At Hakkesteegt’s Poultry Farm, each day is punctuated by two coffee breaks. These are not only a chance to brew business plans and ideas but also a simple way to maintain respect, mutual esteem and healthy communication skills between parents, children, spouses and grandchildren. So—how do you like your coffee?
It’s six-thirty in the morning. Bryce Hakkesteegt is making the day’s first rounds of his two henhouses. Meanwhile, his wife, Dana, is getting their four kids ready for school. Two henhouses over, his brother-in-law Ryan Mcleod watches over the birds, while Angela—wife to Ryan and sister to Bryce—serves breakfast to the couple’s two kids. It’s a busy morning—it always is!
Hakkesteegt’s earns 88% of its income from broiler chickens, 8% from solar energy and 4% from selling pure-bred Charolais and Shorthorn cattle. The farm’s corn, soy, wheat and forage crops bring in a tidy sum of their own, but this is accounted for under a separate legal entity.
The cattle are the pride and joy of Kirby and Arlene, Angela and Bryce’s parents. Arlene grew up on a dairy farm. On this early November morning, a telehandler cuts through the fog rolling in from Lake Ontario, which divides the farm’s 197 hectares. Kirby makes his way to the pasture to feed the heifers. At the farm’s second site is their barn, where Bryce and Ryan help Kirby change the bedding. The family business is a well-oiled machine, with everyone lending a hand and taking over tasks for each other, which allows for quality time off. They use a shared online calendar to coordinate both professional and personal activities, making it easier to juggle so many schedules.
If you’re finding the name Hakkesteegt a mouthful, know that it comes from Henry and Rita Hakkesteegt, now both in their nineties, who came from the Netherlands to start a new life in Brighton, a town between Kingston and Oshawa. It was a smart move: today, business is booming and, better yet, the couple have 18 grandchildren, 13 of whom live on the farm and certainly keep life interesting. In the blink of an eye, it’s 10 o’clock! The smell of coffee enrobes Arlene and Kirby’s home. Arlene is inside with Angela, digging through the mountain of paperwork that comes part and parcel with a large and diversified farm like this one. On the living room rug, a bag of grain corn has been overturned—the bountiful harvest of the youngest children, hard at work with their toy tractors and dump trucks.
At the nearby table, discussions are underway. Two coffee breaks a day keep frustrations at bay. Issues are resolved easily, like the idea to add a fifth henhouse—the concrete slab is already poured. Arguments are heard in favour of either four or five lines of livestock attendants. More minor decisions, like buying a new corn planter, strangely take longer to discuss! Typically, the guys will bring 1001 perfect-world ideas to the table, and the girls—who are all too familiar with the farm’s financial reality—have the power of saying yea or nay to each of them. “It’s more often nay,” Arlene says with a laugh!
Succession and new enterprise
Arlene and Dana come from an agricultural background, while Ryan does not. But all have been welcomed with open arms, both as day-to-day business operators and as shareholders. The older generation mentors the younger. For example, Ryan learned all about poultry farming from Bryce. And today, Kirby is showing him the basics of heavy vehicle operation before he gets his official licence.
At Hakkesteegt’s, each family member’s journey to farming is a matter of interest and opportunity. Bryce, who holds a diploma from the Kemptville Agricultural College, was a part of discussions as early as high school, when the family made the major strategic decision to switch from layers to broilers. Angela, on the other hand, spent much of her time only visiting Brighton on the weekend and did not always choose the farm life. It was only after studying business administration and international trade, as well as working in the latter sector in Toronto, that she happily came home for good. Her parents never pushed her to “see what’s out there” to make sure that it was what she wanted to do.
The same will hold true for the next generation of kids on the farm—all 13 of them!
Photo by Christophe Champion