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Conrad Vanessen: I had to learn everything

Conrad Vanessen

Coaldale, Alberta
Age: 28

More than one month after his hens finally produced the first eggs to roll out of his brand-new egg farm, you can still hear the excitement in Conrad Vanessen’s voice.

“I was just so happy!” he says as he recalls that momentous occasion.

Those eggs–a half-dozen the first day, more and more on the days that followed–were the first tangible results in Conrad’s new career as an egg farmer.

Conrad grew up on a feed lot and pig farm near Picture Butte, not far from Lethbridge in southern Alberta. He wanted to make a career in agriculture, and a few years ago he bought a piece of land in Coaldale, in the same general vicinity, and began raising calves.

He’d always heard about the supply management system used for eggs, and about the financial stability it offered farmers. As a result, he figured egg farming was a good career choice.

So when he heard about Egg Farmers of Alberta’s New Entrant Program he applied–and was selected.

The program allots an egg quota to new farmers and gives them a set amount of time to begin operation.

Once he found out he’d been allotted a quota, Conrad got busy.

There was a lot to do and learn – about how to house the birds, how to care for them, and how the industry works.

“I had to learn everything!” he says.

He jumped right into it.

Luckily, there was another new entrant who lived nearby.

“We did everything together,” says Conrad. “We built our barns together, we ordered birds together, and we shared ideas. He used to be a broiler breeder, so he had a bit more knowledge about chickens than me.”

Finally, their barns were ready and Conrad placed an order for 4,000 hens.

Then he waited for the hens to arrive.

“You are just so excited, and you want to get on with it!” he recalls. “Every day I’d go to that barn and just wait and wait.”

It took a while, but finally, they came.

He hardly slept the first night; he couldn’t resist going to check on them every few hours.

Of course there were no eggs at the start. The birds were settling in.

A week went by and still no eggs. Conrad was back to waiting.

He grew nervous.

Still no eggs.

Was everything OK?

Then one morning a half-dozen eggs appeared.

Conrad was elated.

The next morning there were even more eggs. One week later, he was in full production.

“By January we were getting the kinks out of the system,” he says. “The birds have settled down considerably. I have probably calmed down too.”

But the excitement is still there.

Sometimes, Conrad will just go into the barn and stand there and watch the birds.

“I enjoy looking at them, to understand what they’re doing,” he says. “I like to learn.”

By the way, what did he do with those first eggs?

“I ate them!” he says proudly.