An Inside Look at Burnbrae Farms Egg Farming Farm Tour
Living on a farm is tough in itself but building a farm from it’s roots into a family run national farm to table food supplier, putting food in the mouths of families all over Canada, is far more impressive. Recently I had the generous opportunity to visit Burnbrae Farms main facilities in Brockville, Ontario, giving me an inside look at how one egg supplier went from a high-school project many moons ago, to the number one Canadian egg supplier we see today.
As with anyone in the BIG leagues, one must have their own mascot; doesn’t this happy egg just make you smile? I have to mention that it was a hot and sunny day to be an egg mascot, really hot. Burnbrae Farms may be in the big leagues when it comes to the size of operation but after spending time investigating the ins and outs of the facilities and finding a family member around every turn, I can tell you they have not let it go to their heads.
The Hudson family farm history known as Burnbrae Farms began over 100 years ago but it wasn’t until 1943 when Joe and Grant Hudson started into the world of egg production as a highschool project, evolving to the production you see today of over 300,000 laying hens. As the story goes, Joe didn’t care much for dairy farming because he had to get up too early in the morning and chickens don’t lay their eggs until around mid-morning; enough said. I guess teens are more similar from 1943 to today than we thought. Snicker.
Whether the timing of production is the real reason or the family is just poking fun at how this all began, some facts remains the same, the Hudson family knows eggs and the care of their chickens.
After travelling from all areas of Canada, thirteen bloggers met up at Burnbrae Farms head office for our tour of the Burnbrae Farms hen housing and egg processing facilities. Naturally what may have once been farmland smack-dab in the middle of Mississauga Ontario was not where we would end up. Today one of Burnbrae Farms main production facilities is located in Brockville, Ontario, just a short 3 hour jaunt so what did we do? We hopped on the egg party bus of course where we were spoiled by the amazing folks at Burnbrae Farms with swag and our very own rubber boots, doesn’t candy apple red look lovely on Jody of Mommy Moment? I think Heather of MMM is for Mommy thinks so.
A party bus isn’t a party without food, eggs naturally, and egg shenanigans but it wasn’t all fun and games, we were egg-ucated by the knowledgeble Margaret Hudson, better known as @eggladybbf for you Twitter peeps. If you have an egg related question, I can guarantee Margaret will know the answer.
I’ve been a Burnbrae Farms Brand Ambassador for a year now and although I may have lots of egg recipes, know a lot about eggs, the importance of eggs in your diet and so on, I was surprised at what I didn’t know. As a farmer I may have been more interested in more behind the scenes facts than a suburbanite but facts I didn’t know and thought would be interesting for all of you who asked questions ahead were (for reader questions….keep reading):
- Burnbrae Farms was the first to introduce Omega 3 eggs to the Canadian market in 1996
- Burbrae Farms introduced the first egg-white product in 1997
- Burnbrae Farms rallied for recycled PET plastic which was introduced as packaging for Naturegg Omega 3 eggs in 1996
When we arrived at the farm in Brockville we were surprised with a lovely lunch by a local restaurant, the Brockberry Cafe; I encourage you if ever in the area to go immediately there for some good eats. I had never tried an apple and caramelized onion omelette before but WOW, my taste buds exploded and had me adding it to my list of must-make.
After we were all full on fuel; we headed out to the barns where we saw firsthand what the hen housing was like. I had an idea but was pleasantly surprised by the innovative and ever-changing systems the Burnbrae Farms family has developed. I was most excited to learn that although there are proven systems in place, Burnbrae Farms is continually researching systems to ensure a happy medium in animal welfare and consumer demands. Hens are the Burnbrae Farms business, the results are the top notch quality egg products we see in stores; it is in their best interest to ensure their hens are happy, healthy and well cared for.
The Difference in Hen Housing
Burnbrae Farms have three different types of housing for the hens; conventional, enriched and free-run.
- Conventional Housing Systems – Hens are housed in smalls social groups and research has shown that raising hens in smaller social groups helps to reduce aggression and disease. The hens have equal access to feed and water.
- Enriched Colony Housing Systems – Enclosures are designed to provide all hens with the same benefits of conventional housing, but with the added benefits of perches, nestling areas and more space.
- Free Run Housing System – Hens are allowed to move around freely to nestle and roost how.
As a farmer I know livestock care and know the process but I thought I would be happier to see the hens in a free run housing system with more room to roam; I quickly realized that hens are a flock animal and there truly is a pecking order, like many Alpha species. In a free run system with lots of room, you will still see the hens all flocked into one area, sometimes piled on top of each other. With a pecking order the hens lower on the totem pole will end up picked on, injured or killed by other hens; despite precautionary measures taken by Burnbrae Farms for the care of the hens and by course of nature, the mortality rate is higher in this system. In smaller housing systems, like conventional and enriched, there are less hens to a cage with water and food available at either ends of the cage to avoid the pecking order as much as possible; the hens have a better chance in this environment.
Personally I liked the nesting option of the enriched housing system but as with more space requirements, more time involved and higher overhead, enriched housing eggs are priced a little higher than conventional housed eggs. What I liked most about Burnbrae Farms is that they have listened to their consumers and are providing options for you to make your own choice of egg purchases. Housing systems are continually being researched and innovative systems are being tested with animal care and consumer demands in mind for a happy medium.
Inside the Processing Facility
Egg production starts at collection. Regulations in Canada requires all eggs sold in stores to be washed where other countries, like Europe, do not. This natural coating is left on in other countries by not washing the eggs, because it seals the porous shell from harmful bacteria; once washed, eggs must be refrigerated.
Each Burnbrae Farms egg goes through rigorous testing, cleaning and processing to ensure only the best quality eggs reach your table. One of their processes for example, the innovative stamping system allows track-able codes right back to the barn collected from, should the need arise. With over 300,000 hens to care for, streamlining and perfecting the process only makes sense. After seeing the facilities for myself, from barn to table, I can tell you that Burnbrae Farms knows what they are doing and cares for their hens and consumers like they care for their family, prominent in the company today. I feel good about buying eggs from this family farm and proud to be a Burnbrae Farms Brand Ambassador.
Q: Jennifer Beckett asked…Are they considering increasing the percentage of free range hens, so that more chickens have access to being outdoors? How are they improving the chickens lives? I want to buy my eggs from happy chickens.
A: Hens, like other birds, need to stay within certain temperatures; 20 degrees Celsius is optimum for a comfortable and happy hen. Burnbrae does not currently have Free-Range Hens because of the climate they are subjected to during Canadian winters, in terms of production and health. Burnbrae does however have Free-Run Hens which allows for the hens to be outside of cages in the optimum environment for production and health. To learn more about the different housing options, please read more above.
Q: Suzanne Kristy asked…Is the yolk really THAT unhealthy to be consuming?
A: No. The yolk contains the highest nutrients, including 90% of the calcium and the nutrient choline, an essential nutrient for brain health and not found in the whites and when eaten in moderation (especially Omega enriched egg products) may actually aid in the reduction triglyceride levels, reducing the risk of heart attacks. Although years ago the yolks were deemed bad for your cholesterol, new studies show yolks are actually good for you when eaten in moderation. Canada’s Food Guide considers 2 whole eggs one serving of Meat and Alternatives Food Group. Omega 3 Pro egg products are even higher in nutrients because the hens are fed an Omega rich diet of flax seed. If you eat Omega 3 Pro eggs you can toss aside the fish oil supplements for real food, eggs!
Q: Lori R Jackson asked…Hubby came home with a dozen “double yoke” eggs…how do they know there are 2 yokes in there?
A: Candling! These days they still call it candling but they process is done by a much faster light/belt system. Before that however, I found out double yolks are always laid by younger hens, “still figuring out” the laying process; consider it much like a pubescent teen girls where their human bodies are figuring out the menstrual cycle; it takes awhile before the body becomes regular. The obvious sign you have a double yolk egg is a larger egg. See the image above.
Q: Joy Kelly Mills asked…If there is blood in the yolk, should the whole egg be discarded? Why is it there sometimes?
A: Burnbrae Eggs go through rigorous testing to find imperfections, including light/belt candling, a microphone/sound testing to check for cracks, size, and other imperfections so finding a blood spot inside a Burnbrae Farms egg is practically impossible. Grade A eggs are free of imperfections. In lower grade eggs or farm eggs, you may find a blood spot but it’s simply a part of nature, not harmful nor does it mean the egg is less nutritious. A blood spot sometimes occurs when the hen drops the yolk; it’s just nature, sometimes it happens. This does not mean a blood spot is part of a chick; roosters are required to hatch chicks just like any other mammal with the addition of a prime incubated environment. Burnbrae Farms does not have roosters; they purchase one day old chicks from a nearby hatchery. Hens can lay unfertilized eggs, just like a human can ovulate without becoming pregnant.
Disclosure: I am participating in the Burnbrae Farms Blogger Farm Tour program as a guest of Burnbrae Farms. All opinions are 100% my own.