Thinking Outside The Box

Aerial view of an egg-laying facility.

May 4, 2022

At the Corwith, IA, Hawkeye Pride egg-laying facility, new cage-free barns are keeping costs down while ensuring the production of high-quality eggs. Interstates provided electrical construction, electrical engineering, design, and preplanning services on this project, reducing the project schedule dramatically by implementing time-saving planning and construction methods.

Cage-Free Barns for Better Egg Laying

The project included two buildings with four cage-free barns, as well as interstitial spaces between facilities. According to Craig Rowles, Director of Cage Free Operations at Versova Management Co. LLC, owner of Hawkeye Pride, the design of the barns is intended to be animal welfare friendly and to reflect changing customer needs for cage-free eggs. “These new cage-free barns provide exciting opportunities and challenges. They require a well-managed combination of environmental control, feed delivery, egg gathering, hen care, and manure removal. All these things must be orchestrated by a strong team of barn workers and through a management system that depends on electrical systems that work safely and reliably, 24 hours a day,” says Rowles.

To provide the client with those reliable electrical systems, Interstates installed electrical switchboards and panels in the main electric room, and each barn has its own electric room as well. “In total, we did seven electric rooms,” says Nate Van Kley, Project Manager at Interstates. His team installed and wired a variety of egg-specific technology, from nest ejectors to egg belts and fans.

Lessons Learned in Timing and Staging

After completing the first barn, the Interstates team went over what went well and what could improve on the next barns. One lesson learned involved the PVC-coated MC cable that needed to be pulled to nest ejectors. “We initially used plastic brackets and tuggers, but the cable would get twisted, and our rates weren’t optimal. As we went along, we figured out that laying out cable on the floor first and then lifting it to the hooks avoided these problems. With every barn, we got a little bit quicker as our methods improved,” says Van Kley.

Cody Pommer, Superintendent at Interstates, says, “COVID-19 has impacted logistics planning. Having the right amount of material at the right time is important, so we’ve been ordering large amounts of material and working with our vendors to get what we need ahead of time. The sheer size of these barns made getting materials and people to the work areas a big undertaking.” He says that staging materials as needed and having carts and wheeled ladders to move easily between rows of cages boosted efficiency.

Laying Ahead of Schedule

The beginning of the project had its challenges, including increased workload and trouble getting cage builders on time. To hit the “bird date,” crews had to put in long hours. Weekly coordination meetings, open communication, and utilizing the same team from previous barns helped the work go smoothly. Interstates’ preplanning team and prefab shop played a crucial role in innovating for productivity and getting the schedule back on track. “Our prefab shop made inexpensive brackets for hanging cable that we used throughout the project. They go up super fast and are sturdy and convenient,” says Van Kley.

Naboth Netten, VDC Sr. Designer at Interstates, says, “We used prefab to save manpower on site and assist with the schedule, which was able to be moved up six weeks.” Prefabbed items, in addition to the cable supports, included rollout lighting and panel skids. Netten says that the project’s success was partly due to Pommer’s solid leadership and willingness to try new things when it came to prefab and productivity. “He was pushing us to think outside the box, and it ended up saving a lot of money and time,” he adds.

Completing the barns ahead of schedule allowed Hawkeye Pride to bring birds in sooner to start laying eggs. Rowles says, “Interstates demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in all things. They delivered our project on time and on budget, and they exceeded our expectations in the areas of quality and worker safety.”