This is the sixth in the series of profiles for the 2022 national young farmer program participants. They are all young leaders taking part in Egg Farmers of Canada’s national young farmer program. The goal of the program is to provide young farmers with the skills, knowledge and experience to be leaders in the industry.
One of Newfoundland and Labrador’s newest egg producers, Nathan Dennis, got his start as a poultry farmer at a young age – with two hens and a rooster in the fifth grade.
A first-generation farmer, Nathan says farming started as a childhood hobby, and after high school, he gradually built up his farm. Over time, he had diversified to include growing root crops, forages, raising sheep and beef and a backyard flock of chickens.
“I’ve always had an interest in poultry,” says Nathan, “and I always wanted to have a commercial poultry farm but didn’t have the opportunity to do so.” In 2016, he got that opportunity when he applied to the Egg Farmers of Newfoundland and Labrador New Entrant Program. In June 2017, he was awarded quota, and by the end of the year, he began producing eggs in Newfoundland’s first free run egg facility. By November of that same year, he had renovated a former broiler barn and started production with quota for 4,870 hens.
“There was no one producing [free run] eggs,” he says. “It was an opportunity to bring [free run eggs] to the province, offering our consumers as much choice as possible.”
With room to grow, Nathan says his priority is to become more efficient in the way he produces eggs by modernizing and automating his production system. “The system we have, it’s quite labour intensive the way we do it,” he says. “I’d like to make some upgrades to the barn, make improvements to make things more efficient… adapting new technology, and from an environmental perspective, be more sustainable.”
On his farm in Cormack, Newfoundland, Nathan is also raising the next generation of farmers – together with his fiancé Jodie, he has children Freya, age 5, and Nathaniel, born in 2021. “I’d love to build the farm to where one, or both, of the kids, could take over,” he says.
As a sole proprietor, Nathan finds it challenging to get time away from the farm but sees value in participating in agricultural organizations’ networking and learning opportunities. He has been involved with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture, represented the Newfoundland Young Famers Forum as a delegate to the Canadian Young Farmers Forum, and has served a term as president of the Newfoundland Horticulture Producers Council, and now currently serving as a director.
“One of the biggest values I get is from the networking and connections I make with other people,” he says. “Talking to other farmers, you can bounce different ideas back and forth. Perhaps you can find something you can try that you haven’t thought of… maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t.”
Nathan is taking on a new challenge as a participant in the Egg Farmers of Canada’s national young farmer program. Learning more about the industry from egg farmers from across Canada is one of the reasons he decided to get involved.
“We come from such a large country. I hope from this young farmer program, I’ll get to meet people from the smaller, specialty production farms like myself, but also from the larger commercial, multi-generation farms,” he says.