Happier chickens result in happier farmers
Efforts to improve animal welfare are paying off for a local chicken farmer. Braydon Olszowka and his family operate a traditional poultry broiler operation outside Delhi. To understand where they are today with the latest in poultry technology, it’s necessary to look back at the family history in the industry.
Frank Olszowka, Braydon’s grandfather, started the family in poultry farming.
“We were a traditional tobacco farming family,” Braydon said. “In 1980, he bought his first chicken operation in the Waterford area. He gradually added to the chicken operation. In the late 1990s, we were fully out of tobacco and into chickens.”
Braydon didn’t originally start in the family poultry business, but went to school for finance and accounting. “As a result of connections, I worked for a turkey genetics company and travelled the world,” he said.
His job with Hendrix Genetics started in logistics, but with knowledge of poultry he moved into sales and production planning for farmers. “I moved around quick when I was there,” he said. “I knew the industry and could talk to people.”
Five years ago, his grandfather had a stroke. At the time, Frank was actively managing the poultry operation with Braydon’s mother Rhonda.
“Once he had a stroke, he couldn’t be here on a daily basis,” Braydon said. “Somebody had to come back and manage this.”
His brothers Ashton and Harrison Lechowicz owned a barn with Braydon and looked after the chickens while he was away. His mother and grandfather had another couple of barns. When Braydon returned, they did a full business succession.
Braydon looked at the three farms, one of which was the original in the Waterford area. With the distance involved and the operational costs for an older barn, he found it made sense to amalgamate the operation at the two farms closer to Delhi.
As the president of the company, Braydon put into play a lot of what he learned while travelling the world and seeing other poultry operations.
Part of that was switching to a modular loading for transportation of the chickens from the barn to the truck. “The birds are handled one time before they’re in the plant instead of multiple times.”
Two new single-story barns were built. Braydon explained a two-story barn operates effectively, however it is a bigger challenge for ventilation. The new barn is tunnel ventilated.
“It’s something you see in the south because they deal with intense periods of prolonged heat,” he said. The barn also has an insulated floor.
Upgrades were also made to the water treatment system, even though it met all the standards before. Treatment is used in the new system to lower the pH in the water, which helps the acidity in the bird’s stomach and aids digestion. Chlorine is injected to keep the water nipples clear – just like in a home. “With the genetics today, I feel you are missing out if you’re not treating the water,” Braydon said.
All these things combined result in an improvement in growth rates and better animal health.
There hasn’t been a big change in the quota base, however there are plans to build another barn with the goal of lowering the bird density in the barn.
“We’re continually decreasing the bird density in the building,” Braydon said. “Even before we built, we met all poultry and animal welfare guidelines. Once again, it’s business. Lowering bird density decreases any bacterial pressure that may be present, allows for improved ventilation, and as a result birds become more comfortable and bird health goes up once again.”
With better bird health, there are fewer problems. “I will achieve the growth rates the bird is capable of genetically,” Braydon said. Between the two farms, there are roughly 130,000 chickens raised per crop. Each farm is slightly different, but there are around six crops per year with it taking 46 to 52 days to raise a bird. “With the balanced feed diet we give, it has no reason not to perform like a human athlete on a balanced diet trying to achieve optimum growth,” Braydon said. “It’s a business for us but we do care about the animals.”
There are about 80 acres between the two farms combined. There is asparagus on one farm and another 140 acres rented for cash crops.
All manure from the chicken operation is taken off site when the crop is changed. The barn is then cleaned out, disinfected and new shavings are put in.
Although there are two barns with heated floors, Braydon prefers at minimum to insulate the entire floor. “That chicken stands on that floor,” he said. “Imagine a chicken, a day-old chicken, standing on the floor. It will be more comfortable.”
He said by pre-heating the building before the birds come in, insulation isn’t needed. With the heated floor, the three inches of shavings will not allow the heat to rise.
The insulated floor also stays dry because there isn’t condensation transferring into the litter.
Part of the plan is to switch from the older two-story barns to newer single-story buildings if the right opportunity presents itself. In the future, adding more birds are a possibility but only if another barn is built to keep the goal of the density at or under 2 kg/square-foot.