About Egg Farming
Hens begin to lay eggs when they are about 19 weeks old. Before that, they are called pullets. Some of us raise our own pullets, but there are also specialized pullet farms from which we purchase our birds. In turn, pullet farmers purchase their birds from hatcheries where fertilized eggs from breeding flocks are carefully incubated and then hatched into chicks. Egg and pullet farmers ensure the health and well-being of their birds by providing nutritious feed, clean water, flock health programs and a safe, healthy rearing environment. Our flock health programs include vaccinations to protect the hens from illness. We want only the very best for the animals in our care.
There are many responsibilities on the egg farm. Our day begins at sunrise and like other Canadians, our mornings are filled with a range of tasks including preparing breakfast (with eggs!), washing up and making school lunches. Most importantly, we check on our flocks.
Fortunately, many egg farmers both live and work on the same property. So it’s a short walk to the egg barn. Because we don’t want to bring any germs into the barns, we change into our barn coveralls and then put on our barn boots and disinfect the bottoms of our shoes before going into the barn.
For many of us, our barn’s lighting is automatically controlled so the lights slowly brighten at the same time every day. When we enter the barn, we make a point to listen carefully to the sound of our laying hens’ clucking because their clucks often tell us just how they are doing that day. We want to hear frequent, crisp chirping throughout the barn; dull or infrequent chirps tell us something is wrong. After listening to our birds, we make several critical checks to make sure the birds are getting plenty of food, water and fresh air.
Most egg farmers wear clothing of the same colour when going into the barn day after day. That’s because hens seem to like familiar surroundings.
These checks include listening to and examining the feed equipment for any malfunction that might tell us there is a problem brewing with its operation. Likewise, we’ll look at the water lines and water nipples to make sure water is flowing freely to the birds. We’ll check the fans to see that they are operating efficiently; most of our ventilation equipment runs automatically, adjusting itself depending on the temperature for the day. That way, we can be sure the hens are comfortable. Some of us even have alarm systems connected to the house and our cell phones so we can be warned day or night if there is a problem in the barn.
Laying hens have a body temperature between 39.8°C and 43.6°C, above the normal 37°C body temperature of human beings. In properly constructed barns, supplementary heat is not needed for the hens, even on the coldest winter days, provided there is a sufficient number of hens in the poultry house.
Following these critical checks, we will walk slowly through our barns to observe the hens. We look at the colour of their red combs as any paling in the colour may be a sign of a health problem. Bright, widely open eyes, pecking at feed, clean feathers and plenty of clucking are all signs of a healthy flock. We check our birds several times a day. Any warning signs are carefully monitored and if necessary, a poultry health specialist or veterinarian is consulted. Fortunately, such consultations are required infrequently.
Once we’re sure the hens are comfortable and doing well, we can begin the daily routine of collecting eggs. We see that eggs are being laid at the usual rate and we then begin carefully collecting them from automated egg belts and placing them on trays. These trays are then loaded onto pallets, crates and skids and brought into the barn cooler.
Barn coolers are designed to cool eggs slowly to a temperature of 13°C. Cooling freshly laid eggs too quickly or at too low a temperature can cause condensation which could result in mould.
At the end of the work day, we calculate the number of eggs laid and the amount of feed consumed. Many of us have computerized equipment that reads this information from sensors on feed and water lines and egg belts. If any readings are abnormal, we are extra vigilant during the evening and the next day as abnormal readings could indicate a potential health problem with the hens.
When our day’s work is done, we are much like other Canadian families: we get dinner ready; we help our children with homework; we coach little league, volunteer or take part in a variety of community activities. Just before we settle down for the night, however, we take one last trip to the barn to check on the flock. Shortly afterwards, the barn lights are gradually dimmed automatically so the hens can have a peaceful night’s sleep. As well, our daily routine of checking our flocks and collecting eggs takes place on weekends and other holidays. Egg farming is a seven-day-a-week job and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before entering the barn, many farmers will actually knock on the barn door. That’s so the hens won’t be startled when someone comes into the barn.
Not all work on an egg farm must be done every day. Some chores are done a couple of times a week; others take place every month or so and some will take place only once a year.
Among the frequent chores, is the regular pick up of eggs. Eggs are removed from the cooler and then taken to a nearby grading station that is registered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. At the stations, graders wash and inspect eggs and then weigh them so they may be packed into clean, new cartons before being shipped to local retail stores and restaurants.
Another example of a chore which takes place frequently is inspecting the exterior of the barn and the surrounding area. We check for animal foot prints or other signs that predators such as foxes or weasels may have been in the area. If there are any such signs, we take special care to make sure these predators don’t get into the barn. We inspect all around the barn, looking for any small openings. If we find any, we repair them right away as such openings could allow mice or wild birds, which can carry disease, to get inside.
Other typical responsibilities include checking the generator, alarms and automated equipment and ordering feed. If the feed is grown on our own farms, it needs to be ground from field crops. Water and feed samples are taken for laboratory analysis of nutrients or any germs that could make the hens sick. Barns are kept clean and there’s equipment to be repaired, records to keep and accounts to balance.
Whenever the grader or feed trucks come onto the farm, we direct the drivers to an unrestricted area of the farm. This is a part of the farm that is segregated from the hens to protect them from any germs which could inadvertently be brought to the farm on vehicle tires or by people. Keeping hens and eggs safe from potential diseases and food-borne pathogens is a key component to poultry biosecurity.
Egg barns have back up generators to run the feed, water and ventilation equipment in the event of a power failure.