Amy and Pat Kitchen got into the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s (CFO) Artisanal Chicken Program to diversify their income and to enter a predictable and stable industry without having to hire more labour.
“The program really opened up the flexibility for us - no longer do we have to only sell from the farm gate,” Amy says. “Now, we’re selling to restaurants and at farmers’ markets as well.”
The Kitchens own the 60-acre Sideroad Farm in Walter’s Falls, near Markdale, Ontario. There, they pasture-raised 1,500 chickens in three lots of 500 in 2016. They also have a five-acre organic market garden, supply cut flowers to weddings and other events, and raise turkeys and pigs on pasture. They also have laying hens.
They’ve been farmers for eight years, and moved from British Columbia to Ontario so they could raise livestock - something that was not allowed on the property they leased out west. Here, they grew the maximum of 300 birds under the Family Food Program for three years in a row.
“We thought getting into the program was pretty straightforward,” Amy says. “The CFO staff have been very helpful with navigating through it.”
The Kitchens grow their white rock chickens in a brooding area of their bank barn for the first two to three weeks, until they have their true feathers. Then they’re put out to pasture to finish.
The birds are kept in a 100-foot by 100-foot electrically fenced area, where they are guarded by a llama. They’re housed in a moveable, custom-made steel hut at night. The whole range is moved to a new pasture area weekly. The system cost extra to set up initially, but is paying off by saving the couple time, energy and labour.
“It’s great knowing that we’re growing really high-quality birds that our customers love in a way that exceeds animal welfare standards,” Amy says.
As a result of selling fresh vegetables at farmers’ markets in Collingwood, Thornbury and Toronto, the couple had a ready-made customer base who was happy to start buying pasture-raised chicken too.
They are also selling their chickens and pork cuts in a winter Community Supported Agriculture program they run from their website (www.sideroadnaturalfarm.com), and by appointment directly from the farm.
The Kitchens would recommend the program to anyone. They advise that it’s important to do your homework ahead of time - making sure you have a market, scheduling processing days with the abattoir, and have all the other infrastructure that’s needed to produce chicken efficiently.
They’re looking to expand next year, when they hope to produce 2,400 chickens in four cycles.
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