Net-Zero Egg Barn, Blog Post #9 – 2 Years Later: December 3/2018

When we last visited the net-zero egg barn at Brant Colony, back in December 2016, egg manager Darrel Mandel was caring for his first flock, and the live-feed cameras had just come online.  Fast-forwarding two years, Darrel is now caring for his third flock of laying hens and has also raised several flocks of pullets, for both himself and other Alberta egg farmers.  Looking back, Darrel is pleased with his decision to build the net-zero egg barn, featuring an aviary hen housing system.

“I feel it was a great decision to be part of the net-zero project,” noted Darrel, during a recent visit.  “First, it has been great to help the industry accomplish its goals for this project.  Second, it has been great for our farm.  Not only because of all the additions to our barn, but also for increasing our awareness about how an improved construction plan can enhance our energy efficiency.”

When asked about the greatest benefit of the net-zero barn project, Darrel shared his insights.  “I think most of all, the greatest benefit is what the industry will get and has gotten out of this project already, in terms of having a state-of-the-art facility it can both learn from and share with others in the egg and agriculture industry.  We have learned how solar panels contribute, and how the Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) unit performs in the western Canadian climate.  Even though we are still working through some issues with the HRV and will understand the true benefits even more in time, we have seen how it and the other technologies incorporated into the barn’s design have resulted in utility savings, as well as a better climate inside the barn for both the birds and barn workers.”

The net-zero barn project was always meant to be an educational tool for the industry, to better understand the potential positive impacts various design features and technologies could have on an egg barn’s ability to balance energy inputs and outputs.  At this point in time, the layer portion of the barn has successfully achieved net-zero status for electricity.

For Egg Farmers of Alberta, the net-zero barn has become a success story and a focal point the entire provincial egg industry can be proud of.  Egg manager Darrel and the folks at Brant Colony have been wonderful hosts for several events over the past two years, eagerly taking reporters, bloggers, politicians, students, consumers, industry stakeholders and fellow egg farmers on tours through the barn.  Darrel always makes the time to explain every unique detail of the barn’s construction, point out the energy efficient technology that the project funding made possible, and thoughtfully answer any questions guests have for him.

When asked to reflect on the past two years and share any key learnings or insights he has gleaned from his involvement with the net-zero project, Darrel prefers to look at the big picture.  “Never underestimate something you initially have no clue about, even if it may appear unpredictable at the start.  The valuable information made available through this project has greatly benefited both our farm and the egg industry.  It helped us make decisions to enhance the barn even beyond what was covered under the project funding.  By being involved, we started thinking more strategically about every decision, wondering what we could do differently or tweak in order to make the barn more energy efficient.”

Being asked to regularly open his barn doors for visitors and install live-feed cameras inside the barn may have initially been a little out of Darrel’s comfort zone, but he has become a natural and passionate Egg Ambassador!  “The farm tours were something I was not fond of going in, but the results of giving the public the chance to learn more about where their eggs come from and how they are produced, is an overwhelmingly positive feeling.  The gap between farmers and consumers is huge and all of us in agriculture need to do our part to help close that gap.  For a farmer, considering any project or opportunity with a “what’s in it for me” point of view is the wrong approach.  Instead, I would encourage farmers to get involved as much as possible, to benefit the industry as a whole.”

Brant Colony egg manager Darrel Mandel sits with his birds, inside the net-zero barn’s free-run aviary hen housing system.  The red lights were added to help reduce feather pecking and Darrel has definitely noticed a substantial improvement in the feather cover of his flock, which is an indicator of enhanced animal welfare for the birds.

Canadian Poultry has published a couple articles about the net-zero barn at Brant Colony over the past few years.  They have reviewed the project and its technical achievements, interviewed representatives from Brant Colony, Egg Farmers of Alberta and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, and shared how this initiative is just one step in EFA’s journey towards building a sustainable egg industry in Alberta.