By Tom Collins
ETHEL —A Western Ontario farmer says the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s (CFO) artisanal chicken program is a great side business for farmers, but it would be tough to make a full-time living off the program.
Two years ago, the CFO changed its rules to increase the number of chickens allowed to be raised without quota from 300 to up to 3,000 per year but must do so within the program. Farmers can still raise fewer than 300 chickens without the blessing of the CFO.
In 2016, there were 103 Ontario farmers raising chickens without quota in the artisanal program. That number grew to 141 as of July 13, 2017. There are 34 artisanal chicken farmers in Eastern Ontario, 26 in Central Ontario, 56 in Western Ontario and 25 in Northern Ontario. The CFO is looking for more people interested in raising artisanal chickens.
Heidi Schlumpf and her husband Remo run Blue Haven Acres at Ethel in Huron County. They also raise and sell turkeys, beef and eggs. The Schlumpfs raised 50 chickens the year before the CFO introduced the artisanal chicken program and now raise 600 under the program.
The chickens spend the first few weeks inside a barn until they are moved permanently outside. In the fresh air, the chickens stay inside a moveable structure that looks like a mini Cover-All structure on wheels. The roof is covered and the tarp on the sides can be raised or lowered depending on the weather. There’s also feed and fresh water inside.
Every morning the structure is moved to a new spot so the chickens have fresh grass. The structure doesn’t weigh very much and Heidi can move it by herself.
“The chickens are getting lots of fresh air, they’re getting all the benefits of grazing outdoors, but they still have the shelter,” says Heidi. “And it’s awesome for not having to worry about predators.”
There are very few farmers that would be able to make a full-time living off of just the artisanal chicken program. Heidi says her farm sold about $60,000 worth of meat in 2017, the majority of which was chicken. She estimates the farm’s net income was $17,000 to $20,000.
Their marketing plan is to sell the products through their web site and word of mouth. Every three weeks, Heidi delivers chickens to the doorsteps of customers in Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph. On another day, she’ll drive to London and Stratford. They also sell to three grocery stores.
Heidi would like to grow the business, but as a high school teacher — Remo also works off the farm — there isn’t enough time to expand to the full 3,000 chickens. They would also need to build a bigger barn to house the young brood, buy more outdoor structures and have more time to spend on marketing.
“Whether I would be able to market that many chickens in this area, I don’t know,” she says. “It’s crazy, because you see the statistics of how many consumers there are for organic foods and it’s a niche market for sure, but it’s such a small portion of the overall population because not everyone can afford it. That’s where my hardship is. I haven’t done near as much as I feel like I could do with it. I haven’t marketed like I would like to market it, just to see how much bigger we could be if I could have that be my full-time focus.”