Abraham Frey's 450 free range hens live out their lives in a spacious barn, and run through green fields in the summer.
The egg farmer from the Township of Sables-Spanish River has been raising chickens since the 1980s and always prioritised the chickens' health, and he thinks consumers are starting to as well.
“It's healthier for the chickens to be running around then to be in cages,” said Frey. “People are thinking more of the health of the animal, if the health of the animal is there, the health of the product is going to be there.”
More egg farmers will be housing their chickens like Frey's after the Egg Farmers of Canada's announcement of an industry wide shift away from conventional and crowded housing.
Going forward, new buildings will have to fit into one of the alternative housing models; free range, free run, aviary or enriched.
Roger Pelissero is a third-generation egg farmer in St. Ann's, in southern Ontario, and represents Ontario at the Egg Farmers of Canada. His 16,000 hens transitioned to new housing three years ago.
“I think it's fantastic because my son just came back to the farm full time last year and it sets the course for how eggs will be produced in the future,” said Pelissero. “We are taking care of the hens.”
Pelissero said there will be a slight increase in the cost of eggs to consumers, but stressed that housing does not account for a large amount of the cost of raising hens.
Bill Mitchell from the Egg Farmers of Ontario said his farmers replace their barns every 15 to 20 years, and have to go through his organization to have equipment approved. The transition is estimated to take 20 years. Mitchell said this will help mitigate any financial or labour strain by allowing farmers to comply as they build new structures, rather than by replacing existing barns.
There are around 325 full-time egg farmers in Ontario, and 1,500 part-time. All fall under the jurisdiction of the Egg Farmers of Canada, who will enforce the new standard through their regular inspections.
Frey's 450 chicken operation is small compared to the average full-time egg farmers' in Ontario, which sits around 26,000 chickens. Fortunately, his housing already abides by the new standards, and he'll keep on raising his hens like he always has.