by Gayle Wilson
Changing demands in the retail industry and the new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Layers have spurred DeLong Farms of Barss Corner, N.S., to invest approximately $1.8 million in a new layer barn.
New cages were expected to arrive from the Italian company Valli in the middle of May, and the new 9,900-square-foot barn should be operational in August, said Ralph DeLong, who manages the farm outside of New Germany with his brother James.
The brothers’ father, Ottis, established the farm in 1954. The new barn replaces one of the farm’s two layer barns. The one it replaces was around the same size and was built in 1975.
DeLong says the family was aware of changing demands in the industry and expected amendments to the code of practice concerning layers, and so began planning for a new barn about a year ago.
“It wasn’t obvious what the industry or retailers would demand, institutions would demand, as far as housing types … but we considered this to be the best direction for responding to the welfare concerns,” he said.
According to DeLong, it would have been preferable to merely renovate the existing barn, since it would have meant a saving of about $1.5 million.
“But it just wasn’t feasible from a logistics point of view, in addition to a structural point of view,” he said.
For one thing, as a major wholesaler of eggs in western Nova Scotia, the company was reluctant to halve its production while it renovated the existing barn.
“You can’t respond to weekly changes in demand without at least some decent production on your own,” said DeLong.
And any upgrades to the barn would need to comply with increasing demand for changes to conventional housing systems.
“You’re not allowed to reinstall conventional systems,” said DeLong, referring to the new code of practice that was released on March 27. “You can only run them out of their existing lives.”
Structurally, the existing barn would not be able to accommodate the required housing systems and amenities. The foundation would have been inadequate and the walls and insulation had deteriorated, while the ventilation “wouldn’t have been optimum,” explained DeLong.
“It was just designed for a different style of management. A different cage. And so we needed something that would match this new system structurally.”
Rather than conventional cages, the new barn will have an “enriched housing system.” The birds will have more space, nesting and scratching areas, and perches. And there will be “a lot more animal-welfare-friendly components to the system,” said DeLong.
Under the conventional system, there were five birds per cage. The new cages are much larger, accommodating 60 birds.
Currently, the farm has 39,000 layers and the new barn will allow for extra capacity, according to DeLong.
The extra amenities come with a hefty price, however.
“We wouldn’t have had to build a new barn if we were putting in the same style system. It would have been about a $300,000-investment to put the old-style cages back in the old-style system.”
But, DeLong maintains it’s important to respond to changing demands in the industry.
“You can only continue on for so long, and then it’s too late.”
The new codes, which were released jointly by the Egg Farmers of Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), will be used as educational tools, reference material for regulations, and the foundation for industry animal care assessment programs.
According to a statement by the groups, the new codes were developed over a period of four years and were led by a 17-person committee comprising egg farmers, animal welfare and enforcement representatives, researchers, transporters, egg processors, veterinarians, and government representatives.
A five-person scientific committee assisted with research in laying hen behaviour and health and welfare, while members of the public were invited to offer their input as well.
“The code of practice is an important tool for egg farmers across the country,” Glen Jennings, an egg farmer and chair of the code development committee, was quoted as saying on March 27.
“The outcome balances hen welfare, behaviour, and health in a manner that is sustainable and achievable by farmers,” said Jennings.
The new layer code is available online at www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/poultry-layers.