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13,000 chickens, zero emissions: the quest for a green barn

What leads farmers to take a leap of faith—an experiment that transforms how they’ve farmed for over 100 years? For Darrel Mandel and Alberta’s Brant Hutterite Colony, it was all about family. “We’re so tight-knit in the Alberta egg industry. It’s brotherly love amongst egg farmers here.”

Egg Farmers of Alberta was launching a new project—the creation of a net zero barn, one that would produce no net greenhouse gas emissions. When EFA put out the call for a test barn, the Brant Hutterite Colony stepped up. “They needed to put their research to work. We might as well help the industry,” says Darrel.

A look inside the net zero barn, designed to be a free run aviary for over 13,000 hens.

The Colony has been farming in Brant, Alberta for over a century. As Darrel puts it, “farming is in our blood.”

“One of the things we love as farmers is that everyday we’re doing something for the public. If you and I sit down for a meal three times a day, it’s three times a day you need a farmer. That perspective challenges you to be better every day.”

Brant Hutterite Colony’s egg manager, Darrel Mandel, holding freshly unwrapped LED lighting for the net zero barn. The lights are just one of many technologies that will help achieve the project’s goal of no net greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea of the net zero barn would be revolutionary. 13,000 hens laying eggs every day, with no contribution to climate change—potentially a game changer in the egg farming industry. The challenge requires both new technology and techniques.

How will they do it? Two innovations are key. First, 100 solar panels line the barn roof and power the equipment inside.1 Second, a unique heat recovery ventilator or HRV—the first of its kind in a Canadian egg barn. In Darrel’s words, the HRV essentially “preheats” air drawn into the barn during winter, saving energy otherwise spent heating the interior of the barn.2

The net zero barn’s heat recovery ventilator, seen here prior to installation.

Part of the deal involved a 24/7 online live stream of the barn. The idea is to give Canadians the opportunity to witness the everyday life of an egg farmer and their flocks, all through the comfort of home. “We want to show the public that their eggs aren’t just from the store. Farmers do care. We do our work with pride.”

It’s that same pride that has inspired Darrel to pursue sustainability in every aspect of farming life, “to be more efficient in everything.”

What started as a leap of faith is now a passion project. Now that the experiment is in full swing, Darrel couldn’t be happier. “We’re feeling a lot of support, and the support started when we were feeling a little hesitant… hearing it from someone else gave the extra push. I’m so glad we listened to them.” All revolutions start small, and a historic revolution could be starting with Darrel Mandel and the Brant Hutterite Colony.

Photos and video are courtesy of Egg Farmers of Alberta.

2 Egg Farmers of Alberta