Sollio Agriculture-Avantis in Saint-Léonard, New Brunswick, and Cox Atlantic Chick Hatchery in Maitland, Nova Scotia, were joint winners of a 2020 ‘Flock Award’. Poultry World delved into the reasons behind their success.
Only a select few each year are presented with a ‘Flock Award’: an annual honour given to top-performing companies in the North America/Central America region by Cobb, a global broiler genetics firm based in the US.
Cobb started this awards programme in 2004 and in 2020, 4 facilities in Canada received them. Joint winners of one of these awards are Sollio Agriculture-Avantis in Saint-Léonard, New Brunswick, and Cox Atlantic Chick Hatchery in Maitland, Nova Scotia, for a flock with the largest number of total eggs per hen housed.
Avantis Co-operative is the largest agricultural co-op in Quebec and the largest in the Sollio Co-operative Group which was established in 1922. Sollio has more than 123,000 members, comprising agricultural producers and consumers grouped into almost 50 co-ops. It has 3 divisions: Sollio Agriculture (farm inputs and value-added agronomic services, with 355 retailers and facilities across Canada), Olymel (meat processing) and BMR Group (building supplies). The cooperative was formed in 2018 through the merger of five Sollio co-ops, with a sixth joining in 2021. It has a staff of 1200 and is owned by 2,600 producers.
At present, together with its partners, Avantis has 46 barns, producing 15 million kg of broiler chicken, 1 million kg of turkey and 2 million dozen eggs a year in total. Along with other Sollio co-ops, it also recently purchased Couvoir Côté, a Quebec-based hatchery that produces 20 million chicks per year.
The particular Avantis operation recognised with a Flock Award has four broiler barns with 10,000 birds each, one male barn and 2 broiler breeder barns. Eggs are sent to Cox (3 hours’ drive), Westco (45 minutes away) and a Sollio hatchery (about 4 hours) for hatching. “We have an average of 80% fertility in our eggs, and we are very proud to have gained another percent in the last year,” says Doris Bérubé, who has been farm supervisor since 2018. “For a number of eggs per hen housed, for which we won the award, we tend to have an average of 180 but had one barn in 2020 where that was 184.2.”
In terms of how he and his team achieved this high number, Bérubé says a large part of the focus is on feeding strategy. Both pullets and adult broiler breeder hens receive a conventional feed that includes animal and plant-based ingredients. The feed formula has stayed basically the same for many years. Feed is given in a skip-day schedule, it is placed in the feedline in the dark and then the lights are turned on for feeding.
“We make sure we feed a little under the chart up to 16 weeks, and then from 16 to 20 weeks we give significantly more feed to make sure they gain a lot of weight in that period,” Bérubé explains. “We stay on a tight schedule to manage bird weight, with at least one conference call each week with all staff, including Cobb expert Benoit Lanthier, depending on the age of the flocks at that point. Good ventilation is also important. For lighting, we start with a high intensity on day one to make sure they can find feed and water, and then reduce the intensity.”
It’s equally important to manage feeding closely in both the broiler breeder and male barns, says Bérubé, to make sure the birds are in perfect condition. “We are feeding less to the hens now compared to two years ago, because they are more feed efficient,” he explains. “The males are also tending to be smaller now than several years ago but we feed them more now than we have in the past to ensure their fertility, but we also have to make sure we don’t overfeed them. It’s a fine balance; if they get too big, their fertility drops.” The males currently produced by Bérubé and his team are Cobb Mx. In terms of future goals Bérubé would like to have the other broiler breeder barn also achieve an average of over 180 eggs per hen housed. He would also like to achieve higher fertility. “We are very excited to be recognized by Cobb,” he says, “and we plan to keep on improving.”
Cox Atlantic started in 1986 and completed a major expansion in 2017. It produces 10 million chicks a year for various customers using a multi-stage Chickmaster system. Brad Dalrymple, co-owner and manager, points to precision as the key to overall success. Calibration of all the automated equipment is critical to ensure the environment for the chicks stays consistent. The temperature in the hatching system is held at 99.6°C and humidity at 83%. “We have an experienced team ready to deal with any technical issues and it’s rare to have a problem that our staff can’t resolve quickly on site,” says Dalrymple. He adds that: “the eggs in the cooler storage must also be kept at the right, consistent conditions prior to incubation. And the pre-warming process is very important prior to moving eggs into the incubator so as not to affect conditions in the incubator. In addition, our staff is well trained in gentle handling”. Staff evaluate chick quality with every hatch.
After hatching, there is automated separation of chicks and shells, and automated chick counting has been in place since 2015. The shells are composted and spread on fields by local farmers. Dalrymple is very pleased about the Cobb award. “We have an excellent working relationship with Avantis and Pondeuses Atlantique,” he says, “and I am very proud to be part of the process and help their producer group be successful.”