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Raising a barn in Swaziland with Canadian knowledge and expertise

The small country of Swaziland is landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique. An ocean away from Canada, this country has left a mark on Kurt Siemens, Brad Lawson and Roger Pelissero.

The trio are part of a group of Canadian farmers who are volunteering their time to build an egg farm. Together, with the broader project team, they have worked diligently to plan the design of Heart for Africa’s layer operation in rural Swaziland.

“You can see that the people are passionate about what they do and that they are doing it whole-heartedly,” reflects Kurt on a visit to the Heart for Africa baby home and Project Canaan farm.

Most of the equipment has been ordered for the operation and site leveling is almost complete.

The goal is to have the barns constructed and the equipment installed by December 15, 2015; the day the first flock of pullets arrive at Project Canaan.

The plan was conceived through a series of visits to southern Africa. Members of the group toured layer operations in Swaziland and neighbouring Mozambique to better understand egg production in the region.

“It put things into perspective and gave us a clear direction,” says Roger. He explains that seeing similar operations and talking with local farmers and staff helped solidify the approach.

A variety of considerations were evaluated during the planning.

The size of the operation was largely based on the requirements of Heart for Africa’s feeding program. The program delivers more than 74,000 hand-packed meals every month to rural communities through a network of 28 churches.

“We started doing the math to determine how many eggs are needed for these meals,” says Brad. “We added our knowledge of what the birds are capable of laying and some considerations that could affect production.”

“We picked two barns because we plan to alternate the flocks,” says Kurt. Every six months a barn will turn over. “By doing it this way, we are able to keep continuous production in play.”

The selection of the hen’s breed was done through discussions with farmers in the region. The selected breed is known to work well in the climate and is a multipurpose bird, which will bring an additional source of nutrition to the community and income to the farm.

Taking a sustainable approach was important to the group. The operation uses very little electricity and most construction material is sourced within the region.

The open-air barns will have a steel frame and roof with vents down the centre to allow hot air to escape. Netting will be used to keep wild birds out, and air movement will be controlled by fans and curtains that can be lowered or raised to manage the barns’ temperature.

A two-tier cage system manufactured by Big Dutchman will be installed. “The system is made for remote areas and is built for the [African] climate,” says Roger.

Feeding, egg collection and manure removal will be carried out manually. More staff will be hired to manage and operate the farm. This fits Heart for Africa’s philosophy that providing employment creates a ripple effect within the community.

With all this underway, the focus is now on training. The team is evaluating different approaches to help those responsible build an understanding of best practices in animal husbandry and egg production.

One thought is an intensive hands-on training at another farm in the region, while another option is on-site training at Project Canaan. The project team will continue to guide the process and be on-call to provide advice and help troubleshoot challenges.

From talking with Kurt, Brad and Roger, it was easy for me to see the passion they have for this cause.

“Many things that we take for granted can make a big difference. We know a lot about egg farming. It’s second nature to us and can give them skills to feed their families for a lifetime,” explains Brad.

Kurt spoke about a visit to a typical Swazi homestead with a mom and four children. “We gave them hardboiled eggs, mana packs and clothing,” he says. “We had to show them how to peel the eggs since they had never seen one before.”

For Roger, contributing to a cycle of change has left an impact. “When you go over [to Swaziland] and see the children and the long-term plan to teach them to make a difference… You can already see that it’s leading to real change.”

Donations can be made by visiting (or in the U.S.) and by selecting “poultry house.” Your support will help bring a sustainable source of high-quality protein and better nutrition for an entire community.