Delivering on Time with Cage-Free Barns

Aerial view of an egg-laying facility.

October 23, 2023

Timing is everything – especially when you’re racing to complete cage-free egg-laying barns for 1.5 million birds. Interstates helped Sioux Center, IA-based Center Fresh Group meet this goal with the electrical design and construction of three cage-free layer buildings, utilizing pre-planning, effective collaboration with other trades, and time-saving prefabrication to keep the project on schedule. Joe Hulst, Assistant Project Manager at Interstates, says, “The goal was clear: Have each one of the barns ready by the ‘bird date.’”

Each building, boasting four levels and two barns per structure, was designed to accommodate 62,500 birds per level, prioritizing both space and animal welfare. Interstates partnered with Connected Electric, a consortium of local electrical contractors, to procure, install, and wire critical components such as electrical power distribution gear, emergency backup power systems, specialized poultry management control panels, and a new truck scale with a grain probe. Hulst says, “We also installed lighting control boards and the associated field wiring for a German-based poultry company that produces a lighting system that achieves higher egg production and is better for the birds overall.”

Planning for Success

Effective planning was the key to meeting project deadlines. It helped that Interstates had just completed a similar site for the Center Fresh Group, but prioritizing communication with project stakeholders was still critical. Weekly meetings facilitated seamless communication and coordination among specialized poultry companies, contractors, and subcontractors. This collaborative approach ensured schedule alignment and showcased Interstates’ project management capabilities, including innovative methods like whiteboard planning and cost-saving prefabrication.

Whiteboard planning facilitated effective communication among team members, particularly with the local electrical contractors. “It was an easier way to show them our plans than using our typical, computer-driven schedules,” says Hulst, adding that having consistent teams made the biggest impact on the schedule. “We put together a team, assigned certain areas to certain guys, and did the same thing six times over, gaining momentum each time,” he says.

Using our local prefab shop, we expedited construction and elevated safety on this project. Over 3,958 hours were spent at the shop building the main electric room and underground conduit components, yielding notable time savings on-site.

Challenges and Solutions

Adverse weather conditions and wind damage posed threats, but strategic planning and swift responses mitigated potential delays. Early in the start-up stage, a manufacturer was on site testing the generator. “The generator started on fire and was a total loss,” says Nate Van Kley, Project Manager at Interstates. “We had to work quickly to move generators that were needed later in the project into place and rewire them, all while making sure checkout and start-up happened before the first bird date. Along with this, we had to continue to track the replacement generator to make sure we would have it in time for later bird dates,” he says. Troubleshooting under pressure and working closely with other trades and vendors helped to preemptively address potential supply chain delays, ensuring the prompt availability of essential materials.

Van Kley underscores the significance of teamwork in delivering this project quickly and successfully. “We wanted to feel like a team rather than multiple contractors working against each other,” he says, noting group outings and cookouts that kept morale steady. Interstates’ relationship with the Center Fresh Group, along with trusted vendors, was just as integral to keeping the work flowing. “It takes a village to have a successful project,” says Hulst. “I’m thankful for the village, internal and external, we had on this project.” Because of the innovation and perseverance demonstrated on this project, Interstates was recently awarded a contract for 16 additional layer barns and other work for this client at a different site.