P.E.I. egg farmer installs humane chicken cages

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on July 5, 2014

Poultry farmer Nathan Burns showcases his newly installed enriched colony system for his hens, the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. It meets the most humane European standards. 

Guardian photo by Teresa Wright.

A P.E.I. egg farmer is going above and beyond in ensuring his chickens remain happy and healthy.

Nathan Burns of Freetown is installing the first enriched colony system for his hens, the first of its kind in Canada.

It adheres to the most progressive European standards for humane treatment of poultry hens.

The spacious new cages have a private curtained-off area for laying eggs, plenty of perch space, a file for their nails and a conveyor belt below the cages that takes the eggs directly to a federally-inspected grading facility next door.

Burns said these Italian-made cages were more expensive than those generally used in Canada, but he said he wanted to ensure he was meeting the strictest standards for the humane treatment of his chickens.

“This is all about animal care, animal comfort,” Burns said.

“If you don’t have happy animals, they don’t do very well. It’s key, they need to be healthy, they need to be happy, we’re providing the amenities that allow them to display their natural behavior.”

In 2012, the European Union banned the use of battery cages for laying hens, due to their small, restrictive size. These smaller cages are the industry standard in Canada, but Burns believes that may soon change.

He felt he would only be wise to adopt the most progressive standards, as this is likely the way the industry will go, especially in light of the Canada-European Trade Agreement.

“We’ve been here seven generations, hopefully we’ll be here for another seven, so let’s take the plunge and go with a fully-enriched system and we’ll be one of the first,” Burns said.

He pointed to supply management as key in his ability able to make such a substantial capital investment into his farm.

Knowing he will be getting stable farm income allows him the peace of mind to know he will be able to make ends meet and make all of his payments.

“This is a significant financial investment, with supply management… we can financially plan for that. In some of the other (agriculture) industries, that would be extremely difficult and much huger risk to take going forward.”

The Burns farm hens will be moved into their new digs at the end of July. A second barn with the new enriched colony housing cages will be ready for more of their hens in January.