By Brandy Harrison
MOSCOW — Bumping up against the 300-chicken non-quota ceiling, Andrea Hilborn jumped at the chance to raise 1,500 birds through a new chicken board program — still sans quota — to put full-time farming within reach.
“It’s quite a big step for us. We’d worked out the production kinks but we just weren’t allowed to produce more,” says the Moscow chicken, beef, pork, and turkey farmer, who runs Fat of the Land Farm near Kingston with her husband, Justin, who works off-farm as a carpenter.
Hilborn had a steady stream of requests for their pasture-raised chickens and estimates sales on-farm, at the farmers’ market, and through community-supported agriculture shares will come close to one-third of gross farm sales. “We know there is a much bigger market than we were able to serve.”
But the Hilborns — along with 79 other chicken farmers approved to raise between 600 and 3,000 chickens without quota for local markets as part of the artisanal chicken program — had to get the blessing of the Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO).
Announced last June, the program had more than 100 applications by Sept. 1.
The 80 applications given the go-ahead were mainly farmers that already catered to a local market or were part of the family food program — formerly the small flock program.
Up until last year, farmers were limited to 300 non-quota birds for personal consumption or limited farmgate sales under the small flock program. There are roughly 12,000 registered farmers raising an average of 60 chickens per year. At the commercial scale, a minimum quota purchase of 14,000 units is required.
The new crop of non-quota chicken farmers includes 29 from Western Ontario, 16 from the central region, 15 from Eastern Ontario, and 20 from Northern Ontario.
They’ll be mainly seasonal, set to start production in spring to supply an average of 1,800 chickens each to local butchers, restaurants, and farmers’ markets in addition to farmgate sales. As consumer and retail demand grows, the CFO expects farmers will launch breed- or production practice-specific proposals.
Jason Hayes is going to test the waters with 600 chickens — double what he and his partner Marcelina Salazar had been raising for the last three to four years at their mixed livestock and market garden farm in Williamsford, in Grey County.
“It’s not a licence to print money but it’s a sizeable contribution to the bottom line and to some of these old farms that have really low phosphorus. Any way we can get paid to upgrade the fertility status of our grasslands is time well spent,” he says.
Intended for non-quota holders only, farmers are required to reapply annually and pay a 20-cent licence fee per chick, as well as CFO and Chicken Farmers of Canada levies.
The program has room to grow: Capped at five per cent of annual allocated growth, there could be as many as 500,000 non-quota chickens produced for local markets.
The CFO started accepting more applications in February with no set deadline, planning to issue approvals on a rolling basis after a farm visit and board review to ensure farms comply with on-farm safety assurance and animal care programs. Some of the original applicants are still working with staff to meet regulations.
To apply, visit cfoprograms.ontariochicken.ca.