When people talk about farm size, my farm is certainly described as large, commercial or even as agri-business, but I consider my farm to be a family farm. I have dedicated staff, but family is involved all day, every day. Farming occurs in many different ways, big and small. Today, I’m talking about small-scale farming. People are becoming more interested in where their food comes from and are valuing fresh, local food. That’s my goal too! I achieve that by raising hens and producing eggs that end up in your local grocery store, not just in Alberta’s major cities, but also in your small rural communities.
I raise pullets for other egg farms around Alberta and western Canada, and I supply people who want just a few hens for their own families. These people can buy up to 300 hens to supply farmer’s markets or direct market straight from their farms. Commercial farmers need quota and a license to produce eggs when they have over 300 hens. That is part of the supply management system, which the egg industry operates under in Alberta and across Canada.
There are dozens of reasons that people want just a few hens. Sometimes, they want a project for their children or grandchildren to teach them about responsible animal care or teach them about earning their own money. Sometimes, I sell to elderly men or women who love their hens and it’s their way to get out of the house several times a day. Sometimes, large families want to reduce their grocery bills by raising their own hens. Or sometimes, it’s a way for farmers to diversify and supply their neighbors and friends with fresh, farm eggs.
Generally, I sell to my backyard customers in the spring and fall. Many of these customers have purchased from me for over 10 or 20 years, and have become friends. I look forward to seeing them each year! Every customer has a unique story and I love to hear about it – why they want the hens, whom the eggs go, and what challenges and successes they face with their flocks. I stress to everyone the need for cleanliness and biosecurity (it’s important to keep your birds healthy no matter how many you have). I provide general advice and refer them to vets and feed companies if they have specific concerns that I can’t help them with. I discuss keeping the hens safe from predators – not only the regular ones like coyotes, foxes and hawks, but also weasels, your own or your neighbor’s dogs, skunks and yes, raccoons (for the longest time, I didn’t even know that Alberta had racoons)! I talk to them about getting their birds home safely and securely, and how to help them adjust to their new homes.
Many of these customers have seen my children grow up. They were often there on the loading days and helped carry hens or hold open boxes. They still continue to help, if they aren’t at school. Here is a picture of my son Isaac handling one of the ‘ladies’.
Here is a picture of some young boys who came this spring to help their parents. They really wanted a couple of roosters in addition to hens (there are always a few that slip through the sexing process).
Before you decide to get some hens, check with your county, town or municipality if there are any restrictions or bylaws that affect you. With the urban food movement, some towns and cities have voted in favour (or not) of keeping backyard hens. Also, I recommend checking out this link from Alberta Agriculture: https://www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app21/infopage?cat1=Livestock&cat2=Poultry. They have some good information on disease prevention and direct marketing.
Whether I sell just 4 hens or 4000, it’s important that I provide the best information and the best quality hen. Remember also that looking after livestock (yes, that’s what these chickens are) is an everyday job and their welfare is in your hands!