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Farm Families: The New York Hutterite Colony

Updated: 6 days ago

Since 1924, the New York Hutterite Colony have been spearheading the way for egg production, ensuring animal welfare and sustainability throughout their operations.

If you have ever purchased eggs from a grocery store in Alberta, chances are they came from the New York Hutterite Colony, located just east of Lethbridge, or from one of their daughter colonies. The egg production managers of the New York Hutterite Colony have taken care of chickens for as long as they can remember—Levi Hofer, one of the colony’s egg production managers, recalled helping around the farm at a young age.

 

“Well, I grew up being with chickens all my life. As a little kid, I was helping grandpa in the barn gathering eggs—and I can still picture him driving down the side of the walks and feeding the birds,” says Hofer.

 

He officially started in the egg production business when he was 19 years old. For Hofer, he enjoyed the hands-on and hard work that went into caring for the hens and egg production [process]. Later on, Hofer was appointed to be one of the egg production managers at the New York Hutterite Colony, and he has continued to further the operation for the past 19 years.

 

But when the New York Hutterite Colony was first established back in 1924, egg production looked a little different than it does today.

 

“The way [our operation] started out is that each family would have a backyard flock—three or four birds per family,” says Hofer.

 

As time passed, the colony decided that instead of having each family take care of their own chickens, they should combine their flocks and manage one huge barn. Altogether, the flock grew to 1,000 chickens by 1935.

 

About 20 years later, in 1954, the Colony started supplying eggs commercially. The colony implemented supply management, a system which allowed producers to receive a fair profit while ensuring the Canadian food demand was met. With supply management, the New York Hutterite Colony was able to expand their operations, and their flock grew to 3,000 hens.

 

Today, the New York Colony along with the developing Northbrook Colony farms make up around 18,000 acres of land with 52,000 laying hens that supply Costco, Sobeys, and Safeway across Alberta. Additionally, they have all kinds of livestock, including 100 dairy cows that produce top quality milk; 230 sows to finish; and commercial turkey and broiler chickens.


“Over a hundred years we’ve been established. Since then, we developed a few other farms throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan—all the farms that we developed are split from this one, and they are all diversified farmers who are producing local fresh food for the consumers, right here in Alberta,” Hofer says.

 

New York Hutterite Colony continues to ensure animal welfare and sustainability

 

Thanks to supply management, the New York Hutterite Colony was able to upgrade their barn for their hens. While all hen housing systems in Canada are designed to provide hens with the five animal welfare freedoms—freedom from hunger, malnutrition, and thirst; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour, the farm decided to switch to an enriched housing system.

 

“We had the opportunity to switch the barn over to a new housing system—one of the first in North America—it's called an enriched housing system, where the birds have access to nesting areas, perches, and scratch pads,” Hofer says.

 

These housing systems also allow hens more space by providing larger enclosures and splitting up chicken flocks into smaller groups.


“Those birds are living a luxury life,” Hofer says.

 

The chickens are so well taken care of that the New York Hutterite Colony won the Canadian Poultry Sustainability Award in 2014. The award considered three factors in sustainability—improving practices in animal welfare and health; protecting and minimizing agriculture impacts on the environment; and enhancing the economic and social well-being of the farm family and surrounding communities.


Passing down the commitment to sustainable agriculture practices to future generations


The colony’s egg production business continues to grow. In 2020, the farm started up the Northbrook egg farm, a daughter colony of the New York Colony. They now have their first flock of hens in production.

 

 The colony continues to look to future generations and how they can carry on the now hundred-year legacy.


“That's the goal for us—how can we make a foundation for the next generation to produce food for the consumers,” says Hofer.

 

A big part of this is teaching the next generation of eggs farmers to continue producing an affordable and sustainable product for consumers. But it is also the need to reconnect consumers to agriculture.

 

“It's something that we as farmers must keep [teaching] consumers and the new young generation on—where does the food come from?” says Hofer.


While feeding a growing population is important, knowing where your food comes from is critical to agriculture. The New York Hutterite Colony demonstrates the care that goes into producing quality food.


“We’re proud of doing it,” says Hofer.

 

“We treat our animals with care by providing them comfortable housing, including top quality feed, water, and ventilation. Throughout the summer heat and cold winters, they are monitored with the best temperature so they can produce the best quality food for consumers.”

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