Family egg business carries on, with upgraded technology

MORRIS, Man. — Just inside the entrance of the barn glows something that combines two of Harley Siemens’ passions: farming and electronics.

It’s a computerized barn management master control system that oversees every element of the 23,000 bird egg operation. If anything goes wrong, alerts are fired out to Harley’s or his dad’s cellphones, wherever they are.

“I might be in an egg policy meeting in Ottawa when I get a notification. I’ll call Harley and he’ll probably tell me ‘I’ve already fixed it,’ ” said Kurt, an egg industry leader and the third generation of egg farmers in the family.

Fourth generation Harley completed his agriculture diploma at the University of Manitoba and got married all within a week in early May.

He’s keen to get more involved with the family egg business now that he’s back on the farm almost full time.

He and Brooklyn, his wife, were hoping to move onto the farm site when his parents, Kurt and Tami, moved to a new house.

Brooklyn, originally from Morris, beams when she talks about the move.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said of the lush, green landscape. “I’m excited to live in the country.”

Brooklyn owns a hairdessing business in Morris, but because town is so close she doesn’t think she’ll have any trouble bridging city and country.

Harley and Kurt speak easily about how they will all work together on the farm. Kurt says that’s because they’re relaxed about discussing it.

“We’ve talked lots of times about what the future looks like,” said Kurt.

That includes talking about how the farm can be modelled to fit the demands of the future.

“He knows free run and what those systems look like,” said Kurt about new egg barn styles the farm might choose to adopt.

That’s a challenging situation for egg farmers, since it is unclear what consumers and grocers want farmers to do when it comes to chicken housing. Some want free-range, some want free run, some want enhanced housing and some want the cheap eggs.

The Siemens’ barn has a mix of old and new style cages for their 23,000 birds, with all the new lines having the enhanced or enriched cages that give birds more room to move around and perch.

Before switching over any more of the cages to the enriched ones, they have to decide if they should go that way or move toward free-run egg production, which would require a new barn.

It’s a tough choice, but dealing with tough calls is something farmers like the Siemens are used to.

“I like risk,” said Harley.

The barn is mostly automated, with conveyors moving eggs along the lines to be collected and stored in another part of the barn, where they are refrigerated until picked up by the egg truck.

On this morning, Harley’s brother, Eyob, had just checked the birds and barn as the elder Siemens walked a visitor over for a tour.

Harley has known he has wanted to farm full time since he was 15. Before that, he fantasized about selling cars or being involved in electronics.

“I love cars. I love electronics.”

Farming gives him most of that, with machinery, technology and electronics woven into every element.

The family celebrates farming as a way of life. Kurt has long been willing to get out and talk to the public about egg farming and he has encouraged Harley to get out and do that too.

Harley is a member of a number of young farmer organizations and volunteers at the nearby University of Manitoba Farm and Food Discovery Centre.

“I love talking about farming,” said Harley.

“I love giving presentations. It’s a little different than working by yourself or with dad.”

Kurt encourages the public outreach because he thinks that is the only thing that keeps people liking farmers.

“I think you have to if you want people to know what agriculture’s all about. If you want public trust, you have to be transparent.”

That also applies to dealing with other farmers, who often have no clue what egg farming is all about.

“I brought tons of people through here,” said Harley of his agriculture diploma program friends.

“I was the only egg farmer. I was the only one who had even been inside an egg barn.”

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