Managing risk in poultry operations

Managing risk in poultry operations

A farmer’s life is stressful. The unpredictability of the Ag sector, as well as the workload pressures, can take a toll on farmers’ well-being. With climate change causing more frequent and intense weather patterns, farmers are facing an even greater level of uncertainty. Droughts, floods, hailstorms, and heatwaves can all wreak havoc and have devastating consequences for farmers and their families. These, and other disasters, such as disease outbreaks, power outages, and gas leaks, can be mitigated with a risk management plan.

This article will give some tips on how to prepare for emergency events. Developing a risk management strategy should be done in collaboration with experts who have knowledge of your farm’s specific situation (e.g. accountants, veterinarians, nutritionists, and business advisors).

A risk management strategy helps to plan for when unexpected situations occur, restores some sense of certainty, control, and confidence and can assist with reducing stress and burnout.

Creating a risk management plan

The key steps of implementing a risk management plan are:

  1. Identify all possible risks, evaluate them, and rank them based on their likelihood of happening. The plan should assess risk severity, which is how much damage (such as profit loss, duration of lost production, health and safety of employees, reputational damage) each situation would cause if it happened.
  2. Start with your highest priority risks and identify best practices or actions to implement to increase preparedness through preventative or mitigating measures.
  3. Describe the task, person(s) responsible and create a timeline.
  4. Meet with your farm team to review and revise, if necessary, and incorporate it into your business plan.
  5. Implement and monitor your progress and adjust as circumstances change.

A risk management plan should consider:

Image from Farm Management Canada

Difference between risk mitigation and risk management. 

Risk mitigation means to prevent the risk. It requires a higher level of thinking, such as the development of a business plan, which can prevent something from happening or lessen the hardship if it happens. 

There are always ‘sunk costs’ when focusing on mitigation and business planning – sometimes, investing more in something upfront can end up costing less in the long run. For example, if you need to shower in and shower out for biosecurity, this will be easier when you initially build the barn than renovating it afterward. 

Risk management is a response to something that is already happening. It requires a more detailed level of thinking with the development of an operational plan. It aims to find the best way to deal with the undesirable situation that is already happening.

Common risks

Each farmer should assess and rank their risks. In this article, we will give two examples of common risks and how to address them.

Wildfire management

The 2023 wildfire season has seen the most burned area in Canada’s history. Even if you aren’t near a heavily forested area, it is important to remember that grass fires can be severe and spread fast.  

In addition, the fallout of smoke from wildfires far away can impact you and your birds. Veterinarians report that poultry smoke inhalation can cause higher mortality during shipping from one barn to another or to the processing plant.

Ways to prepare

  • Avoid grassy areas, whenever possible keep the yard gravel, clear brush, and trees.
  • During high-risk periods such as hot and dry weather with strong winds, keep critical areas wet.
  • Research what resources and equipment are available in your area. Do the neighbors or county have something you can use to put out the fire?  Do you have their contact information? Can you pre plan to help each other?
  • Develop a plan for a case of mandatory evacuation. What are you going to do with your birds? Is it possible to ship to the processing plant earlier? Will you depopulate your barn?

Drought Management

The likelihood of drought happening will vary according to the location of the farm and the weather conditions. 

It is important to look ahead and forecast water availability versus need. Think about the financial implications of a drought and prepare for it accordingly. 

You can assess the likelihood of drought by using historical data to inform the future. For example, in South Africa, they looked at historical data, knew what was coming, and invested in water-efficient equipment and monitoring their water use. They combined this with sealed on-farm storage so it couldn’t evaporate. 

Ways to prepare

Check provincial maps to find the location of old wells and springs. It can be found online. Sometimes, these wells can be reactivated if needed.  

Policies can change. Consider what you would do if you were assigned less for irrigation or in your water license. 

Consider using an underground storage tank. They are not affected by extreme weather. However, they can be expensive to install, and you may also need to install a pump if you need quick access.

As a last resort, you can truck in water, but you should have plans for that. Investigate your options, know if the supply would be limited in a long-term drought, and understand the costs and the impact on your business.

Want to learn more? Access resources at Farm Management Canada and Poultry Industry Council. Alberta Poultry Producers can find the Producer Emergency Response Plan for diseases at the APIEMT website.

Information obtained from PIP and EFA’s Risk Management Flock Talk with participation from Farm Management Canada. 

Thanks to Jenna Griffin (Egg Farmers of Alberta) and Heather Watson (Farm Management Canada) for the content that helped create this newsletter article.  

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