Sustainability Excellence: preserving the environment

Sustainability is important to Canadian consumers. They want to know where their food comes from, and they want to know that the work behind producing it is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable – and Canadian chicken farmers deliver.

Canadian chicken farmers take this stewardship seriously and are proud of the innovation and hard work they put in every day. In addition to implementing the high standards of the Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety and Animal Care programs, farmers are committed to Sustainability Excellence and adopting practices that protect the environment.

No one depends more on the land, soil, and water than farmers. We recently caught up with a few farmers from across the country to learn more about their practices and some of the ways they are ensuring their farms are environmentally sustainable.

Tiffany and Lane, Northeast Saskatchewan

When you think of a modern family farm, it’s probably very much like Tiffany and Lane’s place – a long laneway surrounded by big trees leads to their house, where they have a big yard with kids’ toys scattered about, a tire swing, and a play structure. Down the laneway from there is an old dairy barn where Tiffany raises pedigree Olde English Southdown Babydoll sheep. Across the yard is a sign displayed on the workroom door between their two broiler barns, proudly showing that Tiffany and Lane are certified on the Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety and Animal Care Programs. Chicken farming is their main business, where they raise about 85,000 birds per cycle, or approximately 1.1 million kgs of safe, nutritious chicken for Saskatchewan consumers each year.

With the help of government grants, Tiffany and Lane have recently implemented a solar panel system on their farm and their goal is to power the entire farm site—including their home and barns—with renewable energy. While this is a newer development, they also spoke at length about their manure management and the practices they have been using on their farm for generations to protect soil health.

With 2,000 acres of grain in addition to the chickens, Lane ensures to utilize the manure from the chickens as fertilizer for the crops, reducing the need for synthetic fertilizer inputs by over 50% and sustaining the organic matter in the soil. The grain crops are used to feed the chickens, and the remaining straw is used for fresh bedding for each new flock of chicks. In this way, everything on Tiffany and Lane’s farm goes full circle, with the outputs becoming inputs, and the land being preserved for future generations.

Tyler and Jakki, Saskatoon Saskatchewan

Tyler is a third-generation farmer who has been farming his whole life. The family farm originated in Quebec and is still operated by Tyler’s aunt and uncle today. Tyler’s parents eventually moved to Saskatchewan and started their own farm, later expanding into a second location. Tyler now operates his own chicken and grain farm just outside Saskatoon.

Tyler’s farm produces approximately 750,000 kgs of chicken annually, and he also farms around 2,000 acres of organic grain. With the grains being organic, the ability to use the chicken manure to bolster soil health and produce strong healthy crops is crucial. This system of recycling animal manure is standard practice for Tyler, and indeed almost all grain and crop farmers across Canada.

Tyler installed solar panels in 2020 as part of his overall goal to improve the sustainability of the farm, and he is not the only one – many of his family members, who are also farming, have done the same. The solar panels generate around 100,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy per year, which offsets the energy needs of the entire farm including the shop, the house, the barn, and the many grain bins they have on-site.

These are just some of the ways that Canadian chicken farmers are taking care of their land and the environment around them, so that their farms are healthy and prosperous for generations to come.

Scott, Waterloo region, Ontario

Scott is a second-generation chicken farmer, and his farm is nothing like Old McDonald’s. He is meticulous in nature, and this is evident when you look around his farm – trees are evenly planted along the extensive laneway, the areas around his barn are pristine and tidy, and the barns themselves are equipped with all the latest technology for monitoring the birds and their environmental conditions, and minimizing the footprint of the entire operation.

Spread across three barns and two farm sites, Scott and his employees raise around 72,000 birds per cycle, grown to a final weight of 3.9 kgs which supplies approximately 1.9 million kgs of high-quality chicken each year to families in Ontario.

Environmental sustainability has always been a major focus for Scott, and he continually works on improving his farm to maximize efficiencies and minimize the environmental impact of the chickens he raises. Here are just some of the technologies and practices he has implemented over the years:

Evaporative cooling: This pulls moistened air down the length of the barn and can reduce the barn temperature by about 10 degrees, helping to make ventilation more efficient in the summer months, reduce energy consumption, and keep the birds comfortable and healthy.

Feed efficiency: Improved feed efficiency has a major impact on reducing the environmental footprint of chicken production because it means the same amount of chicken can be grown with fewer inputs. Feed efficiency has been improved over time with better genetics, improved nutrition, and individual on-farm practices.

Solar wall and heat exchangers: The black metal on the side of Scott’s barn absorbs heat and, along with the heat exchangers, helps warm the air going into the barn, making the heating system more efficient in winter months by reducing the need for supplemental heat.

LED lighting: This more efficient type of light bulb has reduced the energy requirements for the lighting system on the farm by 80-85%.

Improved water quality: Reducing the pH of the water the birds drink helps to improve gut health. When the birds are healthier this is another aspect that improves feed conversion and lowers the environmental impact of chicken production.

Wind breaks: Scott and his dad have planted rows of trees on the side of the barn that is exposed to strong winds, helping to not only absorb CO2 directly, but also minimizing the wind hitting the barn and thus reducing the need for supplemental propane to heat the barns in winter months.

With all these aspects, Scott’s farm is on the leading edge of innovation and environmental improvement.

Hubert, Victoriaville, Quebec

Hubert Desharnais, a fourth-generation chicken farmer from Saint-Christophe-d’Arthabaska, comes from a legacy of agricultural excellence. For 120 years, his family has nurtured their land, transforming it into a thriving farm that embraces the latest in technology and sustainable practices. Hubert currently farms with his father, raising 105,000 birds per cycle, which provides nearly 2 million kgs of fresh, high-quality chicken for Quebec consumers each year.

The Desharnais family has faced challenges throughout the years, including two devastating fires that razed their chicken coops. After the most recent fire in November 2021, which reduced the oldest building to ashes, Hubert saw an opportunity for positive change. Instead of simply rebuilding identically, he chose a sustainable approach and a commitment to pushing technological contributions even further.

At the heart of Hubert’s farming practices lies a dedication to sustainability. By implementing cutting-edge monitoring systems, the farm has been able to optimize conditions within the barn. With a wood pellet heating system that has eliminated the need for fossil fuel heating and other innovative measures, the environmental impact of raising chickens on their farm has been significantly reduced.

One of the technological advancements Hubert has adopted is the automatic flushing system. This system efficiently manages waste, ensuring a clean and hygienic environment for the chickens. Additionally, Hubert invested in a state-of-the-art barn equipped with the latest technologies to improve overall efficiency and animal welfare.

The farm’s tunnel ventilation system and outside solar walls further help regulate temperature and airflow, ensuring a comfortable and stress-free environment for the birds while maintaining a lower environmental impact.

Embracing technological advancements is a cornerstone of the Desharnais family’s approach to chicken farming. They recognize that staying ahead of the curve is crucial not only for their farm’s success, but also for minimizing their environmental impact. Through the integration of sustainable practices and advanced technologies, Hubert is not only preserving his family’s legacy as skilled chicken farmers, but also setting an inspiring example for future generations in the agriculture industry.