reduce thyroid activity in young turkeys. 

Christensen et al (1995), showed that CO2 levels above 4,000 ppm resulted in altered metabolism, depleted glycogen reserves, and lower blood glucose levels.  Lower metabolism negatively impacts feed and water consumption resulting in poor gut health and performance over time.  Therefore, it is critical to monitor and maintain CO levels to less than 25 ppm and CO2 to less than 2,500 ppm.

Brooder house negative pressure minimum ventilation set-up

  • Tight test the house
  • Close curtains and/or inlets
  • Make sure all holes are closed around walls, end doors, etc.
  • Turn minimum fans on.  This would equal as close to 1.0 cfm per square foot (18 cmh/m²)  as possible.  
  • Static pressure (SP) should be .15-.20” SP (34-50 Pa) if house is tight.
  • Now begin to open inlets.  Keep in mind the minimum inlet opening should be approximately 2-3” (5-8 cm) wide (anything smaller will choke the inlet and not allow air to ‘throw’ correctly).
  • Approximate total inlet opening should be near 80-85 sq in per 1,000 cfm (515-550 cm² per 1700 cmh fan capacity).  
  • Open inlets until the SP is .10-.12” (25-30 Pa) for 50’ (15 m) or wider and .08-.10” (20-25 Pa) for less than 50’ (15 m) wide.  This will be the minimum number of inlets to be used with the minimum fans.
  • The minimum fans will be on timer and the first fans to come on simultaneously by thermostat if the house temperature warms.
  • Minimum timer setting will be enough to maintain humidity to less than 60 per cent or Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels to less than 2,500 ppm (preferable less than 1,800 ppm within the first 5 days of brooding).  Typically, one half minute per week of age on a five minute cycle timer (one minute for a 10-minute cycle timer) is sufficient. However, depending on brooder type, temperature and barn tightness, this may not be enough air volume to control the humidity and CO2 parameters mentioned above. If this is the case, then increase the cycle time in 15 second intervals until air quality parameters improve.  See the table on page 30.  This is an example of a 2,000 m3 brooder barn, using two fans 17,000 cmh each for minimum timer fans.

Set the thermostat to the minimum fans 1 C (2 F) above the target temperature.  Any minimum fans should be tied together on a thermostat to keep SP constant.

Additional thermostat fans will be set 0.5 C (1 F ) above the minimum fan settings to come on as the house warms.  For houses with auto inlets, the inlets will open automatically based on increased SP with more fans.  For houses with manual inlets, they will have to be opened manually or the curtain lowered manually to reduce SP as more fans come on thermostat.

Timer fans – additional timer fans may need to be added as birds get older.  This should be done only when the minimum fans have reached 4 out of 5-minute cycle.  Additional inlets may need to be opened to compensate for increased SP with more fans.


Environmental management of commercial turkeys is certainly a topic that encompasses volumes of information.  Turkey production managers need to be able to recognize these issues.  Ventilation, litter condition, and drinker management are daily tasks that we can control as farm managers.  In cold weather, it is critical to maintain humidity levels to less than 60 per cent in order to keep environmental and litter moisture in check.  At the same time, if minimum/negative pressure ventilation is done correctly, we can reduce energy use, keep litter dry, and improve air quality.  Litter and drinker management can assist keeping litter dry and cake free.  In North America, animal welfare audits include ammonia levels (typically less than 25 ppm), footpad dermatitis, and litter quality (cake free) as points within the program.  Managers must monitor and ensure that ventilation and air quality are consistently good to produce ideal litter quality and stimulate feed intake and good gut health. As turkeys continue to become more efficient and heavier, maintaining dry litter will be increasingly important to improve bird health, maintain good carcass quality, and provide an optimum environment for both performance and turkey well-being.

David D. Frame, Robert E. Buckner, Gary L. Anderson, Causes and Control of Spontaneous Cardiomyopathy or Roundheart Disease in Utah, http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/AG_506.pdf 

V.L. Christensen et al., “Exposure to Excessive Carbon Dioxide: A Risk Factor for Early Poult Mortality,” Journal of Applied Poultry Research 4:3 (Fall 1995): 249-253. 

Turner, K.A., T.J. Applegate, and M.S. Lilburn:  Poultry Sci.  78:1581-1587.

Published in New Technology

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