Who’s Who – Manitoba – The Loewen family
By Madeleine BaergFeatures Producers Who's Who
Award-winning egg farmers embrace forward-thinking approach.
Last fall, A&T Poultry, run by Abe and Trudy Loewen and their sons Dylan and Jayden near Arborg, Man., won Manitoba Egg Farmers’ Farmer of the Year award. In addition to excelling in the award’s key criteria – on-farm food safety, production management, animal care initiatives and community service – the Loewens were celebrated for leading by example, both in fostering on-farm sustainability and in building public trust. Given that Abe Loewen left home at 21 with literally $20 to his name in 1982, the award is proof once again of just how much hard work can achieve.
“In Manitoba, we have a lot of very good farmers, so [the Farmer of the Year competition] is a pretty tough competition,” says Manitoba Egg Farmers board member Kurt Siemens, who served alongside Loewen on that board for over six years. “Abe won [Farmer of the Year] because of his good work in the industry: his commitment and contributions on the [Manitoba Egg Farmers’] board and to the industry. He’s forward thinking and he tries to be on the leading edge, not just following trends but helping start them. His willingness to explore different ways of egg farming are of benefit to his own farm, to animal welfare and to society too. He’s definitely an asset to egg farming.”
The most obvious evidence of the Loewens’ forward thinking is visible even from a distance. In 2017, the family installed nearly 400 solar panels beside their
13,376-bird layer barn. Together, the panels produce enough power to cover 100 per cent of A&T Poultry’s electrical needs.
“Dylan was away at University and one day he came home and said, ‘I think it would be beneficial if we put up solar panels,’” Loewen says. “I knew nothing about it. So, I said, ‘Give me enough reason to want to buy in.’ When he showed me his research and it did look like a good program, I said, ‘Write the emails. Make it happen. I’ll pay.’” I’ve always been the kind of person that if there’s something new and better and it makes sense, I’ll stop and listen.”
On a bright summer’s day, the panels produce 800 kilowatts per day. All power is banked to offset lower production days. Loewen calculates that the panels will pay for themselves within 12 years. Given that they’re rated to continue producing for 25 years, the panels should make the farm money for more than half of their usable life.
Inside the barn, the Loewens have made another energy-friendly change: at Dylan’s prompting, they switched out all lighting in favour of LEDs to decrease power requirements. That change has paid for itself in just 18 months.
The Loewens’ willingness to invest in improvement goes far beyond energy savings. They’re also committed to investing in the best possible environment for their birds.
Back in 2012, 13 years into egg production, Loewen decided he simply wasn’t happy with his barn’s set-up, both in terms of ammonia levels and his birds’ cleanliness and feather quality. After considering various options, the family opted to undertake a full barn rebuild – razing the existing barn, extending the concrete slab and building the kind of barn they truly wanted for their birds.
Loewen had ordered conventional cages from Germany to replace the A-frame drop-through system they’d had in the old barn. But, at the last minute, he opted to switch to enriched cages instead.
“That year I had joined the egg board so I was part of a lot of conversations I might not have had otherwise. There was a lot of talk about animal rights and what’s best for the birds and we decided if we can do better, we need to do better. So, we decided that we’d for sure go with what’s best for the bird, which at the time was enriched housing, even if it cost us a little more,” Loewen says.
The next generation
On-farm improvements continue, especially since Dylan joined the farm full-time after completing an agriculture diploma. Last year was Dylan’s first year taking on much of the flock maintenance. Loewen says the flock was the healthiest and most productive of all the flocks they’ve raised to date.
“Dylan sees things,” he says. “Because he’s so interested, he’s making small adjustments here and there that are really paying off. I think I’m a pretty good farmer but he’s going to make a better farmer than me. And he’s going to keep being a better and better farmer, because he’s open to the idea that when times change, then we change.”
Loewen purchased the barn from a cousin in 1999 after becoming frustrated juggling cattle farming alongside a full-time
off-farm job. Navigating his family into egg production is a decision he’s never regretted.
“I love the industry and raising the birds. I enjoy taking a walk in the barn and just being with the animals because it feels that I’m connecting. And when those birds have laid eggs all year long for me and the trucks come to be loaded up, I find it hard because I’m truly attached to them,” he says.
When he’s not tending his barn, Loewen invests a lot of time advocating for the egg industry. He spent eight years on the Manitoba Egg Farmers board ending in 2020, and has long enjoyed sharing his passion for agriculture with consumers at various events.
“I really enjoy meeting with the public. I just like people to know that we actually love and care about our animals,” he says. “Farmers sometimes have the reputation that we don’t care; that it is only the dollar that drives us and that is not at all what it’s like.”
The family is currently in the early planning stages for Dylan to take over the farm over the coming handful of years. Younger son, 18-year-old Jayden Loewen, doesn’t aspire to farming in the future but has been actively involved through his teenage years.
“I’m very proud of both my boys. I’ve always told the boys that just because I enjoyed farming, they don’t for one second need to feel obligated to take the farm. I’m very honored and humbled that the boys enjoy doing what we’ve done and have shown deep respect for what Trudy and I have built.”
Siemens gives the Loewens credit for making in-family transition viable and says drawing back young people is a critical component of a building a healthy egg industry into the future.
“I know from experience that it’s quite a job to get [intergenerational] transitions working and suitable for everyone. Between Abe and Trudy, they’ve found a way to get their son Dylan back into the farm. That’s a great thing for them as a family but also for helping move the industry forward,” says Siemens.
As the family looks to the future, there have been some discussions of expanding A&T Poultry somewhat – perhaps 5,000 extra birds. They’re also considering installing a bigger generator to increase bird safety.
Regardless of how the farm changes over the coming years, Loewen hopes both his boys keep one wisdom in mind: “I keep saying to my boys: life is too short not to do something that you enjoy. Do it well and take great pleasure in the things you do. We just gave up my father-in-law at 101 years old. He would often use the phrase: be happy and enjoy. Those are words to live by.”
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