Balancing eggs and life
From left: Kara, Aaron, Gailand and Carol Law
A serendipitous alignment of life decisions with major farm business changes means a New Brunswick egg farm is on solid footing, ready to transition to the next generation of the family. But it wasn’t always clear that would happen.
Law’s Horizon Egg Farm, operated by Gailand and Carol Law and their son Aaron and daughter-in-law Kara, is located in Kars, about 70 kilometres north of Saint John.
Striking family and ownership balance
Gailand’s parents settled in the area in the 1940s and started a mixed farm. As the years passed, they focused on egg production, grading and marketing and later, a registered hatchery.
While Gailand’s older brother Bruce opted to leave the farm, Gailand continued to work with his father after graduation. Bruce came back for about 20 years until his retirement. Gailand and Carol purchased his interest in 1996.
At the same time, the Laws decided to cease operation of the hatchery. Market conditions and the costs involved in upgrades made the exit from the hatchery business a natural move, Gailand says. They decided to focus their attention solely on production, grading-marketing, pullet growing and the on-farm feed mill.
Through the years, retailers demanded more certification from national food safety programs along with those already in place. Facing upcoming investment costs in new equipment to keep up with regulation, combined with the desire to scale back on the workload, Gailand and Carol decided in 2005 to close the grading station.
Meanwhile, Aaron and his brother grew up on the farm, left and studied engineering – each going on to work in the industry. However, Aaron was drawn back home.
“The opportunity was there at the time because Mom and Dad were looking at retiring and selling the farm outside the family,” Aaron says. “It wasn’t a master plan for me to come back. It was just an opportunity when I was transitioning in my career.”
Aaron’s plan was to work with his parents for about a year, but that turned into three years, “basically because I couldn’t make up my mind if I wanted to buy the business and move forward.”
Life outside the barn
Aaron is frank about his hesitation to commit to the farm. “I saw how (hard) Mom and Dad worked when they were doing the grading and the production, and I didn’t necessarily want to work like that for the next 20 or 30 years. I was fearful I wasn’t going to have any freedom,” he says. “I love the farming, but there are other things I love too.”
The timing of several on-farm decisions helped Aaron make his decision and ensured there would be time for life outside the barn. The Laws decommissioned their two aging barns and built one new facility with computer monitoring.
They also found a way to be involved in grading again without adding to their workload. They became founding partners in Maritime Pride Eggs, a producer-owned egg grading station servicing New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It’s located in Amherst, N.S., and Aaron says it’s the largest egg grading station east of Montreal. All of the Laws’ 230,000 eggs a week from their 34,000-bird flock go there for grading, sales and distribution to retailers – from large grocery store chains to small corner stores – throughout the region.
The changes have allowed Aaron the freedom he was seeking.
Sharing knowledge leads to speaking out
Aaron spent a month in Swaziland in 2016 with Egg Farmers of Canada as part of Heart for Africa. Their initiative, Project Canaan, is a 2,500-acre large-scale land development project that grows large amounts of food, including eggs, to help stimulate the local economy. The initiative also supports orphans and vulnerable children.
On the ground at the layer barn before the first flock arrived, Aaron helped teach the inexperienced workers how to run an egg farm in much the same way a Canadian egg farm works, from in-barn care and handling of hens to record keeping.
The fulfillment Aaron gained from the experience has helped drive him since his return, appreciating, he says, “the abundance that we, as Canadians, are surrounded by.”
It also stirred his desire to teach. He now directs that passion into advocacy, speaking up for agriculture and letting those outside the industry know what farmers do. Aaron is active on social media and with public speaking. He also has his father’s belief in an open farm gate to welcome visitors. While Aaron takes a more high-tech approach to sharing, Gailand is all about one-on-one conversations.
He often hears of neighbours or friends who have no idea what happens in the barn. And when he hears those stories, he’s quick to offer an invitation for a visit and a tour. “Some people don’t have a clue what we do, and when you start telling them, they’re totally surprised,” Gailand says.
Timing of important life and career decisions sometimes can’t be scheduled, but in the case of the Laws, all elements came together at the right time to help pave the pathway to a strong future.