“Our lives revolve around our animals”

Doesn’t every chicken have a nutritionist? Isn’t the morning rush only in cities? Well, maybe not. These appear to be some of the secrets to success on the Wiens farm (part of the Fehr family farm) near Hague.

At seven weeks old, Jackson Wiens is happily swinging in the kitchen—it’s early days for this fourth-generation farmer. Jackson has decided that for a few years yet, it will still be his Mommy and Daddy, Kaylin and Tyler, working the family farm.

Kaylin and Tyler farm with Kaylin’s parents, her two brothers and their families. Together they have 60,000 laying hens and raise chickens for themselves and for sale. They also farm 3,000 acres of land and raise about 80 beef cattle.

What does a typical day look like working in their hen barn?

“Usually, I get to the farm at about 8:00 a.m. and collect eggs for the first two and half hours,” says Kaylin. Note that Kaylin is talking about the morning rush, when about 25,000 eggs are collected. “The birds’ houses are designed so that the eggs roll onto a moving belt. The system is automated to bring the eggs to the front of the barn where a packer puts them into trays. When I’m collecting eggs, I’m actually putting stacks of trays filled with eggs onto a pallet.”

“We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

After the morning egg rush, Kaylin makes food for the hens. Feed is made every day of the week so that there is enough to get through the weekend. The diet is largely wheat, canola, and soy oil, calcium and for protein they add peas and soy. “We work with a nutritionist who determines the recipes for our feed,” Kaylin explains. “The nutritionist makes a recipe based on the weight of the hens, the weight of the eggs, and how many eggs our birds are producing. The rations are adjusted based on the chickens’ needs. The micro-nutrients, vitamins and minerals, we add by hand. We are in constant contact with the nutritionist to ensure our hens are getting the nutrition they require.”

After lunch, Kaylin does the farm’s bookkeeping for an hour or two, followed by the afternoon chores. Then there is another hour and a half of egg collection, but only 10 to 15, 000 this time. Cleaning the barn wraps up Kaylin’s day by about 6:00 p.m.

Sometimes Kaylin is discouraged by the portrayal of farmers in the media.

“There are so many misconceptions about farming. We are often painted as not caring for our animals and that is very frustrating. Our lives revolve around our birds. That is our number one priority to make sure they are cared for every single day of the year. It doesn’t matter if we have plans. If something is wrong with our hens, they always come first. If we didn’t treat our animals well, it just would not work.”

“In order for our farm to be sustainable we have to care for our flock; it is a symbiotic relationship.” – Kaylin Wiens

Every day, the Wiens family works hard to care for their chickens.

“We closely monitor everything in our barns from the daily production of eggs to how much water the hens drink, how much feed they consume, the temperatures in the barn, the humidity… We check everything. We have a system that will call us and tell us if our power goes out because that is a huge deal for us. We have backup generators that power the whole barn in the event that the power went out. It keeps the fans running and the lights on so our chickens are always protected.”

Kaylin & Tyler farm with the Fehr Family near Hague, SK.

Kaylin really loves farming. “I look forward to going to work every day. I was born into farming and that is what I am familiar with, but it is also where my passion lies,” she says. “I love that it is different every day. It is great to see the industry constantly change and improve for the better. I like working with my family—it is such a blessing that we can work together. We are so thankful that we can bring our son Jackson into the family farm. That is really cool.”

Leaving the Barn Door Open 24/7

By Kelly Daynard, Farm & Food Care

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers made up 60 percent of the Canadian population. Today, that number has dropped to less than two percent.

This move from farms into towns and cities has led to a growing disconnect between rural and urban areas, with Canadians now often three or four generations removed from any ancestors that farmed. The agricultural industry knows from polling data that non farming Canadians want to know more about food and farming – they just often don’t know where to source accurate information. And that’s why a growing number of Canadian farmers are increasing their communications efforts – many are turning to social media to share their stories.

The issue isn’t unique to Canada or North America, though. 

Stefan Teepker

German farmer Stefan Teepker and his daughter Marit in front of the windows in the new viewing gallery he’s built on the side of his chicken barn

Stefan Teepker is a chicken, grain, and hog farmer in Northern Germany. He recently opened his farm to delegates at the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists’ congress (an event that’s held in a different country each year).

The 35-year-old farms in cooperation with his brother Matthias, and he’s also the honourary chairman of the “Young DLG” – a division of the German Agricultural Society for farmers aged 35 and under. Teepker is increasingly concerned about the misconceptions that exist about modern farming practices and he’s determined to do his part to change that.

“There are big discussions happening about animal welfare in this country. We have to be able to show how we produce the majority of the meat. We have to start the discussion,” he said to the visiting journalists.

For many years, he’s visited a local school twice a year, talking to students about his farm and farm animals. Those students, in turn, visit his farm as part of a forest walk program, where they’re excited to see the animals that he’s talked about.

To expand his efforts, he’s just finished building a unique viewing gallery onto the side of one of his chicken barns. He paid for the 25,000 Euro project (about $36,000 CAD) almost entirely on his own with only a 1,000 Euro grant from a farm organization.

Stefan Teepker

Anyone passing by this German chicken farm is welcome to stop in and see the birds. This viewing gallery, built on the side of the barn, is open 24 hours a day.

Their farm is near a busy highway and popular hiking and biking path. With the grand opening last week, the gallery will be open 24-hours a day. One criticism he’s heard is that farmers only show the nicest photos of their barns and animals. With the new viewing gallery, he says he’ll be able to say “come when you want.” Passersby will be able to stop in at any time to see, for themselves what’s happening and what the birds are doing.

Signage will explain the age of the chickens, what they eat and drink, how the ventilation works, where they were hatched, when and where they’ll go to market and more.

Teepker said that some farmers think the signs should be more technical, focusing on bird genetics and such. But he knows firsthand that consumers are interested in going back to the basics. The most common question he’s asked? “Where are the cages?” To which he explains that broiler chickens are always raised in a free run (floor system) barn – just like here in Canada.

Guests at the viewing gallery will also be able to buy fresh meat and eggs (provided by neighbouring farmers), from a special vending machine.

When asked whether he’s concerned about farm security as a result of the increased attention and visitors, Stefan was definite in his “no”. While he has installed security cameras, he says that they’re only meant to protect the birds and doesn’t expect problems.

He’s also created a Facebook page for the farm where he engages regularly with his 2,000 (and growing) followers. Through updates, he introduces his farm staff, talks about environmental initiatives on the farm (including solar panels and a biogas plant) and answers questions about his pigs and chickens. He also posts regular videos – the top one has 180,000 views to date.

And, new this year, the farm is sponsoring local soccer teams as another way of engaging with his community.

Are his efforts making a difference? Teepker thinks so – but emphasizes that there’s always more that can and should be done. “You see a mind shift when people come to see the farm for themselves. They don’t know what they will see if the doors are closed – so we’re opening the doors.”

July Faces of Farming Features Modern Homesteaders

By Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

The farming lifestyle might not be for everyone, but for AmyBeth and Colin Brubacher, there’s nothing better. The Elmira, Ont., couple are turkey producers, and they see farming and family as their greatest passions.

“We absolutely love our lifestyle,” says AmyBeth. “It’s modern homesteading, living close to the land. There’s a lot of great things to learn.”

IMG_0236aBox2AmyBeth and Colin own and operate B & B Farms, where they raise turkeys for both large processors as well as for direct sale. They are an average sized turkey farm in Ontario, and also have 100 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat which they share crop with their cousin who has the neighbouring farm.

With three children –   Zoe (age 11), Stella (age 7) and Mercedes (age 2) – AmyBeth and Colin are the third-generation of Brubachers to run the farm. AmyBeth is also the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar.

As part of their direct turkey sales, the Brubachers supply both whole fresh birds for holiday seasons – around Thanksgiving , Christmas and Easter – as well as value-added products like ground meat and sausages. The family markets their turkeys and value-added products under the brand “Scotch Line Turkey Co.”

“We love working with animals and the satisfaction you get from raising healthy turkeys,” says Colin. “It’s very rewarding being able to produce healthy, great tasting food and just being a part of the agricultural community.”

Colin and AmyBeth took over the farm management from Colin’s parents nine years ago, but actually started building a succession plan over 16 years ago. To help things run smoothly, the couple work alongside Colin’s dad, Landis, and employ local part-time students to help them on evenings and weekends. The extra help is particularly valuable since Colin also works off the farm as an insurance broker.

B & B Farms is also a green energy producer. On one of the farm’s smaller outbuildings, the main turkey barn and their house they have three 10-kilowatt  micro-fit solar systems. The family also has a contract to build a larger, 100 kilowatt solar project on a new turkey barn, which they plan on constructing in the near future.

“We are all about green energy,” says Colin.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

AmyBeth is the face of July in the 2016 Faces of Farming Calendar. Her page is sponsored by Turkey Farmers of Ontario.

Previously to raising turkeys, Colin worked as an auto mechanic, however, he insists that he always wanted and planned to be a farmer. AmyBeth, on the other hand, did not initially plan on having a farm-centred life. She went to Wilfrid Laurier University for a degree in music, and York University for a degree in education. She then worked as a teacher for seven years before deciding to stay home in favour of having more time with her family.

“We started home schooling the kids a few years ago. We have a good opportunity to educate our children right here at home” says AmyBeth.

Outside of the farm business, both AmyBeth and Colin are involved in their local church through various committees and programs. The family also likes to travel when time permits, visiting relatives who live as far away as Newfoundland, British Columbia, and many places in between. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the love of food also features prominently in their leisure activities – both AmyBeth and Colin enjoy canning and preserving together, as well as sharing their backyard and turkey products with friends and family.

“It’s the family aspect of this business that makes it special to us,” Colin says.

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The eleventh annual “Faces of Farming” calendar, 2016, published by Farm & Food Care Ontario, is designed to introduce the public to a few of Ontario’s passionate and hardworking farmers – the people who produce food in this province. See more at facesoffarming.ca.

Yes, There’s an App for Farm Animal Care

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The days of carrying a notepad around the farm still exist, but there’s a new kid in the barn and field that carries a lot more functionality than a farmer’s well-worn pad of paper.

Farmers love technology and have embraced it willingly, from GPS-equipped tractors, to radio frequency eartags, to robotic milking machines. Maybe some generations have adopted it faster than others, and certainly some forms more than others, but farming and technology go hand-in-hand.

Thinking back to where mobile tech was just a few years ago when I picked up my first cell phone. I was a late bloomer for a millennial. I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad about texting that went something like this…

“Why would you text anyone? If I want something I’m going to pick up the phone and talk to a person. Who needs texting?” My siblings and I just shook our heads thinking that dad will never get it.

Fast forward to today, most of my communications with dad are through text messaging. We kids had it wrong. Now dad sends me pictures from the farm, uses abbreviations like lol (properly!) and populates his messages with emojis. And I love it.

Usually he has a newer phone than me, carries it everywhere with him and is always asking me if I’ve downloaded the latest app. But the guy doesn’t use Facebook. Or that tweetagram thing, as he calls it. But, like many other farmers, he recognizes that some apps have made farming more innovative, efficient, informed, and sometimes even easier.  

IMPACT 2Whatever you can dream up, there is probably an app for that. And now with Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT program there’s an app for animal care information.

Accessing info on animal care has never been easier from the barn, field or beside the chute.

The multi-species app offers information on euthanasia, procedures, handling, transport and other general care. Videos, articles, decision trees, loading density calculator are all at your fingertips and in your pocket. It’s not your grandpa’s factsheet!

Don’t want to read an article or watch a video on your phone screen? You can email it to yourself and watch it later. You can also bookmark what is important to you and share it between your employees, colleagues, and fellow farmers.

The app is available for download for Apple and Android devices, and is free. Have a new employee starting on your farm? Use it as part of your training program or implement it into on-going training.

Download it today. If you don’t have a smart phone, not to worry. IMPACT resources are available online by visiting www.farmIMPACT.ca.

Technology can be great but if you regularly experience a slow internet, let the Farm & Food Care office know. A USB stick with videos and content can be sent to your farm. There are options, no matter your circumstances.

Regardless of how you prefer to access information today — apps, websites, carrier pigeons — there is no doubt that we live in the age of endless information and technology has played a large roll in this. Farmers know the value of continually learning the best practices for today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

Family Egg farmers featured in 2016 farm calendar

By: Matt McIntosh for Farm & Food Care Ontario

2010 calendar(Warkworth) – Ian and Sara Laver are not only proud parents and business owners; they’re also models – calendar models that is. With sponsorship from Burnbrae Farms Ltd., Ian, Sara and two of their children (four-year old Jacob and two year-old Amelia) appear on the month of April in the 2016 Faces of Farming calendar.

“My family has been farming for four generations, and producing eggs for three of those,” says Ian. “Right now I work together with my dad, but the businesses themselves are separate.”

Ian says he took an interest in farming fairly early in life, and after working on the farm all through high school, attended the University of Guelph. While working towards a degree with the Ontario Agricultural College, Ian met Sara – a self-proclaimed “city-kid” from Markham – who was pursuing a degree in Environmental Science. The two married after Sara completed a Master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Toronto.

Ian purchased his first farm eight years ago, and started growing corn soybeans and wheat. He then purchased a second farm. Continue reading

An egg farmer examines hen housing

By Ian McKillop, egg farmer and vice chairman of Farm & Food Care Canada

Hen HousingGrowing up in the 1960’s, I’ve fond memories of my brother and me helping collect eggs. We had a small flock of several hundred hens in chicken coops. We’d reach into nests for eggs, put them in a basket and wash any dirt or manure off. Often the hens would peck us – or each other, sometimes causing death. If they became scared, they’d flock to a corner and could even suffocate themselves.

In the 1960’s, conventional cages became popular, providing a healthier and safer environment for hens and the farmers caring for them. So in 1967, my parents built a new barn with conventional cages.

The barn held 6,000 hens, large by 1967 standards, with three hens per cage. Pecking and suffocation were virtually eliminated. Gathering eggs by hand was easier, plus the eggs were seldom in contact with manure anymore. Overall, the cages allowed a safer way of housing our hens with fewer deaths, improving the quality and food safety of the eggs, while keeping costs down. The birds were content and so were we. Continue reading

The real dirt on hen housing

By Kristen Kelderman, Farm Animal Care Coordinator, Farm & Food Care

The Real Dirt on Hen HousingHaving recently become a new homeowner, it’s amazing how many different housing options there are are out there. You might be a high rise condo dweller living in one of the many buildings that populate the horizon or maybe in a single detached family home that is more your style.

Townhomes, executive penthouse lofts, cottage living – the options are endless with each choice presenting different benefits and amenities. If you’re anything like me, the only restriction is your bank account!

It’s not that different when it comes to housing options for farm animals. Modern barns today offer many benefits that the traditional red bank barn of our grandparents’ age would never be able to provide. New advancements in technology have allowed the reconstruction of modern barns to provide things like climate-controlled environments, enriched amenities, access to feed and water 24 hours a day, smart phone alerts if an issue arises in the barn and much more.

But how do we know what good and what bad environments for farm animals actually are? Science helps to tell us this. There has been a lot of research around the globe on housing of farm animals and on how different environments affect them. Many researchers have dedicated their entire careers to this area of science: studying animal behaviour, environmental impacts, natural behaviours and many more aspects of how housing influences an animal’s life.

Let’s talk about laying hen housing – housing for the birds that lay the eggs that you enjoy for breakfast. Continue reading

A chance ad brings this calendar-model couple back to farming

2010 calendarBy Resi Walt

(Thamesville) – It was a chance sighting of an advertisement in a local newspaper that gave Clarence Nywening and his wife Pat the opportunity to return to their farming roots.

Clarence was raised on a beef farm and Pat on a dairy farm. But, after marrying, they had moved away from the farm and on to a different business ventures. However, Clarence said, “It was always my dream to go back to farming.”

In the early days of their marriage they owned a cleaning business, cleaning churches, houses and offices. One day, while cleaning at an office building, they noticed an ad in a newspaper for a farm that was for sale. They knew instantly it was where they wanted to be. Continue reading

Laplante Poultry implements award-winning product tracking system

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

A barcode scanning device used at Laplante Poultry (Photo courtesy of Laplante Poultry)

By Treena Hein

(Sarsfield) – Food safety is something that the public takes very seriously – and so do farmers like Robert Laplante. Laplante is not just a broiler chicken farmer, he’s also the owner of a processing plant and it’s critically important that data input errors of all kinds are eliminated and that product recall times (if a recall was ever ordered) are as fast as possible. To do all this and more, the owner of Laplante Poultry and Feather Weight Farms implemented a completely automated product tracking system, one that won him a 2014 Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence. Continue reading

A different kind of hen house

By Lisa McLean, Farm & Food Care

(Elora) It takes a few minutes for the hens at Elora-based Swan Creek Layer Farms Ltd. to adjust to visitors. They move quickly out of the way when the gate opens, fly across the aisles to new levels, and move out of reach. Eventually, their curiosity gets the best of them and they return to fill the empty spaces they abandoned just moments ago. The birds settle on their perches that are close to the visitors. A few hens walk along the ladders that connect one level to the next.

Bob (left) and Dave Ottens in their aviary-style layer barn.

Bob (left) and Dave Ottens in their aviary-style layer barn.

The hens – egg-laying “layer” birds – live in an aviary-style egg barn, which allows them free access to move through various levels of their space. Lighting helps guide them to private nesting boxes in the back of each level where they lay eggs in sheltered areas and access food and water on demand.

For Ontario egg farmers, this is a different kind of egg barn. Conventional layer barns house several hens in cages, or in newer “enriched” facilities that have built-in perches and nesting boxes. The aviary barn is designed to allow the hens to move freely in a large space.

And the new barn provides a benefit for farmers too – Dave and Bob Ottens, brothers who own the operation, can sell eggs from this barn into a certified “free run” market, which fetches them a premium on the eggs produced here.

“For us, this is a way of adding choice for consumers – the aviary gives us the opportunity to diversify by producing free-run eggs,” says Dave Ottens. “I don’t have a problem eating eggs from conventionally-raised hens, but some consumers want the option of free-run eggs, and they are willing to pay more for that choice.” Continue reading