Award-winning full-service poultry company
By Kristy Nudds
True stockman spirit and a strong desire to bring new technology to producers has blossomed into an award-winning full-service poultry company
Bringing innovative technologies to the poultry industry is something that Kevin Weeden was born to do.
The president of Weeden Environments, an Ontario-based full-service poultry equipment supplier, was raised on Hybrid Turkey’s (now a division of Hendrix Genetics Ltd.) number three farm in New Hamburg, Ont.
|THE WEEDEN TEAM|
Left to right: Mike Wolf, John Stolp, Kevin Weeden, Pam Zehr, and Derek Bender. (Below) New sales representative Shawn Conley
Kevin’s father, Len, began his career in poultry in the early 1950s blood testing poultry for the provincial government and running the poultry research station at the University of Guelph. In 1955, he met brothers Milo and Ross Shantz, who ran a family turkey breeding business that later became known as Hybrid Turkeys. Len left Guelph and joined the Shantz brothers, as production manager for the Diamond White breeding program in the 1960s and ’70s. As Hybrid grew internationally, Len managed the company’s international technical service division, assisting turkey farmers in over 30 countries worldwide.
After graduating from the University of Guelph with a Diploma in Agriculture, Kevin followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the turkey business. In the early 1980s he worked in research and then went oversees to work for Hybrid in France and then in Ireland.
After spending more than a year in Europe, Kevin returned to Ontario to manage production on the farm that he grew up on, branching out into technical service and sales, and by the 1990s he was vice-president of Sales and Marketing. However, Weeden says his demanding career came at a cost.
By 1996 he was travelling non-stop, and on one particular trip called home from the Czech Republic, and he says “my three-year-old daughter asked me when I was going to come and stay at our house.”
This heart-tugging comment prompted Weeden to re-evaluate his career path.
“I always wanted to own my own business,” he says, and he left Hybrid Turkeys to build his own male turkey breeder farm and work with Cold Springs, selling semen to them for their breeding stock. He then became their procurement manager and also sold eggs and poults. The male breeder farm called Weeden Farms was bought out by Cold Springs in 2002.
The timing was perfect, says Weeden. In 2003, his father Len was retiring for the second time. His first retirement, from Hybrid was in 1994. Towards the end of his career at Hybrid, he had developed allergies caused by dust. Len was “on a mission to decrease dust for both animals and people,” says Weeden, and after retiring from Hybrid came across a water sprinkler system used in Israel for cooling and saw its value to reduce dust from litter.
Len brought the system to Canada and started Weeden Sprinkler Systems. What initially began as a hobby grew every year, says Weeden. “My dad is a real green thumb turkey breeder, a true stockman that everyone listens to,” he says.
Kevin purchased the sprinkler business from his father in 2003 and immediately focused on expanding the business. He knew he needed to sell more than just sprinkler systems and wanted to provide both equipment and expertise to producers to help them maximize their production.
Kevin Weeden, President of Weeden Environments and wife Claudia Weeden receiving the 2008 President’s Technology Award from Oxford County Federation of Agriculture.
Weeden Environments was recently recognized for its leadership in applying scientific advances and new technology in the agricultural sector. On April 2, Weeden Environments was presented with the 2008 President’s Technology Award by the Oxford County Federation of Agriculture.
Weeden saw the potential with the sprinkler systems, for use in delivering other products, and entered into a relationship with AgTech Products of Wisconsin to administer their product MicroTreat “P” through the sprinklers to the litter below. MicroTreat P introduces friendly bacteria to broiler and turkey litter to control litter decomposition, and out compete the detrimental gram-negative bacteria within the environment where the birds live.
“Alternative producers were screaming for this type of product and delivery
method,” says Weeden.
Leasing a small facility in the town of Tavistock, Kevin was joined by dad Len and office manager Donna Winhold. At the Poultry Industry Conference and Exhibition (the London Poultry Show) that year he met with Diversified Imports, a New Jersey-based supplier that had just what he was looking for – innovative products.
Weeden then began distributing these products in Canada. “With this partnership I was able to bring new things to Canadian producers that hadn’t been tried before,” he says. He also wanted to provide equipment that could stand up to the rigors of a poultry operation. “Farmers aren’t in the business of fixing,” says Weeden.
He focused on testing new turkey water and feeding systems and scales, hiring technical service manager Derek Bender, who worked with manufacturers such as Rotem to rewrite technical manuals for the Canadian market. At the International Poultry Exhibition in Atlanta, Weeden formed a relationship with Space-Ray and helped raise the profile of radiant tube heaters and brooders, where the latter had become unfavourable with producers in Canada and the U.S., and began promoting savings of up to 15 to 20 per cent in heating costs, he says.
Equipment sales became the second core part of Weeden Sprinkler Systems, he says. Having grown into a company that offered more than just sprinklers, Weeden says he and his staff underwent a branding exercise with a local marketing firm, which led to the name change Weeden Environments, to better reflect the goals of the company.
To keep up with customer demand, two installers and territory managers Mike Wolf and John Stolp joined the company in 2006. Marketing co-ordinator Pam Zehr joined in 2007, and Shawn Conley joined the company in June, as another territory manager with responsibilities within Ontario, western Canada and the western U.S.
This past January, Weeden Environments moved from its small location in Tavistock to a five-acre property in nearby Hickson. The company renovated a new 4,000-square-foot office and now ships its products from that location across Canada and the U.S.
Weeden himself has been busy “managing the growth of the company,” as well as the third core part of the business – continuous-use products, particularly Proxy-Clean, a water line cleaning product that Weeden has private labeled and markets across Canada. In April, Weeden Environments formed a partnership with United Nutrients Corporation (UNC) and launched the WATER-SMART sanitation program, a simple, complete program for complete water maintenance.
In the future, Weeden says he wants to expand his line of natural products and compost products, but knows government registration is a significant problem. “The process has to change. Canadian farmers have to have more tools available to them,” he says. He also plans to continue to expand in the U.S. market and internationally.
He says like his dad, he has a desire to help producers raise happy, healthy birds. “At Weeden Environments, we take a whole approach to disease prevention by lowering stress levels and improving the barn environment, which optimizes efficiency, and returns for our customers.”