Some days Glen Jennings feels sorry for his son Blake.
“Blake will be working on something and I’m looking over his shoulder and then my Dad’s looking over my shoulder, all watching the same thing,” says Jennings, owner of Bayview Poultry Farm near Masstown, Nova Scotia.
Blake, 20, has chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps. Jennings made the same choice himself when he took the farm over from his dad, Cecil, who is 81 and still lives on the farm. Together, they comprise three of the five generations that have always run the business.
Bayview is an egg farm with 14,000 hens divided between two barns powered exclusively by wind turbines installed three years ago. As a result, the Jennings’ have branded their eggs ’eco-friendly.’
“Sobey’s [and] Co-op Atlantic have taken that on as premium product, so that’s been worth [the investment]. That’s paid off really well,” says Jennings.
The Jennings’ grow pumpkins and squash, as well. This is something that started with Blake growing gourds and selling them locally, and now 40 acres are dedicated. Most of the pumpkins and squash are sold either at the farm gate or through Sobey’s stores in Truro and Halifax, although some are left on the vine in a U-pick section.
This past spring, the family planted 60,000 seeds of squash and pumpkins, which are now being harvested every day between four in the afternoon and seven in the evening. Finding new markets for the squash and pumpkins keeps Blake occupied, when he’s not in the field or helping with the eggs.
Fall is a busy time at Bayview. When the harvest is done, it’s time to change over half of the laying flock. Each November, 7,000 of the hens from one of the two laying barns are processed into various animal feeds, including for mink.
It takes 7 days to clean the barn and then move in 7,000 18-week-old pullets sourced from one of three hatcheries in the Maritimes and raised from the time they are one day old. One week later they will begin laying their first eggs. This same process will happen again in spring, just before the squash and pumpkins are planted for a new year.
Changing over the birds and disinfecting the barn is part of the food safety program expected of licensed poultry farmers in the province. But it’s also about the eggs.
After a year, says Jennings, “the egg quality isn’t there anymore.”
A clean barn is one element of an on-farm food safety program called “Start Clean, Stay Clean,” certified by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and implemented by the Nova Scotia Egg Producers, according to the general manager of the organization, Patti Wyllie.
If an egg farm has more than 200 hens and wants to sell eggs, Wyllie says the farm has to score 90 per cent or better on this program and on an animal care program.
“They’re a wonderful farm,” says Wyllie of Bayview.
Did you know?
World Egg Day is celebrated on 10 October each year.
That Wyllie refers to the farm as they, or to the Jennings’ as a farm isn’t surprising. This many generations in, family and farm are entwined.
Twenty years ago, Jennings’ father, Cecil, and his uncle, Lloyd, divided the historical Jennings farm, which had been a poultry and dairy operation, into dairy and eggs, with Lloyd taking the former and Cecil taking the latter. Today, Jennings’ cousin runs the dairy operation, which is right beside the poultry farm.
When young Blake considers future endeavours, he thinks of how both farms could work together. He’d like to eventually build a feed mill, and thinks that producing the corn could be a joint venture with the dairy farm, sharing the labour and machinery.
“Growing up, with my grandfather living next door, and my cousins and great uncle on the dairy farm next door, working with my father ever since I could walk… it’s been bred into me,” he says.
No wonder that, as a boy playing hockey, it was the farm Blake would think about while away at tournaments. No wonder also that, as a young man, he has chosen to stay on the farm when others of his generation are heading west to find rich salaries in the oil fields.
“When I took the farm over from my Dad, you know, it was like ‘Holy cow I’m really in charge,’” says Jennings when asked which is more nerve-wracking, inheriting the farm or the prospect of his son taking it on. “But [Blake] choosing to take this lifestyle on at the same time, I’m very, very, very proud – and a little bit nervous as well.”