By Connor Lynch
PERTH — Three years ago, Dan Bowness moved out to the country with his wife and two kids to a “dream property” with 20 workable acres in Lanark County. The onsite log building was perfect for a retail store. They renovated and cleaned it up. Their sheep arrived one month after they moved in and the chickens arrived the next spring. They started a market garden, then started a small egg-production business.
“Our sales were increasing massively,” Bowness said. “Last year, we doubled sales from the year before. Through the winter, it was looking to be almost the same.”
They were considering expanding and upgrading their online delivery system. Bowness would post on Facebook if he was going to be on the road (usually picking up from a supplier), so if you wanted something and were in the area, you could leave a comment on the post. “Rudimentary, but it was working.” This year they’d hoped to roll out an actual online order system.
Things were going well, until a one-two punch threatened to destroy the dream.
The first punch we all felt, though some more than others: COVID-19. At first, the outbreak of novel coronavirus was good for business, if nothing else. Bowness works with a lot of local farmers and sells their beef, pork, honey and preserves in his on-farm store, alongside baked goods and even an art gallery featuring local artists. “At the very beginning, we had great business. People were panic shopping.”
Eggs were the big seller: Everyone wanted eggs. He was getting about eight dozen eggs a day from his chickens and selling out every day. “And I charge a good price for them too.”
But then his supply chain dried up, he said, and all of a sudden he couldn’t source from his local suppliers anymore. They were so busy doing their own direct sales that selling wholesale to him just didn’t make sense anymore. By April 17, all he had left in the freezer was lamb. “Not the most sought-after product.”
That was tough. Egg sales were keeping him going. So long as the economic shutdown didn’t last until the winter, he figured he could’ve made it through on egg sales alone.
The second punch came on the second weekend of April. On a lazy morning, Bowness went out with his seven-year-old daughter to collect eggs.
As soon as he saw the feathers strewn around outside the coop, he knew what had happened. “Inside was just a disaster.” Everything was gone, which told him it was coyotes. Foxes he can track down and weasels tend to just take the heads. But inside was just feathers and blood. Bowness figured he lost about 60 hens in one fell swoop. Between the attack and losing a couple older hens over the winter, he was left with about 29 laying hens.
Bowness’ daughter suggested setting up the trail camera to find out what had happened. They confirmed it was coyotes because they were back that night.
Bowness was looking into applying for the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program but with the loss of supply, he’s had to cancel his online services, such as they are. “It’s gonna hurt.”
Pondering his future he told Farmers Forum: “It’s probably putting me out of business.”
EASTERN ONTARIO: COVID-19 kills his supply chain, then coyotes killed his chickens
By Connor Lynch