Joining the Artisanal Chicken Program pays off for ecological farmer

Jason Hayes joined the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s (CFO) Artisanal Chicken Program at the suggestion of a friend who was a new farmer and recommended he try it out. He’s glad he did.
“I got an application in, and it was a fairly simple process,” he says. “The kind of information that was requested was not too onerous to supply, and the CFO staff were great.”
Hayes has a 30-acre farm in Williamsford, Ontario that he bought in 2008. He raised 600 chickens on pasture in 2016 under the CFO program which is aimed at farmers like him who want to grow 600 to 3,000 birds. He also has a half-acre market garden and raises ducks, lambs and pigs on pasture.
Hayes keeps his chicks in a brooding area of the bank barn for three weeks before putting them on pasture. They’re kept in moveable range pens surrounded by an electrified poultry net. The pens are moved to a new location every day and the nets are moved weekly until the birds are finished. Everything is close to the farmyard and he hasn’t had any problems with predators, so he doesn’t lock them up at night.
While he was getting the farm up and running, Hayes worked at local restaurants where he got to know owners. Now, he sells his chickens mainly to his contacts in Owen Sound, Thornbury and the Beaver Valley, as well as to families around the region.
He also sells his white rock and nova brown chickens through the Eat Local Grey Bruce Co-op, a group of 20 farmers who offer their fresh and frozen products at an online store. Customers sign up to be members, and pick what they want from a selection of locally grown meat, fruits, vegetables, dairy and dry goods. They can either have their orders delivered or pick them up at drop-off locations.
“It takes the marketing load off my shoulders,” he says. He’s responsible for adding new product photos and descriptions to the website.
Hayes is very interested in research, and signed up for a trial through the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario (EFAO) to determine the nutritional content of the meat from his birds. His hypothesis is that a combination of the feed he gives his birds and the way they were raised makes for a higher quality product in terms of omega-3 and other vitamins. He’ll be presenting his results at the EFAO conference in Kingston in November, 2016.
Hayes recommends the Artisanal Chicken Program to others and says it’s a good idea to make sure to research the market, so producers where they can sell their products.
He says the program provided ‘a good-sized step up’ and is weighing his options on whether to increase his bird numbers for next year.

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