A trend is becoming more popular amongst Alberta poultry producers: expanding barns and operations for the same amount of chickens. But making chicken health a top priority is nothing new to the industry.
“Many of our producers are expanding their existing operations,” said Karen Kirkwood, executive director with Alberta Chicken Producers.
In Alberta, the poultry industry is facing a bright future, and across the country more than 90 per cent of chicken farms are family owned and operated.
“There’s an opportunity for our producers to grow more products,” said Kirkwood.
Many of the expansions can be attributed to making sure the barns provide enough space and the chickens are grown responsibly.
Kirkwood says most of Alberta’s chickens are raised for meat production and having the large barns for the birds is beneficial. “They are free to roam, they aren’t kept in cages.”
In 2004 Alberta implemented a mandatory food safety program. “We were the leaders in the country for having our producers certified in this program,” said Kirkwood.
However, she says Alberta’s producers and its poultry industry has been proactive in developing and adhering to its own animal care programs.
“Our industry has been a leader in animal care,” said Kirkwood. She says those with Alberta Chicken Producers must be annually certified in the organization’s animal care program in order to maintain their licensing.
The program covers industry areas such as stocking density, the amount of feeders and waterers in a barn, nutrition management and barn management.
Biosecurity at the farm level is also a priority for producers. “It’s basically about keeping the chickens healthy and safe,” said Kirkwood.
A large part of this practice is making sure bugs and germs from the outside world are not exposed to the flocks. This goes as far as ensuring visitors to poultry farms change shoes or wear footwear covers, hairnets and other articles of clothing cover deemed appropriate. Kirkwood says many are not able to drive their vehicles near the barns to keep foreign pollutants away.
“It’s really about minimizing any contamination,” said Kirkwood.
Because the producers uphold the programs, knowing a extra work short-term holds many benefits in the long run, Kirkwood says chickens produced in Alberta are healthy and of a high quality.
Healthy birds also benefit the industry as a whole and the consumers, as Kirkwood says with good practices in place the products can be trusted by consumers.
Hormone and steroid use in poultry production was banned in Canada 50 years ago and antibiotics are something the industry keeps in check.
In May 2014, the use of category 1 antibiotics, those commonly found in human medication, was also banned.
Kirkwood explains that there is a consumer perception when it came to the antibiotics and the poultry industry felt an accompanying response was warranted.