By Tom Collins
NORTH LANCASTER — A 30-year-old pilot is using the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s (CFO) artisanal chicken program as a stepping stone to becoming a full-time farmer.
Adrien Quenneville, of Black Duck Farm at North Lancaster, near Cornwall, was one of 38 new participants in the program in 2017.
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 growing 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.
Quenneville raised 700 birds last summer in his first year in the program. He plans to increase that to 1,200 birds this summer and eventually to 3,000 within a few years. Quenneville, who works full-time for Sunwing Airlines, says that hours in the sky allow him time to dream about his chicken business and map out a business plan.
“It will be a gradual increase, otherwise I’ll just end up being the guy who has full freezers all the time,” said Quenneville, adding he would need to raise other animals to become a full-time farmer as he wouldn’t be able to make a full-time living from just the artisanal chicken program. “Chicken is the gateway drug. I’m going to start doing turkeys next year.”
Quenneville’s cost of production was around $11 per bird, and he usually sells the chickens for $5 a pound, about $20-$22 per bird. Even at the maximum 3,000 birds, that’s only a profit of $33,000.
He has moveable cages and a moveable electric fence. The chickens roam around the field inside the fenced-off area during the day, and are put into 100 sq. ft. cages at night. Every couple of days, the cages and fences are moved so the chickens have fresh pasture.
“It takes about 20 minutes for moving cages and birds,” said Quenneville. “The more time-consuming aspect is getting birds back into the cages in the evening. It can take 45 minutes depending on how stubborn they feel that day.”
He said the consumers’ ideal of local food helps sell the product. He had one restaurant wanting him to supply it with chickens, but Quenneville had to decline as he wasn’t able to fill the order.
“When you say the words ‘local, pastured, nearly free-ranged birds,’ it kind of does the marketing for you,” he said.