Harnessing PEI’s natural resources, brothers produce “green” eggs
Even with the short days of winter, their various businesses and homes are almost entirely self-sufficient in hydro, requiring just over 700 kilowatts of purchased hydro from mid-December to mid-January. At an average saving annually of $25 per day in energy costs, the turbine pays for itself in about seven years.
“It’s the cleanest energy you can produce,” Ian says of the energy created from wind turbines, explaining why he and Douglas opted to purchase one. “We have a lot of wind in PEI and we should use our natural resources to the best of our ability,” he says.
Like many third generation farmers today, Douglas and Ian live on the same homestead where they were raised. The homestead has seen a lot of changes over the years. Their late father Eldred was a mixed farmer with hogs, cattle, crops and a few hens. Douglas, the older of the two brothers, started to work full-time on the farm in 1994 while Ian started full-time in 2005, after managing a building supplies store.
While the hogs and cattle are gone today, the egg operation--Red Bridge Farm—and all their other businesses operating as Kool Breeze Farms keep them busy year-round. While the egg farm provides a major contribution to the family business, Kool Breeze Farms is actually anchored by the brothers’ 14 greenhouses. Those greenhouses grew out of a hobby Ian started in 1986 with a 12 ft. x 16 ft. greenhouse.
The brothers pide work up around the businesses according to their preferences and talents. Ian, for example, takes care of administration, financial details and marketing while Douglas handles the day-to-day work that keeps the farms going. “We have a lot of discussions; some people call them meetings,” Ian says, commenting on the business style of the two brothers.
Their wives are also active on the farm with Douglas’s wife Christine helping out in the garden centre and Ian’s wife Tammy taking charge of the book-keeping. In all, 18 people, 12 of whom are non-family employees, keep Red Bridge Farm and Kool Breeze Farms going concerns.
For more than a decade, Red Bridge Farm has expanded slowly but surely. Douglas converted a hog barn so that in 1996, they were able to house 2,500 layers. The operation grew over the years to 14,000 layers.
The most rewarding experience about egg farming, says Ian, is getting a new flock in during the fall. “They are doing well,” he says of the hens, “and then you start seeing the eggs.” To Ian, there isn’t much that’s more rewarding than cracking the first eggs of a flock. They are the smallest and he says the best tasting, though he admits few think there is a difference in taste depending on egg size. “Everyone is going to say I’m crazy,” he chuckles.
A member of the Prince Edward Island Federation of Agriculture and the Summerside Chamber of Commerce, the business philosophy of Kool Breeze Farms and Red Bridge Farms is to give back to the community on a regular basis. Every autumn, the two brothers, their families and employees sponsor a free community scarecrow contest with the help of local suppliers and the local Lions Club. About 3,000 people visit the farm during the annual event to see the scarecrow entries and displays of equipment, walk the straw maze, visit the egg information area, enjoy the entertainment, take away recipes and brochures on agriculture and participate in wagon rides and children’s races.
Families want things they can do together without it costing a lot of money, Ian says. The annual scarecrow contest gives families just that opportunity. Visitors can participate in the People’s Choice Awards and vote for their favorite scarecrow or see how a panel of judges rates the live “scarecrows” in their costumes.
Recently, the brothers teamed up with the Harbourfront Theatre to produce a theatre production on the farm. The fundraiser for local theatre dared participants to help the character Harold find his lost family in the haunted cornfield.
Whatever they decide to do, Douglas and Ian will do so with the environment in mind. “People want more green-type of product,” Ian says.
As for the future, Ian says the biggest challenge may well be the World Trade Organization negotiations, which threaten to open up Canadian markets to more imports of eggs from the United States. Canadian egg farmers operate under supply management which allows them to get paid for what it costs to produce eggs, plus a fair return for their investment and labour, while consumers are assured a stable supply of reasonably priced eggs. If that is lost, egg farmers will be asking the government for handouts like other farmers, something Ian says he doesn’t want to do.