Day in the Life – an Ontario egg farmer

DayintheLifeHi, my name is Megan and I’m an egg farmer who lives near Embro, Ontario. Along with my family, we raise 50,000 laying hens (female chickens that lay eggs for consumption) and 200,000 pullets (young female laying hen raised from one day old until 19 weeks) per year. We also grow crops on 1,500 acres of land.

Today on the farm…

The Veldman Family (L to R): Kayla, Ben, Dan, Glynis, Josh, Megan

The Veldman Family (L to R): Kayla, Ben, Dan, Glynis, Josh, Megan

I woke up at 6:15 a.m. with just enough time to eat breakfast, put my work clothes on and head to the farm for 7 a.m. My day usually begins in the layer barns. Due to a few recent outbreaks of Avian Influenza in Ontario, we have increased bio-security on our farm, as an extra precaution. Although we do not fall within the specified quarantine zones, we felt it was necessary to revisit our current biosecurity practices and improve it in the areas where it could be improved – by decreasing traffic, moving a few things around and adding a few more disinfectant locations.

The Layer Barns – two with conventional housing (hens housed in small groups in cages that offer easy access to food and water), one with enriched housing (hens housed in small groups in cages that offer easy access to food and water, perches, nest area, scratch area, etc.)

The Layer Barns – two with conventional housing (hens housed in small groups in cages that offer easy access to food and water), one with enriched housing (hens housed in small groups in cages that offer easy access to food and water, perches, nest area, scratch area, etc.)

Before I enter the barn, I step in a footbath with disinfectant. I like to make sure my shoes are free of any organic matter (like manure). Disinfectants can be ineffective if organic matter is present on your shoes, so it’s important to make sure there is none, or wash it off thoroughly if there is.

I put in the code to unlock and open the entrance into the barn. All entrances to the barn are locked to prevent unauthorized access and protect the health of our flock and eggs. We also have a NO ENTRY sign at the entrance door that asks visitors to obtain authorization before entering.

Entrance to the layer barns

Entrance to the layer barns

This ensures no one is entering the barn without our knowledge and that someone is around to make sure they are following our strict biosecurity protocols, if they do need to enter the barn.

I immediately take off my outdoor footwear, hang up my outdoor clothing, sanitize my hands with hand sanitizer, and put on my barn shoes. The next room I enter is the egg room and the first thing I do is the ‘numbers’ (a.k.a. record keeping). This includes writing down the egg cooler high and low temperature and relative humidity, high and low barn temperature, feed intake and water intake for each barn. I make sure all the temperatures are within the appropriate ranges and compare the feed and water intake to previous days to make sure there are no major fluctuations, which would indicate a potential problem. Everything is good, so I put on my hair net (keeps dust out of my hair), my mask (keeps dust out of my nose and mouth) and grab my flashlight (allows me to see clearly inside the cages).

I spray my shoes with disinfectant and sanitize my hands before entering each barn. I walk up and down each aisle, checking the top two cages on my way to the back of the barn and the bottom two cages on my way back to the front of the barn. At the back of the barn, I make sure all of the feeders are full and check the water nipples, to make sure they are getting water. As I walk through the barns I am looking for dead birds, sick birds, etc. There are rarely many because mortality rates are around two to three per cent per flock. I’m also looking for equipment that needs to be repaired (broken egg belts, egg saver wire, housing, burnt out light bulbs, etc.) and checking that the barn conditions are favourable (lots of air movement and that the temperature is comfortable).

Egg collection begins at 8 a.m. by a full-time employee. Since I am still in the barn when she starts collecting, I make sure all of the egg belts are moving and the conveyor system is working properly. I wash my hands thoroughly, take off my shoes, dust mask and hairnet and change clothes. I exit the egg packing room, put on my outdoor clothing and shoes and exit the barn.

After chores, I head to the pullet barn. Again, I step into a footbath with disinfectant and have to unlock the barn door before I enter. I then change my shoes and put on my barn clothes. The barn is empty right now, but pullets are coming next week, so we are finishing up what needs to be done in the barn before they arrive. I am cutting newspapers in half and putting them at the front of every cage on the third tier.

Getting ready for chicks

Getting ready for chicks

This is where the chicks will be placed. We will go along later and put some feed on the newspaper (pictured above), this makes it very easy for the chicks to find their feed and start eating right away. This takes me until around 11:30 a.m., we clean up and head back home for lunch.

Lunch can be anywhere from 20 – 60 minutes, depends on the day, how busy we are and what we’ve got going on. We spend a lot of time talking about the farm and the industry; this keeps everyone up to date.

After lunch, I spend the afternoon in the office, paying bills and catching up on some of our book keeping.

Around 4 p.m., I head back to the layer barn to complete our afternoon barn check. The exact same biosecurity measures are followed as this morning and I check the barn the exact same way. I ran into a little problem while checking Barn 2.empty feeder

While I was checking the fullness of the feeders at the back of the barn, I noticed that one of the feeders was fairly empty. I checked the feeder above it, to see if it was full or not – this lets me know if there is a problem with the bin or the feeder itself. The feeder above was full (you can see in the picture – the top feeder is more full than the bottom feeder), which tells me there is a problem with the feeder itself, likely a chain came off the sprocket at the front of the barn. When I get back to the front, sure enough that is the problem and a pretty simple fix.

Before touching anything close to the feeder, I make sure I shut it off. I take off the protective shields, clear the feed away from the sprocket and feel around for any foreign objects that could have caused the chain to come off. I don’t find anything, so I line the sprocket teeth back up with the chain, turn the feeder back on slowly and within a couple minutes the chain is back on the sprocket and the feeder is running again.

chain fix

Before and After putting the chain back on

I let the feeder run as long as it takes to fill that feeder. It was empty enough that I want to make sure those birds get enough to eat. I continue checking birds, and come back after finishing Barn 3 to check the feeder again, it’s now full. Not my usual afternoon in the barn, but a great reminder about why it’s so important to check that the feeders are actually full. Now I can look over the egg weights and egg numbers from this morning, again looking for any inconsistencies that could indicate a problem. Again, I wash my hands thoroughly, take off my shoes, dust mask and hairnet and change clothes. I put my shoes on, exit the egg packing room, put on my outdoor clothing and shoes and exit the barn and I am done for the day!

Side note – Without getting into too much detail, I should mention that the light intensity in all three barns is low. In our first two barns, the lights are not dimmable and have a higher intensity. We put red light covers on these lights to decrease intensity (which you can see in the empty feeder photo). This will make the flock calmer. Our third barn has dimmable lights which can reach a low enough light intensity, to keep the birds calm, that we do not need light covers in this barn.

 

Want to see more about life on Megan’s family farm? You can find her on Twitter @mveld26, and her dad, Dan @dveld5.

We’re blogging about Canadian farmers. Each month, we’ll feature a different farmer on www.realdirtblog.ca to show how diverse our Canadian agriculture industry is! Know a farmer that we should feature? Send us a note at info@farmfoodcare.org.

One thought on “Day in the Life – an Ontario egg farmer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *