By Andrew Campbell
It doesn’t matter whether they are eaten on their own or added to thousands of different recipes, there is no denying that eggs are one of Canada’s food staples. In fact, Canadian egg farmers sell nearly 8 billion eggs every single year. 8 billion! But when it comes to how those hens are raised there are a lot of different types of barns and a lot of confusion about what it all means. In this egg tour, we visit the farm of Jake and his family to see an enriched housing system. These are rapidly growing in popularity in Canada as a way to balance both the natural behaviours of the hen, along with protecting her from dirt, disease and all the other hens.
It is another cold, wintery day in Southern Ontario but we are going to head inside a nice warm barn with chickens. A lot of chickens. We are going to go meet Jake. Together with his wife and his parents, they have an egg farm.
I’ve got my nice fancy coveralls on and my fancy boot covers on. If you can see them. What’s with these extra clothes?
For biosecurity, to protect the birds from disease and ensure hen health.
On the farm, to protect the chickens we want to ensure that we don’t bring anything into the barn from the outside, like diseases from wild birds. So we change and put on clean clothes when we go in the barn, to minimize any risks.
That’s good. You don’t want them getting a cold or anything? We are dressed in the biosecurity gear so let’s go into the barn and take a look at the hens. How many hens in this barn?
This is our laying barn. We have 17,112 hens.
That’s a very exact number. How could you possibly know how many birds you have? You must keep track.
At all times.
What do you do to make sure your flock is healthy?
We house our hens in fully enriched colony housing. There’s a nest box behind a red curtain where there is a nesting pad. The nesting pad shows the hen where to lay their eggs. The eggs will roll out onto a belt. Every 15 minutes or so, a wire raises and drops the egg onto the belt and then the conveyor brings the eggs to the front in the packing room.
There’s also feed at the front in the feed trough, and the feeders run about five times a day. We feed a mixture of corn, wheat and soy. We adjust their diet based on the hen’s body weights and the egg weights, and also their consumption. We track multiple factors and then review to figure out the best way we can feed the hen to keep the hen healthy and producing safe, nutritious, high quality eggs.
The water line is in the center of the pen. Also, on the other end of the pen there is an activity area where there’s a scratch pad.
What’s a scratch pad?
A scratch pad is something for chickens to peck and scratch at. There’s also a nail filer. So they’ll scratch at this with their feet and their toenails won’t be so sharp. It is a fully enriched housing system.
I think a lot of people wonder about egg farming and if the birds are in small cages.
We installed this system about five years ago. Canadian farmers are moving towards enriched housing systems. Another benefit of the enriched system is reduced contact with manure, which also reduces disease. We ensure they have fresh water, fresh feed, and a comfortable environment here. It’s 23 degrees Celsius in the barn.
We’ve got inlets and exhaust fans on each side of the barn and a computer controls when the inlets will open to bring in air, and how fast to suck the air out of the barn to exhaust it. There are actually no heaters in this barn. The hen’s body heat heats this barn all year round.
Now we’re looking down the conveyor. There are a whole bunch of eggs laying here. I don’t see any white eggs. Why do you have only brown eggs here?
We have brown hens and brown chickens lay brown eggs, while white chickens lay white eggs.
What’s the difference between a white and brown egg?
Nutritionally, nothing. It’s just the color of the shell. If we take an egg and we crack it open you see that the inside of the shell is white. So if you take a piece of sandpaper to a brown egg, you can actually sand a brown egg to white.
You have the eggs loaded here on pallets or skids but you said that this is nothing compared to what you’d get in a whole day.
We came here a little later in the day so most of the eggs are in the cooler already. We usually have a full skid, which would be 900 dozen eggs and then an additional half skid as well.
That’s quite a few eggs and they’re all behind that door?
Yes. We keep them all in the cooler here. Eggs get picked up once a week. The cooler is between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius. I’ve got my thermometer on the wall so that I can verify that in my records.
Where could people find your eggs?
Any grocery store across the province you’ll find our eggs. Look for Canada grade A eggs.
Thanks for the tour.