A Plympton-Wyoming family is among the first in the province to produce organic eggs in a unique barn.
William and Diana Schenk and their family have just completed their new organic layer barn on London Line and have moved 15,000 chickens into their new, spacious home this week. Before the birds went in, the Schenks showed hundreds of their neighbours the latest technology which will help them produce more than 10,000 organic eggs a day.
When the Schenks were considering expanding last year, they approached their egg buyer – Grayridge Egg Farms –to see if they would accept more product. That’s when the idea of organic egg farming was hatched.
William Schenk says he was looking for a new challenge and after investigating what it would take to produce the highly-sought after organic eggs, the family decided to take the plunge
Leanne Cooley of Grayridge Egg Farms worked the Schenks on the project. Cooley says to meet the organic standard, the chickens laying the eggs must not be in the traditional cages. Instead, the Schenk’s birds have a double-decker nesting system and can wander the length and width of the barn freely.
And, unlike traditional layers in production barns, these chickens will get to be outside.
The new barn boasts a Winter Garden – basically a porch which can be enclosed – which leads to a pasture. On days when the temperature rises above 15 degrees Celsius, small doors in the main barn open around noon leaving the chickens free to wander first into the covered porch and then into the pasture.
Cooley says the birds are trained to react to light, so when the sun starts sinking, they head to the lit Winter Garden. Those lights are dimmed and the birds move back into the barn to settle down for the night.
Cooley says European farmers have been using organic layer barns for sometime now but there are only five organic producers and two of this type of organic layer barn in all of Ontario.
Over the last decade, Cooley says demand for eggs was stable and organic sales were “flat – not really increasing.”
But with popularity of food TV shows and celebrity chefs, the demand over the last two years has jumped. “In the media, there is a lot of attention to celebrity chefs and they give a lot of attention to eating organic…and they encourage buying organic,” she says. That’s boosted consumer demand and makes the Schenk’s new organic product a hot commodity.
And while the family is meeting a market demand, Cooley says this type of production is good for the animals as well and doesn’t need as much space because the nesting boxes are in two layers instead of one.
The new system has taken over a year to build and Schenk says it will require a more hands on approach than the traditional barns on his home farm. “I love challenges,” he says, adding there is room next to the new barn for an expansion, when the time is right.
“There is a growing market for this and I love a new challenge.”