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  • Brighton-area poultry farms deal with devastating losses
    By Suzanne Atkinson - AgriNews Contributor

    BRIGHTON – Two separate poultry operations here are cleaning up and moving on after the death of an industry icon and the loss of barns in separate incidents.

    Known throughout Ontario, Brighton's Bill Vanderlaan, a salesman for 50 years with Archer's Poultry, died suddenly at his home on Nov. 22.

    "He was so dedicated and so professional," Vanderlaan's boss Stuart Archer said last week.

    Less than three weeks earlier, Archer's lost two barns to a fire with damages pegged at more than $1-million.

    The third area misfortune struck Dec. 28 when a manure storage shelter was ripped from its mooring at neighbor Kirby Hakkesteegt's poultry operation. It sailed 40 feet through the air before smashing into a four-year-old poultry barn.

    Despite their troubles, Stuart Archer and Kirby Hakkesteegt say the loss of friend and colleague Bill Vanderlaan was the most tragic.

    "He knew more about chickens, heck he probably forgot more about chickens than I'll ever know," Archer said of the 65-year-old who began working for his father before Archer was born.

    Vanderlaan was due to retire and would have celebrated his 50th anniversary of working for the company in May. He sold day-old chickens, starter pullets and layer food, mostly throughout Eastern Ontario, though he had worked in the western part of the province as well.

    "Absolutely the whole industry knew him," Archer said of the man he called "a pillar" whom the "rest of the employees and the rest of the industry counted on."

    "When someone has worked for you for 50 years and he leaves $.52 on your desk when he uses a stamp... he was just so dedicated and so professional."

    Archer lost two 248'X48' barns in the November fire. They were linked by a conveyor to two other barns.

    "When I got there I asked them to save the first two barns," Archer said.

    "Pretty sick," was how he felt when he arrived at the fire. "I thought they might have a chance to save it." But because barns don't have windows "anything in there just keeps cooking. It's like an oven."

    The buildings were worth about $1-million and the birds were worth $200,000 to $300,000.

    "I absolutely feel fortunate. No one was hurt and we're still in business. Everyone still has a job." Archer said. It has birds at three farms in Northumberland.

    Hakkesteegt, too, feels fortunate after the Dec. 28 big blow picked up his 10-day-old manure pit covering, and carried it 40 feet only to drop it on his four-year-old poultry barn.

    His most recent crop of birds had been shipped weeks earlier and the barn was cleaned and ready to be filled in mid-January.

    "Nobody got hurt. We're just extremely thankful," Hakkesteegt said as he surveyed the damage with his father, Henry, and son Brice.

    "We were just jumping in the truck to go to church," Hakkesteegt said, when a neighbour called with the news.

    "It would have been a Kodak moment."

    "We're blessed. There were no hospital visits. We have good people around us," says Hakkesteegt who says faith is his strength at such times.

    The barn could have been filled with birds and he could have been in there doing chores with his son, he said.

    "The governments of the world are running around trying to figure out how to stimulate the economy. The Lord allows the wind to blow and everybody has work again."

    Reconstruction on the first of Archer's replacement barns is almost complete and the first crop of new chickens could be in by February. Other than upgrading firewalls between barns on the conveyor system he doesn't expect many changes in the structures.

    The Hakkesteegts and their insurance company are still assessing the scope of damage to their poultry barn.

    The irony is that a cattle barn was lost to the wind in the 1990s. When he investigated installing a wind turbine, Hakkesteegt was told he didn't have enough wind to warrant the project.

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