Egg producer turns barn into high-tech chicken condos for 31,000 birds
New Brunswick farm's latest chicken barn gives birds room to flap their wings
When David Coburn was growing up, preparing chickens for the market was a family affair.
"So every Friday morning we would kill 40 or 50 birds as a family, and they would be plucked before breakfast, kids fed and then off to school."
Now the sixth-generation chicken farmer just does egg production, but the business of the family farm is still something he shares with his sons.
Coburn Farms in Keswick Ridge, about 26 kilometres west of Fredericton, has one of the first fully computerized poultry barns in the province.
Coburn said the system is the first in New Brunswick to have lighting inside the sections, and a computer-controlled way to regulate the temperature with tunnel ventilation.
"On hot summer days, we can open up the air inlets and turn those fans on, and we will be able to do a complete air exchange in this facility in less than a minute," he said.
It's not the first time the family has made history with its egg-making innovations. The farm also had the first deep-pit barn in New Brunswick, and the first computerized barn in Canada, he said.
There are 35 birds in each "housing unit."
More than 90 per cent of the eggs are laid in the nest box, where they roll down to a wire that catches them before releasing them onto the conveyor belt.
The German-made system includes scratch pads, perches, private nest boxes, nail files and in-system lighting to provide the birds with space to move around and roost.
Coburn said it's part of a response to pressure for humane housing to phase out the battery cage systems, which are much smaller and don't allow for movement.
The Coburns' new barn falls under the "furnished housing" egg-production category, which is why David and his sons jokingly call them "chicken condos."
"We're trying to meet their natural behaviours but give them protection from large numbers," Coburn said, since chickens can be cannibalistic, which is a bigger concern when they are in large groups.
The family has invested over $2 million in the new system, which houses 31,600 birds.
David's sons, Tyler and Glen Coburn, will be taking the lead on the new high-tech chicken coop.
It's a huge learning curve, Tyler said.
"But I've got 20 years to figure it out, and I'm learning new stuff every day."
He said the new system has already doubled production since the farm introduced the birds in December. They ship out 18,000 dozen eggs a week, collecting 30,000 eggs a day.
The birds have taken to their new homes, heading to their perches when the lighting system dims at nighttime.
"I'm not sure if they have their favourite spot on their perches or what, but I know you probably pick your side of the bed, right? And I'm sure they are a bit of the same."
Tyler said the new housing isn't just about marketing.
"This is our livelihood," he said "We're going to do the best for our birds as possible. We're not out to harm them, we're going to make them as comfortable as possible."
With files from Catherine Harrop