Farmer Jussi Haapoja from the Haapoja farm opens a video connection on his mobile to check on the rearing facility where new chicks arrived just four days ago. He deduces that everything is okay as the chicks are flocking evenly on top of the peat litter spread on the floor of the hall. Some of them appear to be playing tag.
Haapoja says that the chicks now weigh 76 grams.
The family’s oldest son, 17-year-old Antti Haapoja, is studying agriculture for the second year and spends his weeks away from the family farm. Antti also has access to the rearing facility’s cameras and likes to check how the chicks, growing 30 kilometres from him, are doing.
The farm is located in Kurikka, 40 kilometres from Atria. Jussi Haapoja’s parents were the ones who made the decision to transfer to poultry in 1991. He was just 13 years old at the time.
“I was able to participate from the beginning. It was very unique and rare at the time, we were learning new things. There were no other rearing facilities near us.”
The consumption of poultry has grown year by year, and it does not seem to end.
The Haapojas have expanded their production whenever possible. After the first hall was expanded, a second one was built in 1998, and a third one in 2010. That was also the year of passing on the farm to the next generation as Jussi Haapoja took over.
Another sign of growth is the fact that Haapoja has numerous colleagues in the Kurikka region. A sign of appreciation for local food is the nearby Hotel Kurikka’s menu, which advertises their chicken as “local, usually from Kurikka”.
The Haapoja farm is prepared to expand its rearing facilities even further.
“We updated the heating plant so that there is enough heat for a potential fourth hall, and last summer, we built a drying plant with the idea that we would have the capacity to dry and store a larger amount of grain.”
Even so, a new rearing facility will not be built in the near future even though the willingness is there. “Atria needs to show us the green light before we make any investment decisions. Their policy is to even out the average size of the farms, which is a good policy and worth supporting,” Jussi explains.
“However, we will build a new hall as soon as we get the permission to expand,” Antti continues. He is already eager to start working at the farm, just like his father was at his age. Antti can already do all the work at the farm. He is so good at the job that he can stand in for his father, no matter what is happening in the halls and on the fields.
“We got proof of that when I fell ill with pneumonia and was completely out of the picture for 1.5 weeks,” the elder Haapoja explains.
If necessary, the rest of the family can help out as well: Marja Hemminki-Haapoja who works outside the farm, the family’s youngest sons Leevi and Jaakko as well as Jussi’s and Marja’s parents.
Antti takes the things that his father and grandparents had to learn for granted.
“The farms have worked hard to be able to guarantee safe meat. Changing clothes and shoes and washing our hands have become unquestionable routines for us.”
The father and son know that Finnish poultry production is first-grade and unique on a global scale exactly because the prevention of diseases is more advanced than anywhere else. They are proud of that.
Veterinarian Päivikki Perko-Mäkelä from Atria’s primary production tells us that production conditions have been developed in an uncompromising manner for decades.
“For a long time, our starting point in Finland has been that if there are any illnesses or problems, we always try to find the root cause and fix it. We do not just treat the symptoms with drugs.”
A lot is expected of the production farms in order for rearing to even be possible in the cold north.
“You have to build the farms well since the environment is key in the rearing process, and you cannot compromise on the birds’ requirements. We do not need to discuss these matters with the producers anymore.”
When new chicks are brought to the hall, the temperature must be 35 degrees Celsius. In addition, regardless of the season or time of day, the temperature, humidity, and ventilation must be in order along with feeding, prevention of diseases, and many other things.
“All of the work we have done has been fruitful, and we have not needed to give antibiotics to the birds in more than a decade.”
One example of efficient disease prevention in Finland is that any of the more than 2,500 Salmonella serotypes will lead to infection-preventive measures, whereas the general policy in Europe is to only be concerned of the five strains that are dangerous to humans.
“Our policy is that no matter which Salmonella strain it is, we treat it in the same manner as the ones that have been classified as dangerous to humans. In Finland, we do not slaughter poultry found to have any kind of Salmonella strain,” shares Perko-Mäkelä.
Whenever a new batch of birds comes to the farm, the rearing begins from zero. The producer is paid only once the birds head off to the slaughterhouse. Success is rewarded which motivates you to work to the best of your ability.
However, not everything is up to the producer, as the work contains many challenges you cannot control, such as extreme weather, the termination of peat digging, and rising costs.
Grain is grown in an area of 160 hectares of field, most of which is used as feed for the farm’s birds. The crops have been successful even though we have had some record-dry and record-wet summers.
The Haapoja farm has installed one hundred solar panels on the roof of the chicken hall to produce energy for cooling the halls during hot summers. Grain is grown at an area of 160 hectares of field, most of which is used as feed for the farm’s birds. The crops have been successful even though we have had some record-dry and record-wet summers.
The chicks get to dust bathe in the peat litter. Thanks to the peat base, the foot pad scores calculated by inspection vets are top-class in Finland. The scores reveal how well the birds are doing.
The Haapojas have strong faith in the future of poultry, and they are even planning to continue developing the farm further in the future.
Text: Pirjo Latva-Mantila
Photos: Tuukka Kiviranta
The article was published in the 1/2022 issue of Hyvä Ruoka magazine. The interview took place in November 2021.