April 28, 2017, Toronto, Ont. - Pecking Order, a new documentary film set at the 2015 New Zealand National Poultry Show, takes viewers into the world of competitive poultry pageantry and examines the politics in the Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club in its near 150-year history.

Competitive poultry pageantry is not only a highly entertaining hobby—it’s an obsession. For members of Christchurch Poultry, Bantam and Pigeon Club in New Zealand, it’s also way of life.

Senior member, Beth Inwood, and president, Doug Bain, have tasted the glory of raising perfect rosecomb cockerels and rumpless pullets, while newbie teenagers Rhys Lilley and Sarah Bunton enjoy the good clean fun. But feathers start to fly when infighting breaks out in the club during the run-up to the 2015 National Poultry Show.

As energetic as any sport film and as comedic as you’d imagine Best in Show chicken pageantry to be, Pecking Order serves up an endearing look at poultry passion.

Pecking Order is set to premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival in Toronto, Ont., on April 29.

For more information, visit: Pecking Order - Hot Docs International Film Festival
Published in Producers
April 19, 2017, Toronto, Ont. – Burnbrae Farms’ Egg Creations Whole Eggs was recently named as a finalist in the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix New Product awards by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC). 

The RCC revelled 100 finalists competing for the coveted award earlier this week. These grocery products are the most impressive of all the new grocery products introduced in 2016.   

Becoming a Canadian Grand Prix finalist can be a game changing experience for new products. Finalists receive direct and extensive exposure to key retailers, their buyers as well as consumers eager to try the celebrated new items getting all the attention and accolades.  

To ensure products were evaluated exclusively on quality and innovation, new to this year's assessment was that all products introduced in 2016 had an equal chance of becoming finalists, regardless of when in the year they were introduced and the size of their distribution.  

To become a finalist, a product needed to score at least 70% in judging.
Finalists and winners can use the Canadian Grand Prix logo on their packaging for two years. RCC also supports the awards with extensive consumer and trade support in Canadian Retailer. 

Egg Creations Whole Eggs from Burnbrae Farms Ltd., was named a finalist in the food category. To view a complete list of finalists, visit:

The winners of the 24th annual Canadian Grand Prix Awards will be announced at the Gala on May 31, 2017 following the second day of Retail Council of Canada's Store Conference, Canada Biggest Retail Conference. 

RCC's Grocery Division represents Canada's largest grocery retailers, encompassing over 90% of all grocery sales. It is a source of information, advice and expertise on all matters affecting food retail, including food safety and recall, labelling, nutrition, health and wellness, product packaging, supply chain issues and environmental stewardship. READ MORE
Published in Company News
April 11, 2017, Calgary, Alta. - A mother-daughter duo from Alberta is capitalizing on the growing popularity of backyard farming by launching a rent-a-chicken business.

Megan Wylie works alongside her mother on their Millarville family farm to run, The Urban Chicks, a company aimed at providing customers with everything necessary to operate a backyard chicken coop.

Customers are given two chickens, a coop, organic feed, grit and oyster shells, feed dishes and cleaning supplies. In October, the chickens are picked up and returned to the Millarville farm. Wylie says this allows customers to acquire fresh eggs while avoiding caring for the chickens in the more tedious winter months.

The Urban Chicks even provide their customers with a ‘laying guarantee,’ where they will replace a hen if it stops laying eggs. READ MORE
Published in Companies
The Canadian pickup truck market is huge. It caters to the multiple needs of work, institutional and personal trucks - sometimes all of them in one package. In fact, pickups that serve the workplace and family are becoming the norm – this fact alone makes choosing the right one simply that much more complex.
Published in News
It’s been a year since Synergy Agri Group Ltd. (Synergy) in Port Williams, N.S. installed HatchCare – the first in Canada and the fourth company in the world to do so. And now, the company is currently producing 200,000 HatchCare broiler chicks a week.

HatchTech of the Netherlands developed its ‘HatchCare’ incubation and chick care system to better benefit chicks, the environment and poultry farmers. The company conducted years of testing on HatchCare before rolling it out to market in 2014. The total number of chicks now being reared under the system per year is over 680 million, in Australia, China, Europe, South America, the U.S. and Canada.

With HatchCare, the fertility of eggs is first checked using new lighting methods so that only 100 per cent viable embryos are incubated. Chicks are vaccinated while still in the egg.

In a standard hatchery, chicks are shipped after emergence and receive their first food and water after they settle in on the farm a day later. In the HatchCare system, chicks are immediately able to drink and feed, which  – several research studies have shown – results in higher body weight and breast meat yield. HatchTech also cites research findings showing HatchCare chicks to be 1 cm longer at hatch due to their incubation conditions.

HatchCare involves a unique and advanced handling system called HatchTraveller, where the chicks stay in small individual crates from hatching until delivery to the farm. The crates are then cleaned and disinfected for re-use. HatchTech representatives say this provides every chick with ongoing uniform conditions in terms of temperature, airflow and relative humidity. The highly energy-efficient HatchCare system also includes several features that enhance biosecurity, such as sealed incubators with filtered entry and exit air.

Synergy's Experience
Doug Kaizer, Synergy’s chief financial officer, is very positive about their decision to go with HatchCare. “We were expecting improvements in chick health, mortality, weight gains and feed conversion, but we did not expect the large improvement in early farm brooding,” he notes. “The chicks arrive ready to grow. We use lower initial temperatures, put less feed out on paper and generally treat the chicks as if they are a couple of days older than their age. This has shown to be a tremendous help in the older barns, where it was harder to get the proper conditions for the day-old chicks.”

Kaizer says the system has also helped the company’s less-experienced barn managers. “The chicks aren’t as demanding, arrive with no hatchery infections and already have a built-in pattern for eating, drinking and resting,” he explains. “It has really levelled the playing field among different-aged facilities and experience levels of the farm operator.”

With HatchCare, Synergy has also been able to significantly lower antibiotic use. Before the installation, an average of over 20 per cent of flocks had to be treated due to issues from the breeder flock/hatchery. With HatchCare, to date that’s less than five per cent, and in most cases, Kaizer says, the reason for the treatment has been identified and the issue removed at the hatchery level. He adds that their HatchCare hatchery will be the key component in their move to RWA (raised without antibiotics) broiler production.

In terms of biosecurity, Kaizer describes the system as “very” biosecure, partially because the entire setup - from egg delivery to chick delivery - takes place in areas isolated from each other, and because every process has built-in biosecurity aspects. “One of the best features is the ability to clean and disinfect after each batch of eggs and chicks are processed,” he says.

With respect to fluff filtering, Kaizer notes that within the HatchCare setup, their processing room (take-off room) is extremely clean and by using a special storage area, they have reduced the size of the hatchery. Kaizer says they are adding to HatchTraveller by designing their own transport trailer, which will enable chicks to have feed throughout delivery, regardless of time or distance to the farm. “All chicks stay in the same box where they are hatched and do not undergo any of the stresses in traditional hatcheries related to handling by humans or machines,” he says. “The goal is to have an almost seamless transition for the chick from hatch to barn under perfect conditions.”

On the energy efficiency front, Kaizer says it’s hard to make comparisons with their previous setup, as HatchCare systems are very automated and also require a lot of fresh air to maintain the perfect environment for the hatchlings. He believes they are just beginning to understand all the benefits of the system.

Continuous improvement
“Every aspect of the hatchery will see continued improvements over the next few months and years,” he notes. “We are working on specific incubation parameters for young and old breeder flocks as well as specific setups to enhance the hatchability and health of eggs kept over longer periods of time. Our hatching egg farms saw an immediate gain of four per cent hatchability, but we know that this can be improved by another two to three per cent with flock-specific incubation.”

“We are continuing to experiment and adjust growing procedures in the barn as well the feed inputs for the broiler rations,” Kaizer adds. “Basically, we are examining every single aspect from the hatching egg farm to live transport to the processing plant to see how things can be improved for the chicks with the HatchCare system. The possibilities are almost endless.”

Besides the initial cost of the system and needing to keep a good inventory of spare parts, the biggest drawback of the system in Kaizer’s view, is digesting the amount of information that’s becoming available and almost being overwhelmed by the number of future trials they want to do.

Facility tours
In the past year, Synergy has hosted a lot of interested people who want to look at HatchCare in action. This has included staff from hatchery companies all over North America, South America, Europe and Australia. “As we say to all who have toured our facility,” Kaizer notes, “This is not an easy or cheap hatchery, but it produces the best chicks for the broiler farmer. If your organization’s goals are focused on health, animal welfare and broiler performance, this system is for you. But if your goal is least-cost hatching, you are better to look at the traditional hatchery systems.” However, he believes anyone thinking of building a new hatchery has to consider animal welfare and be concerned with traditional hatchers that don’t allow newly-hatched chicks access to food and water for many hours or days. He says all personnel at Synergy firmly believe HatchCare is the future of hatching for both animal health and animal welfare reasons. “When this system was unveiled,” concludes Kaizer, “we actually stopped our hatchery construction and redesigned the entire project to allow for the HatchCare system. Looking back, this was the best decision our company has ever made.”

Return on investment
Asked about the return-on-investment timeline, Kaizer says that as an integrated system, when they add the profitability of the hatching egg farms and broiler farms to the hatchery profits, they are very satisfied with the rate of return. “Our customers [farmers and shareholders] not only benefit financially, but take great pride in knowing that the chicks they grow are the healthiest and most humanely-hatched chicks in North America,” he says. “There is no better return as a farmer than when you go home each day and can tell your ten year-old daughter that we hatch the healthiest, happiest chicks in the
entire world.”
Published in Companies
The arduous review process is over and the award has now been bestowed. Of the various operations nominated for the 2016 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award, Farmcrest Foods Ltd. (Farmcrest) is the winner.

The enterprise was started in 1999 and is owned by Richard Bell and his brother-in-law Alan Bird, whose families both originate from Ireland and came to Canada looking for new opportunities. In addition to Richard and Alan, members of three generations of the families currently help out on the farm, including Richard’s father Cecil (a retired farmer), brother Henry and sons Henry Jr. and Jack.  

The operation includes: a hatchery and poultry barns (in addition to growing their own birds Farmcrest also contracts 16 new entrant growers to supply chicken to their processing plant); feed mill; processing plant; rendering plant (renderings are not used on the farm but sold for animal feed); enclosed mechanical composting for bird mortality, and crop production (200 acres of owned land and 400 acres of leased land farmed with potatoes, sunflowers and soybeans). Farmcrest also has its own poultry retail store. In total, the operation employs 45 people.

The farm itself is situated on soils ranging from clay and loamy clay to sandy loam with some peat areas in a relatively flat river bottom area near Salmon Arm, B.C.

“It is also very close to Shuswap Lake,” Bell explains. “We therefore need to be very careful with the amount and type of nutrients applied to this well-drained area to prevent runoff.”

Farmcrest’s regular nutrient management practices include using a concrete pad (contained to prevent runoff) for manure storage. There is also virtually no runoff of nutrients from the fields (and little odour) as manure is worked in with a disc or ploughed under immediately after application.

“We only apply the manure to the fields needing it for the seed that is being planted,” Bell notes. “Our soil health has improved steadily in the last five years since these measures were put in place.” No commercial fertilizers are used.

Farmcrest has an environmental farm plan and has used expert advice from a certified crop advisor since 2011. In 2013, Farmcrest also began a working relationship with Poultry Partners, a team of technicians, production specialists, veterinarians and nutritionists based in Airdrie, Alta., which offers a variety of agricultural industry services. The firm supported Farmcrest’s nomination for the sustainability award through a letter of recommendation - as did the British Columbia Chicken Marketing Board.

“They’ve done an excellent job farming intensively in a very ecologically-sensitive area,” Shawn Fairbairn, Poultry Partners general manager says. “They have committed to improve soil fertility, optimize production and most importantly, reduce chemical and pesticide use and virtually eliminate synthetic fertilizer to ensure the surrounding ecosystem remains undisturbed. There is on-going monitoring and testing of the manure, soil and crops to ensure their goals are being reached. The investment in new equipment to allow for less soil disturbance and odour when poultry manure is applied is one example of their forward-thinking.”  

Fairbairn also notes that farm equipment is continuously upgraded at Farmcrest so that the most precise technology is used with the most fuel-efficient engines. “By growing about 85 per cent of all the feed ingredients their chickens consume, they have dramatically reduced the carbon footprint of their operation,” he adds.

Farmcrest also uses moisture and pH meters for soil testing to understand when conditions are optimal for manure application.

An overall goal to achieve air quality improvement (reductions in odour, ammonia and particulate matter inside and outside the barn) has been achieved by ensuring an optimal level of nitrogen is available to the birds. Ingredient and feed sampling are conducted on a regular basis to track this, and tests to track soil nitrogen levels are also completed annually. Because of all this monitoring and adjustment (not to mention an on-farm feed mill that makes immediate changes in the ration possible), Farmcrest has seen improvements in bird growth as well as air quality and soil improvement.

No irrigation is used at Farmcrest, and as much water as possible is conserved through the use of an ‘air chill’ system in the processing plant, nipple drinkers in the barns and a misting system for barn disinfection. Farmcrest has built 14 new poultry barns in the last five years, and Richard says their goal with each build is to be as energy efficient as possible. This includes the use of R60 insulation, LED lighting, high-efficiency electric motors and radiant tube heating.

Product differentiation
Farmcrest was the first in its region to grow grain corn and now non-GMO grain corn. This led to the operation breaking new ground on a national level by being the first poultry operation in Canada to market non-GMO chicken (verified through Poultry Partners assisted with further development of products. “[Farmcrest] listened to their customers and have proactively responded to the demand that was there in their local market. This has been extremely good for their business and the long-term financial viability of their operation.”

Fairbairn describes the Bird and Bell families as having a “tangible passion” for poultry and farming. “We love working with clients that are ‘hands-on’ and engaged,” he notes. “And the folks at Farmcrest are extremely engaged. Their work ethic and commitment to the environment and their local community is easy to grasp when you spend time with them. They are big believers in continuous learning and improvement. There is on-going reinvestment in all aspects of their operation to allow for improved welfare, safety and production efficiency for the birds, workers and the food they produce.”  

Team effort
The fact that the Farmcrest owners directly work alongside their employees every day has created, in Fairbairn’s view, a culture of hard work and high standards. “It is also unique to see three generations of family all working together towards a common goal,” he notes. “The youngest generation is actively involved in working and planning and will be well prepared to continue the legacy of this agri-business. The owners are always looking for new technologies and ideas. They literally travel the world to attend trade shows, farm tours and crop production events to ensure they are on the leading edge of agriculture. As a consulting group, we are extremely fortunate to have a client like Farmcrest.”

Bell says he feels honoured that Farmcrest has won the 2016 Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award. “It is very much a team effort,” he notes. “I wish to thank my staff and our team for their dedicated efforts each and every day.”

Visit if you would like to read in more detail about the business.
Published in Profiles
Hybrid Turkeys, a division of Hendrix Genetics, has built a new breeder facility between Berkeley and Markdale, Ont. The name of the farm, “Berkdale” is a mix of the two.

While construction of a new turkey breeder farm might not seem terribly newsworthy, this one is, firstly because of its location. The site was chosen at a significant distance from the company’s other operations in southern Ontario, mainly for biosecurity reasons.

“Five years ago we wouldn’t have even considered a location so far away from our other farms,” says Hybrid Turkeys’ farm division manager, Marek Mirda. “To ensure secure supply to our customers, especially during disease outbreaks and establishment of quarantine zones, we looked for an area with distance from our own and other poultry farms. During disease outbreaks there can be an impact on healthy farms due to restriction of movement within quarantine zones, so we want to minimize or eliminate this potential risk.”

Hybrid Turkeys began its search for a location by examining a Canadian Food Inspection Agency map of Ontario that pinpoints all types of livestock operations. “We evaluated this area on the map to choose a location with the least amount of poultry operations,” Mirda notes. “After working with real estate firms, we found this property between Berkeley and Markdale.”

New design
Location aside, Berkdale has other important biosecurity aspects, with the most significant being a farm design that connects the barns.

In the past, Hybrid Turkeys would have designed the farm so the egg house and lay barn (for example) were separate buildings, and staff would therefore have to change clothing and boots every time they would go between.

“A system of separate entry and exit not only adds risk of picking up outside organisms, but is also difficult during winter months in Canada,” Mirda explains. “The new system has staff go through biosecurity procedures once and then they have safe access to the entire barn system.” Hendrix Genetics is in the final stages of upgrading a layer breeder facility in Ontario that will have the same design, he adds.

In addition, Berkdale (and a Hybrid Turkeys pedigree facility as well) have a dry shower and other additional measures to keep foreign organisms as far away from the barn as possible - on both the brood/grow side as well as lay barn side. Upon arrival at the farm, staff and any visitors must enter the dry shower facility, which requires individuals to change out of street clothes into farm clothing and footwear. Next, individuals exit the dry shower into a neutral air pressure zone before accessing the completely enclosed wet shower rooms. After using the shower facilities, individuals change again into new farm clothing and boots, ready to enter the clean zone of the farm.

Outside the buildings, there is complete separation of the clean and dirty zones. Dirty zone roads are for external suppliers to deliver fuel and other supplies without entering the farm area. Clean zone roads are only for internal clean vehicles that transfer staff or supplies between barns. All the buildings’ mechanical equipment can be accessed from the dirty zone so that contracted service technicians have quick access in case of urgent need. Hybrid Turkey employees have access to a storage garage in the clean zone with equipment only to be used within the clean zone, and one on the dirty side for use only in the dirty zone.

Additional biosecurity was gained through filling any saw cuts on concrete with caulking to prevent particulates from settling in. “One of the project members suggested we used ‘an entire truckload of caulking’ to ensure no cut was missed!” Mirda reports.

In addition, as part of the ventilation system, the farm features darkout hoods large enough for a person to fit inside, which makes it easier to ensure proper cleaning of these areas. There is also a wash station for vehicles on the ‘lay side’ of the farm.

Berkdale also features an innovative truck-loading dock for the egg cooler, complete with dock-levelling equipment and seal for the truck. This system allows for the use of trolleys to transfer eggs from the storage room into the trucks rather than the traditional moving of eggs by hand.

“Temperature shock is avoided,” explains Mirda, “and there is also no need for an outside connection, in that the delivery driver can stay in the cab while the eggs are loaded by internal staff. It’s a best-practices system that improves worker health and safety and minimize the handling of eggs.”

Results so far
Berkdale began operation in August and all systems are running smoothly with birds doing extremely well. Mirda says the winter season is when staff expects to see the new design of this facility to show its full benefits. This will be in part because use of the barns on the lay side (that are connected between egg house and laybarn) will begin then, and also, from a comfort and efficiency standpoint, workers will not have to go outside as much during the harsh weather.

When asked what factors other poultry operators should consider in building a similar facility isolated from all other farms in the company, the Berkdale staff had good input. They pointed to the decision of whether to try and relocate current employees or search for new employees close to the new facility who may need a lot of training and support. They also pointed out that you have to be ready for staff and equipment from other company facilities to be dispatched as needed for hands-on assistance at the ‘orphan’ facility.

Scott Rowland, general manager, Americas at Hybrid Turkeys says that although this facility came at a significant cost, the company leaders feel that the investment in Berkdale is the next step in biosecurity for both customers and staff.

“The features of this facility were designed to secure the supply to meet our customers’ needs, while ensuring excellent health and safety of our workers,” he says. “This investment signifies our dedication to continuous improvement. By spreading out our operations, we are working towards the next generation of biosecurity.”

Hybrid Turkeys also has production and research facilities in several other locations in Canada, as well as in the U.S., France, Poland and Hungary.
Published in Companies
What to do with the males of a species when the females are all that are needed is an issue various agricultural sectors grapple with.

In poultry, the question of what happens to male chicks when only females lay eggs continues to beg a satisfactory answer. Although cull is the current widespread solution, research is underway into alternatives, such as work by Dr. Michael Ngadi at McGill University (see page 24 this issue)   Egg sexing research is also underway in Germany, supported by a national animal welfare initiative that aims to ultimately phase out culling of male chicks altogether. In the German state of Lower Saxony, a trailblazer in animal welfare regulation in that country, the practice is slated to be banned by the end of 2017.

Some farmers in Germany have built an alternative market for their male chicks, under the banner of the “Bruderhahn Initiative” – which literally translates into English as “the brother rooster initiative”.

The concept, explained Christine Bremer of Bauck-Hof Klein Suestedt, located in the Lunenburg Heath about 100 kilometres south of the city of Hamburg, involves raising the male chicks 18 to 22 weeks of age and selling them for meat the way broilers are.

Because their genetics are focused on egg and not meat production, raising the males for consumption is an expensive venture. “The males are very active and we need 5.5 kilograms of feed for one kilogram of gain, which is not a good conversion,” Bremer told international agricultural journalists touring her farm this past summer, adding this means her farm needs a subsidy of 7.50 to 10 Euros per “brother” to make the economics work.

Unlike most farms, though, Bauck-Hof Klein Suestedt was able to get that money from the market place – but through egg sales instead of a premium on the meat, which is dark and has a taste similar to pheasant.

Every egg sold from Bremer’s hens sells for four cents more than other eggs, and those funds, collected through the “Bruderhahn Initiative”, go back to the participating farmers to pay for the costs of raising and marketing the males for meat.

“If a hen lays 250 eggs and we get four cents more per egg, we can pay for the “brother”,” she said. “Our trader who buys our eggs communicated this to the organic shops where our eggs are sold. In 2013, all eggs were increased by four cents and a label was added to explain why – and we had no loss of customers.”

Unsure of whether consumers would be interested in the darker, more flavourful meat, Bremer’s first customer was actually a baby food processor.  “We weren’t sure people would buy this meat but gradually people start asking for it,” she said, adding that due to her farm’s rural location and resulting unreliable internet infrastructure, their marketing is done at point of sale as opposed to through social media.

“As farmers, we need the help of traders and retailers to sell our products, and if our trader had said no, we couldn’t have done this,” Bremer said. “What customers are paying for is to not kill the bird at birth and that this animal is worth keeping alive longer.”

The male layer for meat program is part of Bauck-Hof Klein Suestedt’s overall approach to agriculture. The operation is the second oldest organic farm in Germany, having farmed in this manner since 1932. More specifically, it’s one of Germany’s 2,000 certified Demeter farms.

Demeter is the brand for products stemming from biodynamic agriculture and is well recognized by German consumers, which Bremer says has been helpful in supporting the marketing efforts around meat from the male layers.

Bremer installed her first mobile poultry housing 13 years ago, and now has six mobile layer barns and four mobile broiler barns on her farm that are regularly moved to new locations on the fields and permit birds to roam and express natural behaviours.

“We use genetics that grow slower and the birds can choose whether they want to be inside or out,” she says, adding that farmers who build mobile poultry housing can have 40 per cent of their costs covered by the European Union.

Under the leadership of state Minister of Agriculture Christian Meyer, Lower Saxony has doubled state support for organic production from 137 Euros per hectare in 2013 to 273 Euros by the end of 2016. Subsidies for converting conventional farms into organic production have also increased, from 262 Euros to 403 Euros per hectare during that same time.

Meyer, who represents the Green Party, is a proponent of organic agriculture and has also introduced some of the strictest animal welfare regulations in the country since he took office in 2013, including banning beak trimming of laying hens by the end of 2016, and phasing out caged egg production completely by 2025.

“The supermarkets dictate and they are very strong. For example, although Lower Saxony is ending beak trimming, we can’t stop imports unless the retailers are supportive,” Meyer said, adding that retailers are supporting cage-free egg production by not selling eggs from hens in cages in countries like Poland and the Ukraine.

The state has also committed to reducing antibiotic use in agriculture by 50 per cent in five years, resulting in farmers having to notify the government each time they purchase antibiotics for livestock use.

Lower Saxony is one of Germany’s livestock powerhouses, home to 18 million laying hens that produce about half of the country’s eggs.
Published in Health
In Lower Saxony, Germany, Stefan Teepker has just spent 25,000 € (approximately $36,500 CAD) on a new on-farm visitor gallery complete with food vending machine, video system and 24-hour viewing area on one of his poultry farms.

It’s not that he’s expecting the vending machine to be a big money maker – he needs 15 € a day in sales to make the venture work – but he’s hoping it will attract the non-farming public to his farm to learn more about how broiler chickens are raised, housed and treated in Germany.

Teepker unveiled his concept to a group of visiting international agricultural journalists who were touring northern and eastern Germany this past July.

It’s not easy being a farmer in Lower Saxony, where agriculture minister Christian Meyer represents the Green Party. Strict animal welfare rules, limitations on new barn constructions and looming new clean air laws mean farmers have a lot more to worry about than just raising healthy, quality livestock and poultry.

To Teepker’s way of thinking, that’s precisely why someone has to show people where their food comes from, and there’s nobody better to do that than farmers themselves.

“We have to show how we produce the meat people eat and with this new viewing area, people can come here any time to watch our birds,” he explained while looking into his bright, modern barn filled with healthy, contented birds. “Some farmers say we can’t do this job, someone else should – but who else would that be?”

Doing nothing is not an option as the pressure from those opposed to livestock farming is already making itself felt.

For example, even enriched poultry cages will be phased out entirely in favour of all cage-free production by 2025, beak trimming will be banned by the end of 2016, and culling of male chicks will no longer be permitted in Lower Saxony by the end of 2017.

The state has also committed to reducing antibiotic use in agriculture by 50 per cent in five years, resulting in farmers having to notify the government each time they purchase antibiotics for livestock use.

And according to Teepker, Lower Saxony is no longer issuing building permits for new livestock barns, citing environmental concerns, and that it is very difficult to even secure permission to renew existing facilities. Farmers who wish to expand their production have no choice but to buy existing farms or relocate to other parts of Germany, he said.

“We built our first barn in 2009, where we got a permit in 12 months and built in six – it was two years in total from thought to bird. Now it is up to six years,” he said.

New clean air laws from the European Union designed to reduce emissions from intensive livestock operations will mean new costs too, he added.

Teepker farms together with his younger brother Matthias near Handrup, Lower Saxony, about 360 km north of Frankfurt. He’s in charge of the broiler side of their operation, which also includes pigs, biogas production and 350 hectares (approximately 865 acres) of crops.

In 2013 he purchased the farm where he has added the viewing gallery and renovated the 10-year old facilities. And although he considered expansion into Eastern Germany several years ago, he ultimately decided against it due to the high cost of farms.

Teepker is not alone among farmers in Germany adding viewing galleries into their livestock barns, but notes that his goes above and beyond the simple window and information card that most provide.

Videos available on demand, for example, demonstrate other aspects of his farm and the life cycle of his birds. Feed samples show what birds eat and feeders and waterers are on display to demonstrate how they eat and drink.

And the vending machine, which Teepker has stocked with chicken products, can sell anything from a single egg to a five kilogram bag of potatoes. This particular farm happens to be on a busy public cycling trail, so Teepker hopes his location – and the cold drinks he is including in the vending machine – will help draw people in.

If the viewing room and vending machine are successful on the broiler barn, there are plans for a similar installation on one of their pig barns too.

Facebook is his biggest audience, where “Landwirtschaft Teepker” and regular posts of photos and updates about farm activities have garnered more than 2,100 likes, but he’s also a keen supporter of video. His most popular online video, called a look into chicken production, has logged more than 78,000 views to date.

“YouTube is the new Google so you need to have video even if it isn’t the best,” he believes.

But nothing beats a face to face connection, which is why the Teepkers have also reached out to local schools, starting about five years ago with inviting kindergarten classes out to the farm and expanding to include twice yearly classroom visits with small birds. They also sponsor children’s soccer jerseys in the community.

And those public education efforts seem to be paying off.

“We are noticing changes in attitudes with parents and teachers – “where are the cages” is now the most asked question,” Teepker said, adding the most people don’t know that German broilers are not raised in cages. “I think and hope that we are doing a good job.”

Yet despite some success, Teepker is also a realist about the public pressures facing farmers and the challenges of reaching out to consumers who are increasingly distanced from farming and food production.

“This is a first step, but the discussion will never finish,” he believes.
Published in Consumer Issues
Dec. 2, 2016 - Each year the Canadian Animal Health Coalition (CAHC) presents the Carl Block Award to an individual nominated by his or her peers for outstanding contributions in the field of livestock animal health. This award is in memory of Carl Block, who was chair of the CAHC when he passed away as the result of a small plane crash in May 2002.
The CAHC has named Dr. Grant Maxie of Puslinch, Ont. as this year’s recipient of the award.  Through his hard work and dedication, Dr. Maxie has made many significant contributions to the Canadian animal health industry.
Maxie has been integrally involved in the laboratory management and surveillance scene both in Canada and internationally over his distinguished career. Since 1997 he has been Director of the Animal Health Laboratory (AHL), University of Guelph and since 2007 co-executive director of laboratory services, University of Guelph. In these positions he has provided leadership in several national diagnostic and surveillance initiatives. 

Most recently, he has lead the Animal Health Lab and provided guidance to industry through the recent PEDV and Avian Influenza outbreaks in Ontario. He is the project chair for the Disease Surveillance Plan 2013- 2018, an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs project, administered by AHL that has enhanced the conduct of disease surveillance in Ontario and has contributed nationally as well.
Accompanying Maxie’s nomination for the Carl Block Award were several letters of support from both Canadian and international bodies, which is a testament to his influence globally.
In a news release, CAHC says that considering that the primary criteria to receive the Carl Block Award is that recipients demonstrate leadership, commitment and passion for enhancing animal agriculture in Canada, it is easily apparent why Grant Maxie is the 2016 recipient.
Published in Profiles
November 21, 2016 - Libro Credit Union (Libro) and the University of Guelph (UofG) have announced Ryan Gibson, PhD, as the Libro professor of regional economic development for southwestern Ontario. The professorship is a partnership between Libro and the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), focused on building economic development and innovation
across the region, through research, teaching, outreach and collaboration.

Gibson joins the UofG from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S. He’ll be working through the OAC’s school of environmental design and rural development.

“Ryan’s expertise and experience are a perfect fit for this new position,” says Rene Van Acker, OAC dean. “His focus on community-engaged scholarship combined with his enthusiasm, assures me he will do great things while working with the communities of southwestern Ontario.”

Gibson’s research examines issues related to the future of rural communities and regions, and topics such as governance, immigration and revitalization. He is also president of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, a national organization committed to strengthening communities by creating economic opportunities that enhance social and environmental conditions.

Originally from rural Manitoba, Gibson has a deep respect for rural communities, rural people and the events that shape their futures. Growing up witnessing the transformations in rural development, agriculture and their influence on communities instilled a fascination and commitment to rural issues.

Libro has committed to endow the professorship with $500,000 over 10 years, which will be matched to existing donations, for a combined gift of $1 million.

Overall goals of the professorship include:
  • Establishing southwestern Ontario as a defined economic region of the province and identifying strategies to shape the future vision of economic development
  • Strengthening links between rural and urban communities to establish solutions for an integrated regional economy
  • Building a network among Ontario’s post-secondary institutions and research facilities to collaborate on initiatives to grow regional economic development
The professorship will be hosted at the UofG within the OAC, bolstered by the Ridgetown campus.
Published in Researchers

In 2014, Canadian farmers produced more than 595 million dozen eggs per year and had eight straight years of sales growth. According to a recent study by Egg Farmers of Canada, it takes 69 per cent less water and half the amount of feed today to produce a dozen eggs, while hens are producing nearly 50 per cent more and are living longer than they did 50 years ago.

Layer operations across the U.S. and Canada are progressing, and this fact is evident when visiting the layer operation at McGee Colony, recognized by Star Egg Company in 2015 with a first place finish in Saskatchewan for reaching the dozen eggs per bird and cost per dozen eggs quota.

As of 2014, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) listed the average Canadian flock size at 20,192 hens; however, Canadian egg farms can range from a few hundred to more than 400,000 hens. The average laying hen produces approximately 305 eggs per year (25.4 dozen). The Bovan standard is 353 eggs per hen housed at 78 weeks.

The flock of 16,200 Bovan White managed by Jerry Mandel and his father John Mandel boasted a production of 370 eggs per hen housed, with 106 grams of feed intake per hen per day at 78 weeks, in 2015. The number of eggs produced was above the Bovan standard, while the feed intake per hen per day was below the Bovan standard. Jerry and John emphasize that they had great help in earning the plaque from Star Egg Company that was presented to them at the Saskatchewan Egg Producers annual meeting.  

“Part of making this program work is good teamwork, with everyone making sure the hens get the best nutrition, health and management care,” said Jerry.

McGee Colony, located near Rosetown, Saskatchewan, is named after the site of the old village of McGee. The poultry barn and associated equipment are fairly new and well-maintained. Even so, there are challenges that need to be met.

The well water’s pH level measures around 9. This is closely monitored and adjusted to 6.5 via acidification of the water on a continual basis. As a result, chlorination of the water is achieved with a more acidic pH, as chlorination works at its optimum for water sanitation with a pH around 5–6.5.

The flock is an integral part of the colony. The feed is produced on-farm in a computerized mill, and the grains are grown specifically for use by the flock. Being located in the Rosetown area means wheat is the cereal of choice, not corn. By milling their wheat, McGee Colony was able to change to a larger screen (a 1-inch screen) with several advantages:

  • There are less broken kernels. This reduces feed separation as it goes through the travelling hopper feed delivery system.
  • Whole wheat causes more feed grinding in the gizzard, so more endogenous enzymes are mixed with the feed. Feed passage is then slowed, allowing for better digestion and thus gut health.
  • Less electricity is required.
  • Faster feed throughput is achieved at the mill.

The integration of the poultry unit on the farm means the field crop operation is influenced by the poultry operation and the poultry operation is in turn influenced by the field crop operation. Manure is handled so that it is dried as rapidly as possible and initial moisture content is observed constantly.  Incoming water, as mentioned above, is treated to optimize pH as well as with chlorine. This combination helps to avoid excessively wet droppings.  

McGee’s rations do not contain meat meal, so their nutritionist at EMF Nutrition pays close attention to the osmotic balance of the ration, which also helps to reduce the fecal moisture. The inclusion of a yucca plant extract technology helps to reduce ammonia in the barn while also lowering the amount of ventilation required in the winter to remove ammonia, thus allowing for ease of maintaining daytime temperatures at 20 degrees Celsius and nighttime temperatures at 22 degrees Celsius in the winter.  

The manure, which is removed to the storage room at the end of the barn, has heated air from the barn drawn over it as it is exhausted from the barn. This also helps to further dry the manure. The dry manure is then removed from the storage area and allowed to cure before it is applied as fertilizer on the fields.  From this process, less nitrogen escapes from dry manure. The less the nitrogen escapes from the manure and the better bound the nitrogen is, the higher the nitrogen content is in the manure that is applied to the fields.  

McGee Colony also includes an enzyme technology in their rations to increase the digestibility of plant-based ingredients, thus reducing the need for supplemental phosphorus and decreasing the phosphorus levels in the manure. By lowering manure phosphorus and increasing nitrogen, McGee Colony can minimize the land required to accept the phosphorus while maximizing the amount of nitrogen applied from the manure. This nutrient management plan helps to reduce the nitrogen fertilizer required to meet the needs for next year’s crop.

Next year, the colony will be using a foliar-applied source of micronutrients on the land growing wheat for the poultry unit. This micronutrient application helps to optimize plant growth and harvest yield. Higher yield means less land required to grow crops for the poultry unit and more land for cash crops. Higher yield also means more nutrients removed, and the poultry manure can be spread over the land with less time and less fuel.

McGee Colony has also implemented some of the programs other successful layer operations have shared within the industry. Dave Coburn of Coburn Farms spoke about its “Best Flock Ever” (Canadian Poultry, April 2012), and mentioned including the Alltech Poultry Pak® program in addition to the use of large particle sizes to stimulate the gizzard. Both of these methods were implemented in the Coburn Farms program to improve gut health and ultimately egg production.   McGee Colony has also incorporated both of these programs to maximize their eggs per quota and feed efficiency. With these programs in place, in addition to improving soil management and yield with effective soil nutrient management, McGee Colony is successfully building a sustainable agricultural program.  

“The eggshells are better, even with the older 70 week birds, and we have less eggshell cracks than before,” said Jerry. “The birds are keeping their feathers longer and they always appear to be active.”

Published in Producers

April 13, 2016 – Andrew Campbell of Strathroy has been named the 2016 recipient of the Farm & Food Care Ontario Champion Award.

The award was presented at Farm & Food Care’s annual meeting on April 13 by Bruce Christie, a Farm & Food Care board member. Campbell was nominated for the award by the Middlesex Federation of Agriculture, with letters of support provided by Dairy Farmers of Ontario and writers from – a consumer-facing blog site populated by young Ontario farmers.

Middlesex Federation of Agriculture spokesperson Lucia Lilbourne describes Campbell as an eloquent individual who willingly takes every opportunity to engage consumers, and one who is very proactive in tackling challenges through a variety of channels. Justin Williams and Scott Snyder, farmers who write for Dinner Starts Here, says Campbell is “a true leader in the social media movement in Canadian agriculture.” They credit his hard work as the reason Dinner Starts Here is an effective consumer outreach initiative.

While active on a number of different media platforms, nominators cite Campbell’s #Farm365 initiative – a twitter campaign where he tweeted one photo a day from his farm – as a crowning achievement. The initiative, which lasted officially throughout 2015, was intended to give Canadians a look at dairy farming in Ontario; it garnered Campbell 17,500 Twitter followers, attracted international support and attention, and continues to be used by farmers and agricultural advocates in countries across the globe.

Campbell is also a dynamic speaker and volunteer, says Ralph Dietrich, chair of the board for Dairy Farmers of Ontario, which also participated in the successful program. Dietrich noted that Campbell has appeared on programs such as CTV and CBC News, CTV Canada AM, The Agenda with Steve Paikin and more. He and his #Farm365 initiative has also been the subject of many news articles, and he continues to act as a spokesperson for his industry in many formats.

Campbell is also an effective communications trainer and facilitator. According to the nominators, he is always willing to help others positively promote Canadian agriculture, whether through communications training, debate facilitation or volunteering his farm for events.

“Andrew is a true leader and an excellent representative for the next generation of farmers,” says Dietrich.The Champion Award has been presented annually, since 1999, to worthy agricultural advocates.

Farm & Food Care Ontario is a coalition of farmers, agriculture and food partners proactively working together to ensure public trust and confidence in food and farming. For more information visit

Published in Producers

April 15, 2015 – Brent Royce of Listowel has been named the 2015 recipient of the Farm & Food Care Champion Award. The award was presented at Farm & Food Care’s annual meeting on April 15 by Bruce Christie, a Farm & Food Care board member. Royce was nominated for the award by Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO) and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

Royce grows crops and raises turkeys on his family farm and has been involved in farming for his entire life. Royce is a strong advocate for agriculture, using every opportunity available to him to talk about farming with non-farming Canadians. He was among the first to sign up for Farm & Food Care’s Speak Up ambassador training, and has since become a regular interviewee by many Canadian (both rural and urban) media sources. Royce also actively engages the public through social media using Twitter.

Since 2011 he has posted over 4,500 tweets about the day-to-day workings of his farm, and has engaged audiences with several blog posts. Royce and his family also hosted a television crew to film their farm for a virtual turkey farm tour which is now housed at

He is a graduate of the Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program, is a long-serving volunteer on the Perth Federation of Agriculture, is a director representing Huron and Perth counties for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and is chairman of the Uncontrolled Electricity Working Group –a committee working to help manage uncontrolled electricity and its adverse effects of livestock farmers.

Royce is also involved with both the Innovative Farmers’ Association of Ontario and the Perth County Soil and Crop Improvement Association. In its nomination, Turkey Farmers of Ontario described Royce as “a passionate turkey farmer and great agricultural advocate.” His industry involvement and public outreach, said TFO General Manager Janet Schlitt, makes him an ideal candidate for the recognition.

Bruce Christie, chair of the Farm & Food Care Foundation, describes Royce as a worthy candidate for the award.

“Ontario agriculture needs strong spokespeople to talk about food and farming," says Christie. "Mr. Royce uses every opportunity to do just that whether it’s engaging through social media or talking with consumers one on one.”

The award was originally created in 1999 by the Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) to recognize individuals, organizations and businesses. With the amalgamation of OFAC and AGCare in 2012, the award was renamed and is presented annually to a worthy agricultural advocate.

Published in Producers

Jake Kraayenbrink’s AgriBrink technology is now ready for the market in Europe – several years after he first headed there himself in search of a solution to soil compaction problems on his farm near Moorefield, Ontario.     Photo by Lilian Schaer

November 28, 2014 - An automatic air inflation deflation system (AAID) developed by a southwestern Ontario hog farmer is ready to go global.

Jake Kraayenbrink’s AgriBrink technology is ready for the market in Europe – several years after he first headed there himself in search of a solution to soil compaction problems on his farm near Moorefield, Ont.

Farmers need light, loose soil to plant crops, but the soil becomes hard – almost like cement – when heavy farm machinery passes over it. This means water can’t drain properly and plant roots are unable to get into the ground to get at the nutrients they need to grow.

With AgriBrink, a control box in the tractor cab allows the user to inflate and deflate the tires to match the ideal tire pressure for the weight and speed of the equipment being used.

Equipment tires can be deflated in about 30 seconds once a farmer drives into a field and re-inflated when entering a road, which is much faster than other systems on the market today.

This increases the footprint of a heavy piece of farm equipment, like a manure tanker, by about 60 per cent and keeps it from sinking into the ground.

Overall, deflating tires lowers fuel consumption, increases crop yields by easing soil compaction, and reduces tire wear.

Farmers can get into their fields earlier if their equipment is able to float over the soil more instead of sinking into wet ground. Farm equipment is easier to pull in a field when tires are deflated; this saves about 15 per cent on fuel costs, according to Kraayenbrink.

Kraayenbrink was a recipient of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2011 for his innovation.

A video posted on provides more in-depth information about the AgriBrink system and how it works:

Published in Farm Business

Many in the poultry industry know of “Mike the Chicken Vet” and some have had the good fortune to work with him.  As a practical scientist blessed with the ability to communicate, Mike Petrik is special. And his commitment to all things poultry makes him even more so.

A 1998 Ontario Veterinary College grad, Mike has made laying hens his specialty. As Director of Technical Services for McKinley Hatchery he has used his expertise and experience to advance the poultry industry for nearly 15 years. And his natural ability to explain technical details and controversial issues in an engaging and credible way has gained him a loyal following among the chicken-keeping public.

Mike has acted as a poultry industry spokesman, advocate, technical expert, and mentor and now he will be running a new animal care initiative launched by Farm and Food Care. We wanted to catch up with him to find out why he does what he does and how he sees his efforts as helping Canada’s  farmers.  

Mike says he chose to specialize in laying hens because he comes from a mixed poultry farm and that is his comfort zone of familiarity. As well, he adds, thanks to the investment made by the sector there is much less guesswork in working with poultry than in other sectors so there is greater chance to make a difference.   “Because there has been so much research done on poultry,” he explains “there is so much more known about them. So when you are doing treatments or investigating problems there is a lot more detail to rely on and a lot more finesse that can be used.”  

His interest in poultry welfare goes back to his days as a vet student and is an area he has worked in over the years even without the credentials. Having served on the scientific committees for both the Poultry-Layer Code of Practice and the Code for Chickens, Turkeys and Breeders as well as becoming the unofficial welfare lead for the Ontario Association of Poultry Practitioners; he has also worked with the Poultry Industry Council and Egg Farmers of Ontario in what he describes as a “fascinating” line of work.  “So I finally decided to go back and get a formal education in it and get some credentials behind my name.” In 2013, he graduated from the University of Guelph with a Master’s degree in animal welfare. Now, in addition to serving on the Layer Code of Practice implementation committee, he is embarking on leading a new and unique program designed for farm animals.

“It’s pretty exciting, it’s different than anything else I’ve ever worked on,” he says in describing this new initiative. Still in its conception stage, Mike explains that the idea of the program is to improve animal welfare on the farm, and that the target audience is going to be the animals.  Philosophically, he says, the vision is very much similar to the Environmental Farm Plan; one that provides farmers with information and ideas they can take back and apply on their own farms.  “I see the program as being very practical, very hands-on and that will have immediate results for the animals,” he says.

Once it is launched in late 2014 or early 2015, the IMPACT Program, which stands for Innovative Methods and Practical Animal Care Training Program, will be available for all commodities not just poultry and will also extend to allied farm sectors such as auction barns and truckers.

But Mike is quick to point out that it will not replace existing programs already in place for the different segments of the industry. It is an extension program to be delivered by industry members, he explains.   “And it will not be a certification or auditing program,” he adds, although it will compliment such existing programs by incorporating the best practices contained in these programs and that are already out there.   He also says that it will not use a “one size fits all” approach but rather the program will be tailored to the different needs and abilities of the different livestock and poultry sectors and even down to the individual types of farming operations.  Although the program will be created with the input and involvement of a cross representation of stakeholders, it is about the animals.  “I am much more interested in having this program improve the welfare of the animals than improve the appearance of the welfare of the animals,” he says.

Development of the program is being funded under the federal government’s Growing Forward 2 program and through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food because, as Mike explains, animal welfare is a top issue throughout the food supply chain.  “Animal welfare is the number one pressure,” he believes, “and the number one change that is happening is an awareness of and an adaption to animal welfare practices,” he says.  

“Now every farmer is talking and thinking about animal welfare, every supplier is wanting to prove that they have good animal welfare programs and every purchaser is wanting to purchase their products from an ethical production source.” He says that because everyone has this front of mind, “we need to keep doing the best we can so we can keep our customers satisfied that we are doing the best job we know how to do.”

Mike is also gaining world recognition through his blog “Mike the Poultry Vet.” Begun in 2011 at the suggestion of Egg Farmers of Ontario, the blog celebrated its 100,000th view this past spring.  

According to Mike the idea came about through his work with EFO around municipal bylaws on backyard flocks and the realization that both city people and rural people know little or nothing about where their eggs come from. The blog was created as a public outreach to those who raise backyard flocks and don’t have the knowledge to take proper care of their flocks but it also serves as an education tool for learning about modern agriculture and modern chickens.  Using his hockey playing nickname, the blog is specific to laying hens and egg production although Mike believes it is a model that can be applied to any type of food production. “The blog reaches people who will never read a poultry publication and will never see the inside of a modern poultry barn but who are very interested in egg production,” he says.      

And his expertise and advice is getting worldwide attention. As Mike tells it he gets some “very interesting” enquiries. One included a Huffington Post reporter who found Mike the Poultry Vet on the Internet and contacted him to verify that a case of a California lady who paid $2,800 for surgery on her hen was not a hoax.  He was able to confirm the medical condition really does exist but also used the opportunity to explain that most backyard flock owners and certainly all commercial farms would not invest that sum of money to perform a very high risk surgery for a very rare condition. To the best of his knowledge the hen survived the surgery and his explanation of why this would never happen in the food producing world made it into the news report.

These kinds of cases are something that vets are facing more and more these days so his advice to future poultry vets is to begin with hands-on experience: “If you want to work in the poultry industry in Canada, I think it would be more important to work on a chicken farm than it is to work for a chicken vet.”  It is his opinion that having the insight into the day-to-day operations of a barn and what the pressures are on the farmer, the things that are driving the decisions on the farm and the way things are actually done is a huge advantage in a poultry practice. “Having grown up on a poultry farm I understand why things are done the way they are, so if I am going to make a recommendation on some kind of change on the farm I can factor in the practicality of making a change.”  

The most significant change that Mike has seen since a youth growing up on his family farm is the growing number of balls that farmers need to juggle these days in making basic decisions. “Today’s decisions are much longer term and broader and not just about what makes economic sense anymore,” he says. Farmers have to factor in many more considerations in operating their businesses. “For instance, now farmers building a new barn have to take into account not only production issues such as feed conversions and return on investment but also environmental issues, welfare issues, antibiotic-residue issues, and public relations issues,” he says.

He also doesn’t hold ill feelings towards the opinions held by some of today’s public. He suggests that “the biggest problem we face right now with criticisms from the public has to do with public ignorance about how we farm and the things that we do.”  It is his opinion that industry critics are generally good people with good intentions even if they are impractical or misplaced in the real world, adding, “the fact that activists are ignorant about food production doesn’t make them bad it just makes them wrong.”

He argues that the industry is mostly to blame: “we haven’t explained our end of the chain very well and we don’t let people know what it is that we do.” It has been his experience that when you take people through a barn and tell them what you are doing and why, they are comfortable with it.  “The way we raise animals here in Ontario is very justifiable and very acceptable to people—once they understand. I think that will be the big challenge for the next 10 to 20 year; explaining that we do things for very good reasons and that the animals’ wellbeing is always first and foremost in our minds.”    

Mike also firmly believes that consumers need to know the implications and the real consequences of their choices.  

“Cages or sow stalls, for example, were developed for good animal welfare reasons and it is important that consumers understand the implications for the things they ask for.” He believes that most people who want cages and pens removed from today’s food production systems have no idea what that really means for the animals.  Recognizing that farmers will produce whatever the consumer demands, he cautions that “we need to make sure that we don’t give customers something that will be detrimental to the animals.”     

Mike says he is in an enviable position. He says he wouldn’t be able to do what he does if it weren’t for the backing he gets from McKinley’s. “Without their support and generosity I wouldn’t be able to do all these side projects.”  It is all in keeping with the company’s progressive and forward thinking attitude, according to Mike. “Whether through their active contributions to organizations such as CPEPC and the Hatcheries Association or allowing me to make my own contributions, it is all because these things help the egg industry.”

Published in Producers

À 35 ans, Pierre-Luc Leblanc est le plus jeune président de l’histoire des Éleveurs de volaille du Québec (ÉVQ). Son âge, il s’en formalise peu. Si on l’a choisi, c’est parce que son syndicat avait besoin d’un leader dynamique et persuasif. Un an après son arrivée en poste, il a encore l’impression d’être la bonne personne pour la tâche.

« Si les membres sont satisfaits de mon travail, je serai là longtemps. S’ils apprécient moins, ce sera plus court », dit-il.

Producteur à La Présentation, tout près de Saint-Hyacinthe, Pierre-Luc Leblanc n’avait pas planifié son accession à la présidence des ÉVQ. Il avait siégé au comité dindon, mais jamais au conseil d’administration. Quand on l’a approché pour occuper la présidence, il a été surpris. Puis il a compris : pour que son syndicat mène à terme certains dossiers très importants, son esprit rassembleur pouvait être très utile.

Son engagement en agriculture n’est pas nouveau. Il a été délégué dans des coopératives locales, il siège au comité dindon des ÉVQ depuis quatre ans et il est conseiller municipal à La Présentation. Il fait aussi partie d’un sous-comité sur l’agriculture à la Ville de Saint-Hyacinthe.   

Né sur une ferme de grandes cultures, Pierre-Luc Leblanc a toujours su qu’il voulait vivre d’agriculture. « À l’école, tout le monde se posait des questions sur son avenir. Moi, mon chemin était tracé. Je me trouvais privilégié que mes parents aient une ferme. »

Diplôme d’études collégiales de l’ITA de Saint-Hyacinthe en poche, il se lance en production de volaille. Ses parents, Laurent Leblanc et Pierrette Gaudette, l’aident à devenir propriétaire d’un premier élevage de dindons. Son frère Laurent recevra aussi de l’aide financière pour acquérir un premier poulailler.

Laurent Leblanc souhaitait que ses fils aient chacun leur entreprise. À ce jour, son épouse et lui possèdent encore toutes les terres en grandes cultures. Pierre-Luc et son frère aîné Jocelyn ont chacun quelques poulaillers, mais ils ont rapidement compris que la croissance serait plus facile en s’unissant. « Une grosse ferme et son quota étaient à vendre, raconte Pierre-Luc. Je n’étais pas capable de l’acheter seul et mon frère non plus. Nous l’avons achetée ensemble. Depuis 2004, nous faisons toutes les acquisitions ensemble. »

Ainsi est né le Groupe Aquino. Une quarantaine d’employés se partagent les tâches aux champs et sur des sites de production de poulet à griller, de dindon, de poulettes et d’oeufs d’incubation, répartis dans la grande région de Saint-Hyacinthe.

« C’est la volaille qui me passionne, dit Pierre-Luc. J’ai toujours aimé les animaux. » Son frère Jocelyn a un penchant naturel pour les grandes cultures. Depuis quelques années, leur sœur Marylène fait aussi partie du Groupe Aquino. Même si le tiers des sites de production avicole sont en propriété individuelle, c’est le Groupe Aquino qui réalise tous les achats, gère les ressources humaines et assure le volet administratif.

Dossiers chauds
À la tête des ÉVQ, Pierre-Luc Leblanc a d’abord voulu confirmer les valeurs fondamentales du syndicat, afin que tous puissent ensuite s’entendre sur des stratégies qui correspondent à des objectifs qui font l’unanimité.

La valeur numéro un est la continuité de la ferme familiale. Suivent l’efficacité et la qualité de la production, le respect et l’équité entre membres, sans oublier le bien-être animal.

Le dossier qui accapare le plus les ÉVQ ces dernières années est la demande de création d’une agence centralisée de vente de quota et la fixation du prix du quota. La Régie des marchés agricoles et alimentaires du Québec a demandé aux ÉVQ de revoir les dispositions de l’agence proposée et de présenter une nouvelle demande d’ici le 1er novembre.

« Nous sommes en train d’analyser la décision de la Régie, explique Pierre-Luc Leblanc. Elle reconnaît que nos objectifs sont les bons, mais les moyens sont à améliorer. »

Le président des ÉVQ se dit préoccupé par le prix actuel du quota, qui ne permettrait plus à de jeunes producteurs d’en acquérir en espérant le rentabiliser. Il s’inquiète aussi de la perception du public, qui pourrait croire que le prix élevé du quota se reflète dans le prix du poulet, alors que techniquement, il ne fait pas partie du calcul du coût de production.

« Nous voulons stabiliser la valeur des quotas et que tous aient une chance égale d’en acquérir. Avec une agence de vente, tout le monde pourra démarrer un élevage. » L’agence de vente et la fixation du prix du quota doivent à la fois permettre à la relève d’accéder à la production et aux entreprises existantes de continuer à croître, insiste le président.

Depuis quatre ans, il y a un moratoire sur les transactions de quota de production de poulet au Québec. Le prix fixe évoqué serait de 900 $ le mètre, mais Pierre-Luc Leblanc reconnaît qu’il reste encore beaucoup d’interrogations sur la méthode à employer pour justifier ce prix.

Les ÉVQ sont aussi à revoir leur programme d’aide à la relève. L’attribution de quota doit véritablement servir à intégrer la relève qui travaillera à temps plein à la ferme, insiste le président, en allusion à des cas où la relève qui a bénéficié du programme actuel occupe un emploi à temps plein à l’extérieur.

Efficacité et gestion de l’offre
À l’échelle nationale, Pierre-Luc Leblanc entend travailler avec les autres provinces pour régler la question de la croissance différentielle. L’allocation de la croissance ne doit pas se faire en tenant compte seulement de la croissance de la population, croit-il. On doit aussi considérer l’efficacité de la production et de la transformation.

La défense de la gestion de l’offre demeure d’actualité. L’entente avec l’Union européenne qui ouvre le marché des fromages fins fait craindre aux ÉVQ qu’une partie de leurs acquis s’envolent pour favoriser la conclusion d’autres ententes bilatérales.

« Nous voulons être proches du gouvernement, pour qu’il réalise l’impact s’il change quelque chose. Les éleveurs de volaille paient 1,8 milliard $ seulement en impôts et notre production n’est pas subventionnée », fait valoir le président des ÉVQ.

Des pays comme les États-Unis, le Brésil où la Chine n’ont pas les mêmes exigences sanitaires et environnementales que le Canada, rappelle Pierre-Luc Leblanc. « La gestion de l’offre, c’est aussi ça : un moyen de produire efficacement en respectant des normes de salubrité élevées. Il y a un coût à ça, mais je pense que c’est ce que les Canadiens veulent. »

Published in Producers

There are not many Canadian poultry farms that can boast of being a ninth-generation family farm. However, Cornwallis Farms Ltd. in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, has that distinction.

Cornwallis Farms Ltd., owned by Geneve and Craig Newcombe, in partnership with Craig’s brother Brian, is located on part of an original land grant given to the family more than 250 years ago.

In 1761, the Newcombs (now spelled Newcombe), New England Planters, migrated to the Annapolis Valley to farm the fertile lands cleared by the 1755 British expulsion of the Acadians. Deacon John Newcomb received a land grant in the region known as Cornwallis, and he and his two sons, Eddy and John Jr., began farming in what is now known as Port Williams.

Geneve and Craig have three children who will now make it a 10th-generation family farm.

Their eldest son, Robert, 24, is a Nova Scotia Agricultural College and Dalhousie University graduate, who is employed as an industrial engineer with the Barrington Consulting Group in Halifax.

He is also enrolled in an MBA program at St. Mary’s University, and although not on the farm, he lends his engineering expertise to it when needed.

The Newcombes’ second son, David, 22, graduated this spring from St. Mary’s University with a B. Comm. (cum laude) and has returned to the farm, making him the 10th generation. Geneve reports: “he is excited about the future and his education in business will be an asset to the farm.”

Their daughter, Kathleen, 18, graduated from high school in June, and this September she will attend Acadia University in its Bachelor of Kinesiology program. She wants to be a sports therapist or physiotherapist. Back on the farm, she collects eggs on weekends.

Cornwallis Farms’ present egg quota is for 21,000 layers. The Newcombes also produce 1.6 million kilograms of broiler chickens annually and operate a dairy herd of 65 pure bred Holsteins with a 84-kilogram fluid milk quota.

They grow corn, wheat, soybeans and forages for their dairy herd and “we are currently experimenting with Fava beans in order to reduce the amount of off-farm protein sources we use,” says Geneve.

They run an on-farm feed mill that is producing TMR for dairy, layer and broiler feeds, making approximately 3,500 tonnes per year. “We also have an on-farm extruder which allows us to process our own soybeans,” she says.

The Newcombes also have an environmental farm plan, instituted in 2003, and a nutrient management plan (NMP) completed in 2006. Geneve states: “We feel that we have been able to reduce our farm’s environmental footprint in a number of areas.”

They accomplished this, she adds, through the use of no till, crop rotation, cover crops, plus the NMP which enables them to use only the required inputs on the soil by weighing all their manure, thereby managing nutrient inputs to match the needs of the crop being grown.

They also fenced all their streams to keep out cattle and created wetlands with cattails to treat wastewater. As well, the Newcombes bought a plate cooler to recapture heat from milk and wash water, plus converted their farm to LED lighting to reduce power consumption, along with the weigh scales and grain dryer extruder.

Moreover, they have adopted a GPS for their cropping practices. “We are always looking to our efficiency,” says Geneve.

“We do not have an official, documented, farm business plan; but we are always meeting as a family to discuss our goals and objectives.”

Their current priorities are the transition of the farm to a 10th generation and increasing its self-sufficiency through expanding its land base through land purchase.

The Newcombes have seven full-time employees, aside from the family: two work primarily with the dairy herd, three mainly with the broilers, and one each with the layers and with the on-farm mechanical services.

For managerial responsibilities, Craig oversees the broilers, layers and feed mill, while Brian manages the dairy herd and cropping. Says Geneve, “I look after the farm financials and the record keeping for the layers and broilers. I have also developed an employee manual along with standard operating procedures for the farm, and I am currently working on farm safety.”

In the larger farm community, Craig is a director on the boards of Chicken Farmers of Nova Scotia, the Atlantic Poultry Research Institute and Atlantic Poultry Inc.

Geneve is chair and a director of the Nova Scotia Egg Producers (NSEP), co-chair of the Nova Scotia Agriculture Awareness Committee, a representative of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture’s Council of Leaders and treasurer of the Kings County 4H, and the Chipman’s Corner Cemetery.

Their second son, Dave, will co-chair Nova Scotia Eggs’ Run for the Cure Team this fall.

Geneve admits she now has, “a new level of time commitment,” but, she contends, the new demands on her time are fairly easy to accommodate, “as I spend a great deal of time in the farm office, so I can easily answer calls and respond to emails.”

She comments: “I was always a very involved mother; so, as my children have gone out on their own, it has freed up my time to take on this new role.”

She feels fortunate to have an experienced, dedicated NSEP staff “as well as a very knowledgeable and committed board, so there is a great deal of support and experience to draw from.”

Geneve says the NSEP directors have a strategic plan for direction. “As a board we were very pleased to announce a New Entrants program this year and feel it is a strength of our industry and shows how supply management can, and has evolved over the years to, encourage new entrants to our industry.”

This past year, following the example of the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC), she says the NSEP has found opportunities to engage and train young farmers. “I am quite excited with the results. We have a wonderful resource in our youth and we gain as much as they do from these opportunities.”

She attends EFC’s national meetings as an alternate delegate representing the NSEP. “Our Nova Scotia board has made a practice of electing the Chair as the EFC alternate so they can stay abreast of national issues.”

Asked how safe and secure she feels supply management is, she replied: “Our provincial and federal governments have both publicly stated that they support supply management. Supply management is a system that has proven itself and the number of young people choosing to farm in supply-managed commodities demonstrates that the system still works.

“It is not a system that we should take for granted. So, as farmers, we must continue to voice our support for our system and educate others.”

Geneve has also provided active leadership in local amateur athletics as President of the Valley Girl’s High School Hockey League, Vice-President of the South Conference Female Hockey Federation, a director of East Kings Soccer and a manager of a number of sports teams.

Similarly, this past year, Craig coached both high-school girls’ hockey and soccer and is currently coaching East Kings Under 18 girls’ soccer. He is also a Commissioner for the Village of Port Williams.

Daughter Kathleen has also been very active in amateur athletics, taking part in soccer, rugby, hockey, wrestling and cross-country running.  For the past two seasons she has also been a volunteer coach with the Acadia sledge hockey team.

Eldest son Robert, this past winter, coached the Atom A Halifax Hawks hockey team, which won the provincial championship. He also plays Senior Men’s soccer, as does his brother, David.

For her own recreation Geneve likes to swim, sew, quilt, do fine needle arts, and she keeps a scrapbook on the history of the farm “as well as ongoing initiatives and events.”

Published in Producers

Nine years ago, the B.C. Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) introduced its Producer of the Year Award recognizing B.C. egg producers who excel in food safety and animal care practices.

To earn the award, producers must score a minimum of 95 per cent on both the Egg Farmers of Canada “Start Clean-Stay Clean” (layers) program and the Egg Farmer’s of Canada (EFC) Animal Care Program and successfully complete a SC-SC (Part 3) audit. It is a testament to the increasing attention B.C. producers pay to food safety and animal welfare that 95 of B.C.’s 133 registered egg producers (71 per cent) qualified to be Producers of the Year in 2013.

But that was not always the case. When it was introduced in 2006, only one producer earned the award: James Gunther of Jake’s Poultry Farm in Abbotsford. Now 47, the second-generation egg producer has been farming for 27 years.

“I bought a 6,000 bird quota when I was 20 and leased a barn from my Dad,” Gunther recalls. To help make ends meet during the early stages of the operation, he also drove a grain truck for 13 years.

About 15 years ago, he was looking for a new home for his birds, and/or a new opportunity, when the property he is now based on became available.

“I had looked at it earlier, but at that time it was out of my price range.”

He was mulling it over when his Dad gave him an ultimatum. “Dad told me I had the weekend to decide and if I passed on the farm, he would buy it on Monday.”

Gunther took the plunge, transferring his original quota to his parents and taking over the 16,000-bird quota that came with the new farm.

“A year later my Dad passed away from cancer, and I amalgamated the two quotas (which with industry growth was now total about 50,000 birds) under my Dad’s existing farm name and started building here.”

What he built was a pullet-rearing barn, a large layer barn divided down the centre and two smaller layer barns. Gunther always has two flocks in production, spaced seven months apart. Half of each flock is in the large barn and the other half in one of the smaller barns.

It appears that by becoming B.C.’s first Producer of the Year, Gunther foresaw the direction the industry was heading in, but that is not the case. “I’ve never farmed thinking ‘this is the future.’ I just do what I think is the right thing.”

He credits then EFC auditor Liam Keanne for encouraging him to pursue the award.

“He constantly asked me to do the audit. He suggested I might get more for the eggs but I didn’t believe it and it didn’t happen,” he says. “I didn’t look at it as leading the way. I thought it was a challenge. It’s more about the self-satisfaction.”

So how does Gunther achieve the award year after year? Through very systematic, organized record-keeping and thorough barn cleaning between each batch.

“We’ve always kept records but we’re always upgrading to better charts and better spreadsheets,” he says, admitting “I’m a bit of a tech kind of guy.”

His daily production records allow him to spot and address problems very quickly. Housing each flock in two barns also allows him to determine whether those problems are barn- or equipment-related or due to feed.

Gunther firmly believes every producer should be on the SC-SC and animal care program, saying “I’m surprised it isn’t already a mandatory program. When retailers come ask about animal welfare, I want to confidently say to them this is what I do and why I do it.”

Despite that, and although he has been a Producer of the Year for each of the past nine years, Gunther is not sure how long or even if that will continue.

“The bar is now being raised so high it’s almost become unattainable.”

When he built his barns 11 years ago, his cages met the standard of 64 square inches/bird. Almost the day after they were built, the standard was increased to 67 square inches. Now the BCEMB has raised the standard to 80 square/inches with no grandfathering of existing barns.

Although Gunther has the room to go to 80 square inches for his existing quota holding, B.C. producers are about to get a quota increase and he does not have space for both. “I will need a whole new 10,000-bird barn.”

He questions the merits of the new standard, claiming there is no scientific basis for it. He cites research that showed birds performed more poorly with 80 square inches than with 64.

“The barns were colder because it is harder to maintain temperature.”

He believes the new standard has put the industry “in chaos” as producers, including him, wrestle with what to do.

“That’s a real tough issue. I question the enriched cage — it’s still a cage,” he says, asking “how can you get a loan to put in equipment when you don’t know how long you can have it?

If we just let special interest groups control us, we’re in big trouble.”

He recalls how impressed the public was when hens were first housed in cages.

“What happened to the people who thought it was awesome?”

Published in Producers

Progressive, proactive, technology-focussed — these are three words that well describe J&S Judge Farms in Norfolk County, Ont., one of a number of businesses that the Judge family owns and operates.   

“Our first broiler chicken farm with 30,000 quota units was purchased with 50 acres of land, and this farm is still the home base of our operations,” says owner Jim Judge. Over the years, the family expanded the broiler operation to two more sites and just over 103,000 quota units. The family also has a 2,300 farrow-to-finish hog operation that supplies breeding stock to eastern Canada, the U.S. and occasionally to other countries as well.

Over the years, along with adding better ventilation systems and automated controls three years ago, the Judges started installing cameras at their poultry (and pork) facilities. They had had some thefts and vandalism incidents, and their insurance company recommended exterior cameras as the best option for security. At the time, they also decided to install interior cameras, which accomplished a number of important goals. “We can monitor the birds and check that the barns have power from any internet connection in the world,” says Judge. “We can move the camera around, zoom in. So the cameras are about security, but also barn operation and biosecurity as well.”

Just recently, in April 2014, LED lights were installed in all their broiler barns to achieve greater efficiency and higher light output. Judge says the cost return should be achieved within five years, but with increasing electricity rates to come in Ontario, it may come sooner.

The Judge family also grows corn and soybeans on 3,000 acres of owned and rented land and sells a large portion of their corn to their feed suppliers, from which they buy both poultry and hog feed. With the land located on the Sand Plain of Norfolk County, dry years presented yield challenges, and it was in 2012 — a year in which extreme heat and drought led to field corn crop failure — that the family decided to act on research they had been conducting for two years into ensuring a good crop every season.

“Our normal yield per acre for corn is around 150 to 175 bushels, but on some of our sandy drought-prone land, it’s a struggle to get much more than 100 bushels per acre,” explains farm manager Todd Boughner. “We need to increase that.” The quest to do better started in 2010 with testing drought-resistant corn varieties, and working on some related projects by themselves and in partnership with various companies and academics. Over time, the focus came to rest on creating a system that would completely take concern over future weather patterns out of the picture: subsurface irrigation.

The idea had sprung from the installation of a simple lawn-watering system at the home farm a few years before. Discussions followed with local irrigation suppliers about subsurface systems for crops, but there was no data or experience with these types of systems anywhere near Canada – just in the southern U.S. where the heat is so strong. So, if the Judges wanted to proceed, they would have to blaze the trail. With Boughner and others, they planned a field irrigation pattern, sourced components, and began designing and building the equipment. “It took time to determine an optimum irrigation schedule, and to create a wireless monitoring system to regulate water flow,” Boughner says.  

The year 2013 saw them turning on their state-of-the-art, wireless, farm-created subsurface drip irrigation system on 75 acres of one of their farms, a system that is now in the early stages of commercialization. It also gained Judge Farms a 2013 Premier’s Award in agricultural innovation.

The setup also required the enlargement of a farm pond, which they were only able to draw from with a permit. “The small water usage requirements  — about half — with sub-surface irrigation made it easier to obtain the water-taking permit in comparison to conventional technologies,” Boughner explains. “A pond that supplies at least 100 acres of overhead watering can supply 200 to 250 acres of sub-surface drip.”

The capital cost of the entire system was about $1,500 per acre, with cost return reached in only a few years. “We believe the irrigation increased the yield on that farm in 2013 by 45 to 50 bushels, but it was a good year from a rainfall standpoint,” says Judge. “In a drought year, we believe it will increase yields by 100 to 150 bushels, which boosts farm income considerably.” The ongoing workload (only one person required) and operational cost for the system is minimal, and it will be 15 to 20 years before major replacement work will be needed.

This farmer-developed technology is attracting a great deal of farmer interest among field crop, tobacco, orchard and vegetable growers. “Farmers have a challenging time these days, and if they can maximize underutilized land, that is very beneficial to the bottom line,” Judge notes. “We will likely do another farm with drip irrigation in the near future.”

Judge Farms is also one of the founding members of Farm Fresh Poultry Cooperative (FFPC) in Harriston, Ont., and Jim Judge has been president since 1997. The venture involved a group of about 30 farmers buying an existing plant and expanding it. “We process the birds from one of our barns there,” Judge notes. “We are very pleased with having gone into the venture as it provides us with another ongoing option for processing.” He believes supporting new markets and value-added products is important for farmers.

In the past, Judge has served on the Chicken Farmers of Canada board and also served as President and on the board of Chicken Farmers of Ontario. He currently serves on the boards of the FFPC, the Association of Ontario Chicken Processors and Integrated Grain Processors Co-operative Inc., which owns IGBC Ethanol in Alymer, Ont.

Published in Producers
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