Who’s Who – Alberta – David Mandel
By Treena HeinFeatures Producers
David Mandel is a turkey producer from Brant Hutterian Brethren known for his positive outlook, attention to detail and his sense of humour.
David Mandel is a leader in raised-without-antibiotics (RWA) turkey production in Canada. He has over six years of experience and began selling RWA turkeys to B.C.-based Sunrise Farms in 2020.
“Changing your mentality is the most important thing,” he says. “It’s a continual learning process. With RWA, birds are always teetering on the edge of the cliff, and you need to do your prevention but also to notice small signs and take action. RWA forces you to be a better manager – to pay more attention. It’s been a very interesting road, not always a pleasant one, but always interesting. And it continues.”
Mandel is a member of the Brant Hutterite colony in southern Alberta, where Brant Farming Co. produces crops, eggs, swine, turkeys (40,000 per year) and milk for sale, as well as small numbers of ducks, geese, broilers and dairy-beef crosses for colony consumption.
The colony also makes its own feed. Mandel’s partner in the turkey barns is his uncle Paul, and his four children also help. Younger members of the colony also continually cycle through every year, learning about all the types of food production at the colony. What’s more, Mandel is very welcoming to the vet students who come through with his vet.
He started thinking about RWA turkey production years back because the use of antibiotics was cumbersome at their on-farm mill in terms of needing to make antibiotic-free feed for the layers and dairy cows. “I was also pushed toward RWA because the hatcheries stopped being able to use Category I and II antibiotics in a preventive manner,” he says.
“It gave me confidence to give it a try. I started using various gut health products and I found they worked well. When Sunrise approached me to grow RWA in 2020, I was already on that path for three or four years.”
A big part of Mandel’s success with RWA, as mentioned, is close observation. He worked hard, for example, to watch and document the typical pattern of coccidiosis surges in his flocks to prevent infection.
“It took me a lot of time to figure out the pattern,” he says. “There’s a surge when you are changing the diet from a starter to a grower diet at about day eight, and then it cycles from there. So, at day six, 14, 19, 27, 56 and again if I’m not careful at day 77, I give the birds juice from the yucca plant, made by a company in California.
“It’s a very effective preventative and my go-to product for cocci. I give it for 24 hours and I may go 48 hours with it depending on how the birds look. I’ve tried a lot of things, and you have to find what works in your barns. I’ve talked to a lot of RWA growers, there are about five in Alberta, and everyone’s gut flora and timing might be different depending on the barn’s microclimate. So, it’s very important to find products that work well in your barn environment.”
Achieving long-term feed consistency also strongly contributes to the health of the Brant turkeys. The colony can harvest and store enough wheat to last 1.5 years of feed, Mandel explains, making the level of protein and other components the same for that period.
When he has to switch to a new harvest lot of wheat, Mandel has it tested as usual and then works with his nutritionist to try and replicate the previous diet as closely as possible. However, he also gives copper sulphate or probiotics and extra vitamins a day or two before the switch, to boost the birds’ immune systems and avoid flushing.
Mandel also switched, at the request of Sunrise, to a certified all-vegetable diet at the same time as the RWA. “We had to change some of our vitamins because they had an animal fat-based coating,” he says. “I also give higher vitamins in my starter diet, about 25 per cent more than ShurGain recommends. I add them to their feed, as it’s more convenient than in the water. The birds are eating so little at that age, so there isn’t much extra cost and it’s definitely worthwhile.”
Brant has two turkey barns, one larger than the other. About 10 years ago, Mandel replaced his lights in the large barn with LEDs at a spectrum of 6,500 kelvin and immediately noticed a very high level of litter picking. Birds were dying due to impacted bowels. “It was bad,” he remembers. “The only way I could get them to stop was to turn down the lights to almost darkness, which isn’t a solution. I then put in canola straw, which prevented bowel problems, but introduced insects.”
(Hybrid recommends 4,500 kelvin, but Mandel wasn’t aware of that at the time. When he put in LEDs in the small barn about six years ago where brooding takes place, he got 3,000 kelvin lights and they are working very well.)
Recently for the large barn, however, Mandel heard about a few poultry farmers who had eliminated litter picking with light wavelengths in the green area of the spectrum. “So, late this winter, I looked into filters and gave them a try,” he says. “I chose from thousands of green filter colours at Lee Filters and bought a roll. I do a lot of leather work and I cut the filter into long strips. A friend and I taped then them on each bulb over a couple of hours. It’s been a big improvement and cost very little. I’m not sure I have the exact right colour but I’m on the right track.”
For the last eight years, Mandel has served on the board of the Alberta Turkey Producers, as chair, vice chair and Alberta’s alternate director on the board of Turkey Farmers of Canada. He joined because he wanted to make sure there was diversity on the board, and the existing board members were also very encouraging of having Hutterite members.
“We collectively own quite a bit of the turkey quota in Alberta, so it’s good for the Hutterite community to have that voice,” Mandel says. “I am most proud of the allocation policy we created. It took many years to get it finished. And as chair, I spent a lot of time talking to producers and I think I helped producers feel they could trust in the board, that the board has its integrity in the right place.
“I went to farms and to coffee shops to meet with producers and made sure they felt they were being heard. I think now most producers trust the integrity of the board, even though they might not agree with every decision it makes.”
During this experience, Mandel himself has valued all he’s learned about how the entire industry works. “It’s been very interesting to learn about how allocation is set, what parameters are looked at to achieve everything to make supply management work at the farm level. I had, like most producers, no idea about how much effort is put into this industry at the national and provincial level to make all this work.
“We need to be very thankful to all the staff at both levels, processors and producers who take the time to make sure this system works to the best of its ability. And I think as an industry we need to continue to try to grow a as much as possible. That should be, and I believe it is, the goal of everyone in the industry, from the offices that manage allocation and export to the producers. We need to work to build the willingness to try all the turkey products out there today and create some more new ones.”
As far as his own goals in turkey farming, Mandel would like to be able to someday say he’s producing RWA turkey as efficiently as conventional turkey is produced. He would also simply like to continue to enjoy farming. “It’s an extremely rewarding lifestyle, to be with family and learn constantly, and to know where your food comes from,” he says. “With the RWA, it’s been very interesting. I’ve never been a lover of medication and it’s very satisfying and worthwhile to have achieved success without it.”
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