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Manitoba egg farmer Catherine Kroeker-Klassen, her brother James Kroeker and dad Warren Kroeker start every day with eggs — 16,000 of them, in fact.
That’s how many eggs the 16,600 hens lay on the fourth-generation family farm, Oakdale Farms Ltd. near Landmark, a half-hour southeast of Winnipeg.
Based on retail sales, it’s clear Canadian consumers want more of what the country’s 1,100 egg farmers have to offer.
After a few flat years, owing to a cholesterol scare (see sidebar) which has since petered out, last year egg sales in Canada climbed 5.6 per cent. That capped off a full decade of growth, which saw sales rocket 27 per cent. In the food business, such growth in a well-established commodity such as eggs is huge. So what’s up?
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has some answers. For one, consumers are shifting toward more protein-driven diets, and eggs are a relatively cheap protein source. Some consumers went to eggs for protein when meat prices skyrocketed and many stayed.
As well, people are eating eggs and other foods in place of cold cereal for breakfast.
Plus, in the restaurant and fast food business, products containing liquid egg whites, such as yolk-free omelettes and breakfast sandwiches, are hot items.
And there’s no question Canadian egg sales have benefitted from the local food movement.
“Demand is strong for natural, whole food items — and more Canadians are turning to products that are nutritious and produced by local farmers,” says Bonnie Cohen, director of marketing for Egg Farmers of Canada.
The egg sector’s steady growth hasn’t caught Oakdale Farms flat footed. Early on, Kroeker-Klassen and her family saw sales start surging. So seven years ago, they added an extra row of housing in their barn, expanding their production by one-third.
And many more changes are to come, as the industry moves toward modern hen housing. Earlier this year, federal codes of practices governing the care and handling of farm animals were revised for poultry, and one of the biggest changes is replacing individual “battery” cages with freer, more communal housing approaches.
Options include aviaries, free-run barns and what’s called “enriched” housing. There, 10 to 100 hens are kept in small colonies and allowed to exhibit natural behaviours such as perching, scratching and laying their eggs in private nests.
Nationally, farmers have until 2036 to complete this transition. However, major food chains such as McDonald’s are already switching to cage-free eggs for certain menu items. So Kroeker-Klassen and her family aren’t waiting.
She estimates her farm will conform in about five years and be leaders in transitioning to alternative egg production — like the way she’s stepped forward to lead the sector itself. In 2014, she became the first woman elected to the Manitoba Egg Farmers board. Then last March, she became its vice chair.
And she’s not looking back.
“I’m passionate about being a Canadian egg farmer,” she says. “We’re in this for the long haul. We feel very confident where this industry is headed.”
An egg a day is OK
Eggs took a beating in the 1990s when some reports linked them to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. But ultimately those reports were proven too general. Dietitians say one egg a day is fine for people not at risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Otherwise, have less than one egg a week.
All this in an egg?
Eggs have been called nature’s perfect food. Nutrition experts bristle when you call any food perfect. But eggs do indeed have a lot going for them. They are good sources of vitamins A and D, potassium and choline, as well as lutein, an antioxidant associated with maintaining good vision.