Hands-on education pays off for this OYF winner

Education comes in many forms. When Brian Pauls faced a key juncture in his life, he chose the path to the barn over the classroom. And for this successful poultry producer, the learning has never stopped.

Today, Pauls and his father run a multiunit, two-province poultry operation, based near Chilliwack, BC. The farm has 17,000 broilers and 55,000 caged white and free-range brown egg layers, with Brian managing broiler and turkey barns in both B.C. and Saskatchewan.

Brian and his wife, Jewel, are winners of the 2016 Outstanding Young Farmers’ program award for the B.C./Yukon region. This win marks a milestone for the program. It’s the first time two generations of the same family have been recognized. Brian’s parents, Frank and Elma Pauls, were the 1990 OYF program award recipients.

“I remember being part of pictures at the farm, and OYF alumni visiting,” recalls Brian. “Going to events, like horse shows, we would get the VIP treatment. It was exciting. I remember thinking it would be cool to be in the OYF myself one day.”

While those memories remained dormant until his own nomination, what was always clear to Brian was that he was born to farm. “As a kid, I would yell and scream when Dad headed out because I wanted to go with him,” laughs Brian. “Dad welded a car seat to the fender of the tractor so I could go along. I just wanted to be where the action was.”

Growing up, he worked in the family barn as well as on neighbours’ farms. Then, with a scholarship for UBC in hand, he was off to get some post-secondary education. “After my first year, our main foreman got his own farm and left. It was a crossroads. Dad said he’d have to downsize to manage, or I could quit school, come home, and see where this would go.”

Pauls was studying agriculture, and while the ultimate goal of his education was farming, he didn’t expect to get there so soon. “That was always the dream. I thought I could always go back to school, but this was an opportunity I would not get very often.” So he took the plunge.

Since then, the farm has more than doubled in size. And two Pauls family mottos: “when you see an opportunity, take advantage of it” and “try and do something new every year” continue to drive the operation. “‘Try and do something every year’ came right from my Grandma, and was how we were raised,” says Brian. “We’ve tried to be aggressive and think outside the box, from feeding programs to expansion, to management styles, to computers.”

Jewel Pauls, a registered nurse, came into the picture in 2007, and although she grew up on a hobby farm in B.C., becoming part of a large family business was admittedly a big learning curve, especially the cycles, seasons and the hours. “But Brian is super passionate about chicken, and I’ve learned a lot over the last 11 years.”

The love of the farm is now being passed to the next generation, with their children Janae (7), Brooke (5), Faith (3) and Kaden (1) equally enthused.

Jewel is busy on the home front, especially as Brian travels between the various farm units, but she also enjoys making the employees feel like part of the family. “My role is also as a sounding board for Brian. We problem-solve together.

“He is always looking for how to make things better,” adds Jewel. “For instance, we’ve worked with a nutritionist, and now have more whole wheat in the poultry diet, finding it’s better for the birds and the bottom line.” Brian’s inventive eye has led to improvements in barn ventilation, pioneering an efficient design for Canadian barns that moves more air with less electricity.

The Pauls are also business innovators, which is why they looked beyond B.C.’s border to grow their business. With airport connections, favourable quota and land prices, Saskatchewan became their land of opportunity. Working with families on the farms they’ve purchased has worked well.

The decision to “spread their wings” proved timely for risk management too, as the first avian flu outbreak in 2004 led to flock depopulation in one of their B.C. barns that was located in a quarantine zone.

Having multiple barns has been beneficial in other ways. “We can try things on a smaller scale, and if they work, implement them on a larger number of birds,” explains Brian. “Because they cycle so fast, they give you a report card quickly. We’re able to make more improvements, more quickly.”

Along with the variety of poultry, ranging from pullets to layers and turkeys, the Pauls also grow crops, like corn silage, to use the chicken manure. And the latest “new thing” they’ve added to their cropping has been hops for the craft brewing market. “I’m excited about that,” he says. “It’s our first real year at it.”

As the generational shift progresses, Brian is taking over more of the management duties, but still calls his Dad — who remains actively involved in the farm — his “best friend” and a business partner he can talk with about any issues that may crop up.

The Pauls are proud of their barns, regularly touring groups or individuals through and sharing their poultry story. “Often people are amazed,” says Jewel. They don’t realize until they see it for themselves how happy the chickens are and the cleanliness of the barns. “It gives them peace of mind, so they don’t feel guilty for not buying free-range.”

Brian and Jewel Pauls are moving forward with still another philosophy: “good enough is never good enough.” And while Brian deals with the day-to-day challenges of managing a major agribusiness, he savours time spent farming. “I still get into the barns and out to plow some fields. It’s a balance, but the thrill from growing the farm is good too.”