When you look back on your youth, what do you remember? Where does the good come from?
For my part, my childhood had two very distinct parts to it; waking up to a view over the ocean on BC’s rocky coast, & chasing the ponies and chickens around the backyard on our Ontario hobby farm. These were the good moments, the moments that helped shape my love for the environment & the animals we raised. However, the years passed as they tend to do & I eventually left the farm looking for what I thought were greener pastures.
Fast forward a decade, & more than a few life lessons that were hard-won, and here I am today. I’ve returned to the farm, trying to get my foot back in the barn… but perhaps I wouldn’t have left in the first place if I’d known how hard that would be to come back.
Canada has a Supply Management System for much of its agricultural produce, & often helps to control its production through the use of Quota. For eggs, this quota means that you cannot own over 100 laying hens without having to buy quota. For meat birds, broilers, you cannot produce more than 300 birds a year without it. Further details provide that these quotas apply on a per farm/per farmer basis. So you cannot have more than 300 birds at one physical address, and you, as an individual, cannot have more than 300 meat birds total, inclusive of multiple locations. Laying hens past their prime also count towards this broiler quota.
What does this mean for small scale farmers?
This means that you cannot expand to multiple locations. Ex. Your neighbor offers to let you use a portion of their land.
This means your children cannot start their own operation at home.
This means that if you have layers & broilers, you must offset your broiler numbers for any ‘de-commissioned’ layers.
So what do we get out of it?
Let’s focus on the 300 Broiler limit.
Chick Purchase: $1.50 each
Roughly $15/50 lb bag of chicken feed in my area.
Chart taken from University of Kentucky Paper
I found these numbers consistent while looking online and they seem to match up with our experience raising broilers. Based on this a chicken will eat roughly 16.23lbs of feed over a 9 week period to reach an average final finishing wait of 7lbs. 300 chickens, 4869 lbs total feed required, which comes to 98 bags of feed. When farming… I like to round up!
Total Feed Cost: $1,470, equivalent to $4.90/bird OR $0.70/lb
If you plan on selling your chickens off-property you must have them dressed at a government inspected facility. (Note: If they are for family, on-property consumption you may dress them yourself) I found a local slaughter house that will dress a chicken at a cost of $4.50/head. My mom gets a deal with a small local butcher that’s she’s been going to for 10 years for $3.50/head. To dress 300 birds would total up to $1,350-$1,050.
Total Expense: $3, 270
Per Bird Expense: $10.90
Market price right now for a dressed carcass is about $1.99/lb. For a 7lb bird this comes to $14. Thee hundred birds means a total sales of $4,200.
So $14-$10.90… That’s a $3.10 profit per bird, about $930 net profit. That’s an ‘ok’ part-time job considering it really only takes an hour out of your time each day.
BUT WAIT! … I left something out!
Land taxes, income taxes, electricity, water, housing, waterers, feeders, heat lamps, beddings… and oh yea, the farmer’s time.
Shoot, this ‘ok’ thing just turned into a pretty rotten deal! Of course you can market as a local, organic producer and sell at a higher cost to consumers but I think all farmers would agree that we really want to sell our produce at an affordable price. We want our product to be accessible for everyone, because shouldn’t all food be accessible? Shouldn’t people be able to choose what they are eating & putting into their bodies, & shouldn’t local farmers have the ability to meet that demand?
Don’t get me wrong, I think supply management is a good ideal. It has protected our Canadian market in many ways. However, I also think that our system is faulty and does not cater to Canadian start-ups or the small family farm as much as it should.
Food For Thought:
The poverty line in Ontario is $19,930 a year. Based on the above profit margin, one farmer would need to raise 6, 429 chickens to be considered above poverty. According to Agriculture Canada, last year (2014) Canada imported 26,067,726 ‘live heads of chicken’. That’s enough to raise over 4,000 Canadian citizens out of poverty. It’s not much, but it’s a start.
I am not a mathematician. I don’t pretend to know that inner workings of our income system or commercial financials for that matter. But I do have a rough idea of where we are, and where we need to be. I know that farmers are adapting to an ever changing world. We are learning to operate new technology, to open our doors to the public, to be innovative in the way we think manage our farms… and it’s time that our government did the same.
*This is an opinion piece, all figures are approximate & sources given when possible*
Some other great resources: