FREETOWN – Freetown, P.E.I. probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when talking about the latest and greatest technology but the Burns family is out to change that.
Nathan and Wendy Burns are in the final stages of installing a piece of technology on their poultry farm that, as far as they’re aware, is unique in North America.
It’s called ‘fully enriched colony housing’ and it’s a system that conforms to European Union Standards for egg production.
It was a big investment, said Nathan, but one he considers to be well worth his time and money.
Enriched colony housing is going to catch on in North America, he suspects, and his farm will be on the leading edge of the industry’s evolution.
“It’s just a matter of time in Canada and North America that this will become standard. Phasing out traditional housing and replacing it with fully enriched colony housing – free range, free run, that kind of thing as well,” said Nathan.
“It’s been a significant investment – costly not only in dollars and cents. But it’s the future of Burns Poultry Farm. We are seven generations, we’re going to be here for a while yet. It’s an investing in our offspring, the direction they may choose to take,” he said, adding that he and Wendy have four young children.
The basic premise of enriched colony housing, which was developed in Europe about 15 years ago, is to cater to the chickens’ natural instincts as much as possible.
The animals are still contained in multiple levels of cages but they’re given more room to move around, socialize with each other and a real effort is made to make them happier than in traditional housing.
The whole system is huge, holding 13,110 birds, towering two storeys tall and stretching a length comparable to two school busses.
The EU standards almost double the amount of space each animal must have compared to the current Canadian standard and includes other requirements like: scratching and pecking pads, privacy flaps in a separate laying area, ample perches for all the birds, conveyor belts for food and waste, lights that simulate sunrise and sunset and more.
The Burns’ researched the system for more than two years before committing to buy and have been building it since March.
There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for them.
A new batch of laying hens is scheduled to go into the barn in mid July.
The Burns’ are anxiously awaiting move-in day.
“That’s not a real flexible deadline. That deadline is going to come and it’s going to happen, whether we’re ready or not. We will be, but there’s going to be a lot of long days and hours put in here between now and then,” said Nathan.
Far from resting on their laurels, the Burns’ intend to start construction on another enriched colony system for a second barn this winter.
They did their homework, said Wendy, and they strongly believe that Canada will eventually move to a standards system similar to that of the EU, so they’ve decided to get out ahead.
They were looking at the end of their current generation of equipment’s life cycle anyway, she added, so it made sense to invest in the latest and greatest.
She also stressed that just because standard bird housing isn’t quite up to the same standards as their newer version, it doesn’t mean the birds are any less healthy or happy.
“A lot of it has to do with management,” she said.
“You can have a mansion and have miserable people in it or you can have a trailer and have lots of laughs and love.
“We believe that our conventional housing has served its purpose and we’re looking forward to allowing the birds to exhibit more natural behaviours in their day-to-day environment. We’re really excited to see how that translates into their welfare,” she said.
But as much as Burns’ are making this change for their business, they’re also doing it for the next generation.
The higher the standards they set for themselves now, the better off their children will be a few years from now, she said.
“We’ll set the eighth generation up. If they choose to carry on, they’ll be in a good position to do so,” she said.