Duck Farm is coming out of its litany of disasters

The last leg of the Brome Lake Ducks farm return to normalcy, after nearly two years of a trial by fire, will start with a corporate ground-breaking event in October at the Knowlton facility, leading to the reconstruction of the burnt-out facilities at the very beginning of 2018.

“After the July 2016 catastrophic fire in Knowlton that obliterated the administrative, accounting and computer facilities, the distribution centre and the boutique, and disabled three warehouses,” said Claude Trottier, president of Brome Lake Ducks, “there was no point in jumping into a rebuild without first finding alternative means of production. It was imperative that we guarantee the delivery of most of the usual lines of products and thus prevent a flight of clients and customers to national and international competitors. All this while close to 10,000 birds were attaining market-size daily and as many eggs were being laid. The “conveyor belt” could not be put on hold.”

At the same time, this disaster became an opportunity to rethink the business plan for the short and the long term, including increasing the capacity from 2 to 4 million birds a year, and eventually to 5 million, all bred and hatched in Knowlton. They would be raised to full size either here, or by contractors in such locations as Racine, Saint-Georges-de- Windsor and Upton. It was also a matter of preventing the grouping of too many “eggs” in any basket.

The bird-processing operations in the Asbestos plant were already in need of expansion. Luckily, thanks to the late-2015 acquisition of a nearby failed processing company, the equipment there and the lines of production were quickly spruced-up and brought to Brome Lake standards and those of government agencies, particularly the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and staff were trained in the technique of bird processing.

These alternative means entailed logistical nightmares, such as the transportation of live ducks to a processing facility in Indiana – think of the paperwork – that had excess capacity that no other plant on this side of the continent either here or in the U.S. could provide within 12 hours of driving. Also the ramping-up of local contractor operations, mainly in Quebec, was needed to pick-up the slack and supply them with feed prepared in the Knowlton facilities. Meanwhile, normal office operations, the boutique, and so on were run and continue to function, from seven trailers at the farm, for just a few more months.

As for the three fires within six months, (Racine, St-Camille, and Knowlton), they were most probably due to electrical and heating-system failures. All in all, the firm and its employees weathered the storm. There are still some 250 workers in Knowlton, though fewer in the processing operations, which are now all located in separate Asbestos facilities. Only some employees were willing to relocate there, an hour and a half away.