by Leeann Minogue
For Cameron Evesque, the number 666 is a symbol of his family and roots. When Cameron Evesque moved back to Saskatchewan and began producing chickens, he named his new farm Triple 666 Enterprises Ltd. The name doesn’t signify anything dark or dangerous. Instead, it’s a reminder of his family, his roots and the farm where he was raised. “There are six adults in my family,” he says, counting himself, his two brothers, his sister and his parents. There are also six kids in the next generation of the Evesque family, five nephews and one niece. The last of the three sixes represents the location of the Evesque family farm, six miles from the town of Cadillac, Saskatchewan.
Growing up on a grain and cattle farm in southwest Saskatchewan, Cameron Evesque never imagined he’d be producing chickens one day. In fact, Evesque took a detour from the farm when he earned a degree in finance at the University of Lethbridge and spent several years living in Alberta with the last many working for Agriculture Financial Services Corporation. His final few years in Alberta were spent as the Credit Solutions Manager for AFSC. But eventually, he wanted a change of pace. “I decided I’d basically had enough,” he says. It only made sense to move back to Saskatchewan. During his time away, he had always thought of Saskatchewan as home, always heading back to the farm to help with seeding and harvest.
When the Chicken Farmers of Saskatchewan opened up an opportunity for new producers to enter the industry in 2019, Evesque knew it was the opportunity for him. It was a business he could operate mainly on his own, and he believed it would be financially stable. Because the Chicken Farmers required his new business to be within 200 kilometers of Saskatoon, Evesque was pleased to find a used chicken barn for sale near Osler, Saskatchewan.
Then, the feathers hit the fan. “The barn still had chickens in it, and my birds were coming in a few weeks.” Evesque had to transform the barn from a laying operation specializing in egg production to a space where free-run chickens raised for meat could roam indoors. “We had a little over a month to rip everything out as well as put all the new equipment in,” he says, “..in the middle of January.” Evesque relied on his family to help him with the job, bringing his nephews in from Cadillac for this and many other projects at the farm.
Then the first 18,000 birds arrived and Evesque was on a steep learning curve. He’d done his research and had been involved in raising cattle and many other animals on his family farm, but that didn’t always match up with the reality. “I’d never raised a chicken in my life,” he says. Things went well, and four months later, Evesque and his nephews were expanding the barn. Now he’s raising 26,000 birds.
The cycle of chicken production gives him a fixed schedule. It takes just over a month to raise broiler chickens to market weight. After these 33 days, he thoroughly cleans and sanitizes the barn, then the barn sits empty for 22 days, following biosecurity protocols, before new one-day old chickens arrive. While the chicks are growing in the barn, they have access to all the food and water they want. Evesque walks the entire barn to check on the birds a minimum of twice a day, and keeps an eye on his automated monitoring, heating and cooling system. Evesque also installed monitoring cameras which cover every inch of the barn to allow him to monitor bird health and behavior at all times. Humidity levels and ventilation are also key to keeping the birds comfortable. “I want to make sure they’re as happy as possible.”
While they’re growing, Evesque’s birds weigh themselves with a self-weighing system. How does he get the birds to stand on the scales? “The scales are actually a perch, hanging in the middle of the barn,” he explains. “The birds love going on their little perch.” When the birds are small, there might be as many as 50 yellow chicks on the perch at one time. The scale’s computer uses average growth rates and feed use to calculate roughly how much each bird should weigh, and with that information, it can calculate how many birds there are and their exact average weight. “Weight is absolutely crucial to monitoring overall bird health,” Evesque says. At the end of the growing period, the birds must be within a certain range to meet consumer needs when they are shipped to Saskatoon.
Covid-19 brought unexpected complications for Evesque’s new operation. ““I didn’t know anybody in the industry when I started, and I haven’t met as many people as I would have liked because we can’t have meetings.” Missing the opportunity to network with industry veterans had made it hard to find get advice or trade ideas. “I never anticipated something like that. it’s been a real challenge that I can’t understate,” he says.
In between cycles, Cameron still goes to Cadillac to help out on the family farm. This assistance works both ways, as he relies on family support, especially his nephews, when there is work to be done at his chicken barn.
Concern for the environment is part of Evesque’s production plan. He stores the manure on his farm until spring or fall when a neighboring grain farmer spreads it on his farmland as fertilizer. Next summer, he plans to add solar panels to his barn, adding green energy use to his operation.
Evesque loves working with these birds and appreciates the opportunity to produce a product consumers want. “I’m not huge in this industry,” he says. “But I’m producing about 50,000 kilograms of chicken every few months. You can feed a lot of people with this number of birds. That feels kind of cool.”
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