By Andrew Campbell
There are two reasons why this tour is a pretty unique one. The first is because it is a tour of a pullet farm, which is a type of farm almost no one has heard of. A pullet farm is simply one that raises chicks from hatching until they are ready to produce eggs when they are moved to a laying barn. This takes 19 weeks and during this time, the farmer is helping the birds learn where they can perch, how to get food and water and more. The second part that makes this tour unique is the fact that this may be the largest farm I’ve ever visited. Burnbrae Farms is one of the largest egg farms in the country, with their product available in stores from one end of the country to the other. It’s why this can’t-miss tour is going to be an interesting one to find out how a large farm works as well as how Helen Anne of Burnbrae Farms raises their pullets and laying hens.
We are at a pullet barn today. What is a pullet?
Pullets are immature laying hens. We bring them to Burnbrae farms at one day of age from the hatchery and we raise them in our pullet barns or as we call them, “brooder barns” until they’re about 19 weeks of age. Then we move them to the layer farm where the hens that are old enough to lay eggs live.
What are some of the things involved in raising a pullet?
We care for them and feed them rations (which are different feeds mixed together) that promote the best health and growth to achieve a strong body frame and good robustness for when they go into the layer barn. Our pullets eat corn for energy and soybean to maximize the protein content to ensure they get the proper amino acids to grow. We adjust the calcium and the protein levels as they grow to give them more calcium later in the pullet housing cycle so that they can use that calcium to store in their bones for egg production. They are also given a series of vaccinations to ensure they are very well immunized before they go into the layer barn.
This is a free run housing system where the birds are roaming around the barn. What are some of the differences between a free run housing system and what we saw already earlier this year in that enriched housing system?
In the free run system, the birds roam around freely after they reach about seven weeks of age. They can move between different levels in the house where they can perch or feed or get water on any of the different levels. They can fly or walk up ramps between the levels. It’s a little different from the enriched environment where the birds live in a smaller area with the same group of birds.
How do you train a bird to know where their food and water is?
It’s important for these birds to be raised to know in the beginning where the feed and water is. Once they reach a certain stage, we give them access to the full barn with full use of all the equipment. The way we train them to perch at night for instance, is by shutting off the lights in stages and keeping the lights overtop of the equipment on last. The birds instinctively want to perch and sleep somewhere where it’s safe. Instinctively, they want to perch, but we just have to give them a little bit of help.
I think most Canadians will have heard of Burnbrae Farms from the grocery store and because you are one of the largest egg producers in the country. I think people have this idea that maybe big farms, big corporate farms aren’t necessarily the way that the food system should be going. But although you guys are big, you’re actually still a family farm.
We are a farm. We are an agribusiness, but we are a very big agribusiness run by a family. We are fourth generation. The fourth generation Hudsons are running Burnbrae Farms. Some of the fifth generation are now involved and we just had a sixth generation born last year. So we’re pretty excited.
My great-grandfather started Burnbrae Farms. He bought the original homestead, which is where we are right now. He named it Burnbrae. Burn is Scottish for creek and brae is Scottish for a hill.
And today your family farm sells eggs and egg products across the country. Where can people find Burnbrae eggs?
You can find Burnbrae eggs in basically all the major supermarket chain stores as well as in some smaller stores. We sell all across the country. We sell both shelled eggs and further processed products to both retail and food service. We sell hard-boiled peeled eggs, which you can buy in the deli section of supermarkets for a great convenient and nutritious snack.