Chickens beat out cows in expansion plan

WAINWRIGHT, Alta. — Farm diversification doesn’t necessarily mean adding a few chickens to the yard. Sometimes it can mean 120,000 chickens.

When Greenbelt Farms diversified, it choose broiler chickens over more milk cows and quota.

“There seemed to be more opportunity in chickens than in the dairy business,” said Paul Rajotte, one of five family members who are partners in Greenbelt Farms, near Wainwright.

“It was easier to pay back the chickens than dairy,” said Rajotte, in charge of the dairy operation.

Rajotte’s father, Charles, started farming in 1952 with cows, pigs and chickens. Gradually, family members joined the farm and it started to grow.

In 1997, the family expanded the dairy herd to 425 cows, but when it came time for another expansion, broiler chickens won out.

The broiler facility, built in 2009, can raise about 120,000 birds every 40 days. The chicks arrive from the hatchery one day old and stay in the four barns, within the divided structure. Each separate barn holds about 40,000 birds.

The chickens are contracted with Lilydale and at 40 days the finished birds are trucked to Calgary for processing and sold as fresh chicken. Lilydale’s main customer is Costco.

After the chickens leave, the barn is cleaned, washed, disinfected and bedded with chopped canola straw. Fifteen days later another 40,000 chicks arrive.

Processing their own feed in their own feedmill is another way to save money and diversify, said Andre Poulin, who looks after the chickens and helps with the 9,000 acres of crops.

Each week, the poultry rations are processed in the farm’s feed mill, operated by partner Marc Rajotte.

The feed mill makes all the feed rations for the dairy and poultry operations and also carries out some custom mineral beef rations for clients.

A new triple roller was added to speed the process and control particle size. The increased feed efficiency with the changing rations in the broiler barn is expected to quickly pay for the new triple roller in the feed mill.

Their goal is to improve the feed conversion efficiency of the birds, with their special rations.

Poulin said they are hoping to add fababeans, seeded this spring on their farm, to the chicken’s feed ration as a partial protein replacement.

Greenbelt Farms is also raising sex selected heifer dairy calves. By using specially sexed semen, Rajotte will calve 90 percent heifers, keeping what he needs as replacements and selling the rest to existing dairy farms.

Since Christmas, he has sold more than 300 head of dairy heifers.

The dairy cattle are divided into two herds. The high producing dairy cows are milked three times a day and the lower producing cows are milked twice a day.