Lessons in Egg Production with STS Farms
We recently joined the Egg Farmers of Alberta on a tour of STS Farms to learn all about egg production here in Alberta. Located in Stony Plain, Alberta, STS Farms is a family-owned farm that started in the 1960s and is now owned and operated by Susan Schaefers and her family. STS Farms has a pullet barn with 20,000 baby chicks that will eventually become egg layers, as well as a free-run barn which is home to 14,000 birds that produce roughly 13,453 eggs daily! Since the average Canadian consumes around 250 eggs per year, we are so grateful to Susan Schaefers and other egg producers in Alberta for their commitment to providing Canada with healthy, high quality and ethically-produced eggs.
Here are some interesting things we learned about the egg production process during our visit to this local Alberta Farm:
1. Biosecurity, first.
One of the most important things we were taught from the moment we arrived on the farm was the strict biosecurity measures the farm has in place. Biosecurity is meant to protect the animals against any disease that might come on the farm by way of humans or other animals visiting the farm. To ensure her birds were protected from any potential transfer of bacteria, Susan was particular about each of us complying with the farm’s biosecurity measures. Each barn visit required a new set of shoe covers and a new set of coveralls to ensure that we were not transferring any bacteria from one barn to the other, or from the outside environment into the barn.
The biosecurity measures are so important because keeping the disease out of the barn in the first place is the most efficient and effective way to keep the birds healthy, and, in turn, providing the best quality of eggs to consumers.
2. Free-run Housing
The hens are housed in what is called a free-run barn. While there are free-range barns here in Alberta, many of the barns are actually classified as ‘free-run’ because the birds roam freely indoors. Unfortunately, our cold climate here in Alberta is a challenge for keeping the birds outside all year long, so the free-run barn is a comparable alternative. In the free-run barn, the hens can move around freely and have access to nutritious feed and fresh water at all times. The barn also has nest boxes that the hens can use to lay their eggs with privacy. Having walked through the barn I was pleasantly surprised that the barn did not feel overcrowded even though there were a LOT of birds in it. The birds seemed to have lots of space to roam freely. Susan explained that issues such as infection and cannibalism can happen because it is in their nature, but they rarely experience any issues of this sort.
3. Bird Health
Although chickens do not require the same degree of health maintenance as that other farm animals (a horse, for example) the farm maintains a very good relationship with veterinarians to ensure the birds are in excellent health. Antibiotics are very, very rarely used. In the event that antibiotics need to be administered, the farm follows a 10-day withdrawal process. Of course, with the farm producing thousands of eggs per day, missing out on 10 days of production can be detrimental to the farm’s business, so the team does everything in their power to avoid the use of antibiotics on their farms.
4. From Farm to Grocery Store
Each bird produces 1 egg per day. As I mentioned, with 14,000 birds on site that means almost 14,000 eggs are being produced on a daily basis! Susan tells us that in the past she used to gather the eggs by hand by walking up and down rows when she was a young girl, but those days are long gone. Now, technology allows for egg production to be much more efficient. The eggs are gathered twice a day and stored in a cooling system until the grading station retrieves them. The grading station then washes and packages the eggs before they are shipped to grocery stores where they are ready to be purchased and consumed by us consumers.
We finished the day with an amazing lunch provided by Cracked YYC, whose head chef served us delicious gourmet recipes using local eggs as the main ingredient. Follow them on Instagram @crackedyyc to learn more.
A special thanks to Susan Schaefers for inviting us onto her farm, introducing us to the birds and showing us how egg production is done here in Alberta.