Here is a summary of our chat with Dr. Teryn Girard.
EFA: Egg Farmers of Alberta
PLV: Dr. Teryn Girard
Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
EFA: Today, the topic of our episode looks at the role of a poultry veterinarian as it relates to the egg industry. Veterinarians play a vital role in the industry in ensuring a farm’s flock is healthy and happy. Along with the farmers who inspect their flocks daily to look for any signs of distress. Veterinarians are a key piece of the industry in understanding the cause of a bird’s illness, health condition, or mortality. Our guest today is one of the veterinarians who works with a large portion of Alberta and Saskatchewan egg farmers with Prairie Livestock Veterinarians. A dynamic team of professionals who provide advanced strategies and solutions in the agriculture industry. We are pleased to welcome Dr. Teryn Girard to The Cracked Egg. Teryn is highly passionate about the poultry industry and has always had a keen interest in helping the industry. She is a graduate of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Thanks for joining us today on the show, Teryn.
PLV: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I’m looking forward to this.
EFA: Can you please share a little background on yourself, who you are, and how long you’ve been in the field?
PLV: Sure. I’m Dr. Teryn, I am a poultry veterinarian based out of Alberta, and I service Saskatchewan as well. Before I became a veterinarian, I obtained a master’s in poultry ethology, which is essentially poultry behavior with application animal welfare, and then decided I wanted to become a poultry vet.
EFA: What does a typical day in the life look like for you, knowing how many farms you work for? I can imagine you hit the road a lot!
PLV: Yeah, I do a lot of mobile work. We have a clinic in Red Deer and Lethbridge, so I work out of both clinics. And then I’m also the veterinarian for Cargill animal nutrition on the poultry side for Western Canada. Between those two positions, it involves a lot of preventative work, such as visiting farms and checking on how things are going. With that comes scheduling visits so that I have an idea of what every day is going to look like, and then emergency calls get scheduled on top of that. Every morning we’ll start with phone calls and emails and then typically barn visits and then stopping at the clinics to do some necropsies or post-mortems and go through lab results and any prescriptions that are required.
EFA: What would an emergency call for example look like?
PLV: It can be anything from a slight increase in mortality. This morning it was a phone call about decreased water consumption and just wanting to make sure that nothing else is coming down the pipe if the birds are stepping back from water a bit. Or it can be something as serious as Avian Influenza. It’s important that I’m near the phone usually in the morning because that’s when the producers are walking through their barns and going around and looking at the birds and seeing how they’re doing.
EFA: We’ve been very fortunate right now with Avian Influenza. I think we’ve only had one case this year.
PLV: Yeah, correct. A lot better than what we expected so far.
EFA: What led you to want to work in the poultry industry?
PLV: That’s such a famous question. When people find out I’m a poultry vet, they’re like, why? The first thing is the birds. I was fortunate when I came back after getting my undergrad and had traveled the world and saw quite a few different farms traveling the world and came back to Canada and was interested in studying farm animal welfare and farming standards. I came across the poultry industry and realized how great the standards are. And then I got to work with chickens, egg layers specifically, and I just adored them. I love their little personalities. I got to meet some of the producers or the farmers and a lot of the poultry researchers out of the U of A. So, to answer in short would be, I love chickens and turkeys. I adore poultry farmers; I just really appreciate the poultry community in Western Canada. It has been the most welcoming community and there are always opportunities to learn which I appreciate.
EFA: Now, I think you’ve just touched on this, but your favorite part of the job?
PLV: The birds and the producers, and they’re quite close together. Ultimately, as a veterinarian, I’m always going to love animals the most, but the producers or the farmers that I get to work with, just make my life so much more enriched and much more fun. I feel like I’ve grown this massive family that I’m so thankful for.
EFA: On the flip side, what’s the most challenging part?
PLV: By far the most challenging part has been avian influenza. That was very tough, it was tough on myself. It was tough on my team. They did a lot of legwork in the avian influenza outbreak in 2022. I think the more general tough part is making sure that I can be a voice for the producers and for the industry and say, I am so proud of all of our poultry industries and consumers should know how great this industry is. I’m really proud of it.
EFA: Now, a fascinating stat here in Alberta is that over 80% of Alberta egg farms are run by Hutterite families. With you getting the chance to visit these farms on a regular basis, what’s one thing that you would tell consumers about their level of work ethic and commitment to birds?
PLV: Yeah, it’s second to none. All of the egg producers I work with, and like you said, most are from Hutterite families. The level of technology is so much higher than you could envision. How hard they work to keep their birds healthy and happy, and how concerned they are about their birds to make sure that animal welfare is optimal. That is their primary concern. And then these people that raise poultry in layers specifically, they are some of the best people I’ve ever met. I look forward to working with them and it’s such an honor to be able to see inside their barns and meet them and their families. I always want people to realize that the people behind egg production or chicken production are just such incredible people that take so much pride and care in the birds.
EFA: Now, you mentioned animal welfare, and a crucial step in keeping a farm flock safe and healthy has been their biosecurity. For those who may not know, could you elaborate a bit on what biosecurity on a farm looks like?
PLV: Yeah, so just to define biosecurity, it’s essentially, in a very simple way, keeping diseases out of the barn, or if there is a disease in the barn, keeping it in the barn. So not tracking anything in or out. And so from a broad picture, that means not having plants outside the barns, because then you can have mice that then can bring diseases. And then as visitors ourselves, I park far away from the barn so that I don’t bring anything in from my vehicle. And when I step out of my car, I put on different boots. And then when I walk up to the barn, I put on boot covers over those boots. When I get into the barn, I wear different clothes or coveralls, different boots. Again, a hairnet, gloves and that’s just to keep the birds as safe as possible. There are even some facilities where you shower before you go inside. And these methods are brought forward so that the farmer can keep his or her birds as safe as possible from whatever is outside of the barn.
EFA: Now, when you do visit a farm, what are some of the indicators that you look for when you walk the barn and see the birds?
PLV: The first thing I’ll do when I walk the barn is the same thing that any other veterinarian is going to do, and it’s called a distance exam. I walk into the barn and I try not to disturb the birds and we’ll just watch them and I’ll watch how they behave and if they sound different or if they’re too quiet, I’ll smell the barn and see if there’s any different smells. And then when I’m walking the barns, I’m looking at how the birds are reacting to me. What does their poop look like? Are they eating and drinking? How does their general health look? Is there anything abnormal that’s catching my eye that I want to look further into?
EFA: Sound is interesting. How does that sort of tell?
PLV: I don’t know how to explain it, but the sound of something when I walk into an egg barn is once you get used to the different noises, you can hear the hens that have just laid an egg, and they sound so proud of themselves, and they’re letting the whole room know they’ve just laid an egg. It makes me smile every time. There are other ones that are kind of when they’re younger, it’s almost like a little coup. And so when you walk in and they’re kind of curious about what you’re doing, and they’re kind of talking to their flock mates, like, who is this person? If I walk in coveralls that are a different colour than the farmer’s coveralls, then it’s more of a high pitch noise. And sometimes I will be like, can you walk in front of me so they know not to be afraid of me? Last week, I walked a barn, and I went in first, and it was almost like the girls were saying, who is this? Who is this? So then I had the farmer walk in front of me, and then it was a completely different sound because it was more relaxed. I don’t know how to explain the sounds, but you can tell when they don’t want me there or when they’re really proud of themselves, or when they’re comfortable.
EFA: Now, you look at pullets and laying hens, correct?
PLV: I do, yeah.
EFA: Could you explain the difference between the two?
PLV: Yeah, in our team, we say the pullets are the little girls. They’re the girls that come in as chicks. And up until about 18-19 weeks of age, they’re brought up in a different barn called a pullet barn. And that’s when we really focus on helping them build their body frame and getting their bodies ready to lay eggs and go through puberty and getting them the vaccines they need to make sure that they stay healthy. It’s basically helping them become the older girls, which are the laying hands that then go through puberty and lay the eggs that we eat.
EFA: If you could say one thing about this industry that everyone should know, what would it be?
PLV: Oh, that’s so hard. I mean, I’m biased, but I think if I could say one thing, I would say that everybody could be proud of the way that poultry is raised in Alberta or in Canada. The welfare standards of egg layers specifically in pullets, are incredibly high. And producers are held to such a high standard that includes many audits, often third-party audits, and the producers themselves. I know I’ve said this already, they are incredible humans, but the amount of care and love that they put into these birds and producing safe and quality food for us, we should just be so thankful for that because it really is an honor to be able to eat the food that’s produced.
EFA: That is wonderful to hear and that ends our episode today. We really appreciate you, Teryn, for joining us here and sharing your insight and experience in the industry. Your work is much appreciated. And on behalf of Alberta egg farmers, thank you for everything that you do and continue to do.
PLV: Oh, thank you so much!