Hay River, Northwest Territories
Michael Wallington is one of only three egg farmers in the Northwest Territories. All three (one of the other two is his father Glen) operate out of the same barn in Hay River, on the south shore of Great Slave Lake.
It’s a convenient arrangement that eases the task of producing eggs in a place where, as Michael says, “it’s winter eight months of the year.”
But then, Michael Wallington likes a challenge–and the flexibility that comes with being his own boss. Though he is relatively new at egg farming, he has eased into the lifestyle and looks forward to a long career in the business.
Michael grew up in BC and Saskatchewan and moved to Hay River with his family in 1994.
When he finished high school, he left town.
“This wasn’t home for me. I always said I would never move back,” he recalls.
He settled in Calgary, worked in the construction industry and got married. (He and his wife now have four children aged 11, 10, seven and six.)
Meanwhile, back in Hay River, an existing egg farm was in trouble. Michael’s father Glen, who had no background in egg farming but did have a local reputation as a jack of all trades who could fix things, was asked to help out. He succeeded in turning the operation around and got into the business.
When the recession hit and Calgary’s construction industry slowed down, father Glen invited Michael to come back to Hay River to join him.
His initial reluctance changed when he realized that as an egg farmer, he would be calling his own shots. “Being my own boss is one of the most important things for me,” he says.
Between them, he and his father have a flock of 38,000 hens.
Michael learned about egg farming on the fly–from his father, from other people who worked on the farm, and from a visit to an operation in Manitoba in which multiple owners shared a barn.
“It’s an ongoing education,” he says. “I just try to pick up what I can.” His involvement in the Northwest Territories Egg Producers’ Board helps.
“I am involved in national conversation about our animal care, and I find it really cool,” he says. “I am lucky to get that opportunity, being relatively young.”
There are a few quirks to running an egg farming operation in the Northwest Territories.
Because the weather is so extreme, he says machinery can’t always be trusted to operate the way it should. So he says farmers have to be more closely involved–closely monitoring equipment in and around the barn, for example, to make sure something hasn’t broken down or the vents in the barn haven’t frozen shut.
But overall, he says, life is good.
“If you are not snowmobiling or playing hockey or messing around outside, you are working,” he says. “Sports, family and work, that’s my life.”