Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why is it so hard to find pastured chicken in Ontario?

This has been an interesting month. We have been contacted by a few people who stumbled across our website and our Facebook page. I keep hearing how happy they are to have found a source for pastured poultry. Now, this makes me very happy. It's great to know that there are people out there that are informed and care about where their food comes from. Most people don't give it a second thought. It comes from the grocery store. Duh!

But the word is getting out there, and people are asking questions. Were the vegetables sprayed with pesticides? Were they genetically modified? How was the meat raised? Was the animal in question given antibiotics? Was that chicken stuck in a barn its whole miserable life? 

Once we start asking these questions and finding out the answers we start wanting to change how we eat. And that's not always easy. 

Farmer's markets are a great place to start. You can find fresh from the farm beef, pork, and just about any vegetable you could want. But where's the chicken?

You will not likely find chicken at a farmer's market. And there's a good reason for that.

Chicken production in Canada is controlled by a supply management system. Back in the early 1970's chicken farmers had a problem. The price of chicken was so low that they were having a hard time even breaking even. Their solution was to form  a quota system. Farmers were given a quota of birds to raise and they were guaranteed a price. That started the era of the factory farm. From a purely business standpoint, it is much more efficient to keep the birds confined and feed them as much as possible so they grow as fast as possible. And that is how the vast majority of chickens are raised. Sad but true.

Here in Ontario this is governed by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario. For years they controlled all of the chicken produced in Ontario. In 2009, after pressure from farmers who wanted to produce organic free-range chicken, the CFO allowed an exemption for small flocks. This made it possible for small farms to produce chicken, not just for their own families, but to sell to people who want better chicken.

But there's a catch. The CFO, not wanting to make things easy for small flock producers, added some restrictions.

You have to buy the chicks at a hatchery. This way the CFO can track how many birds you have. In fact, the hatchery is required to give you a form, called a form 300, that you have to take to the processor. If you don't have the form the processor will not accept the birds.

You can only raise 300 birds in a year. This ensures that producing chicken will never be more than a hobby. You cannot make a living raising 300 birds. Most small flock farmers don't even come close to 300. Why not? Because you are not allowed to advertise, and you can only sell at the farm gate. That means you pretty much have to rely on word of mouth. And why would you order 300 chicks if you don't know whether you will be able to sell them?

So, if you are looking for pastured poultry in Ontario, ask around. If your friends don't know a small flock farmer you might need to do a little digging around. Try the farmers at the market. Chances are someone will know someone. You won't be able to buy it there, but you might get some information. Even better, ask at the local feed store. They know who is buying the feed.

Of course, if you are in the Belleville area we might be able to hook you up here at Joyful Noise Farm. Look us up and Like us on Facebook and we can keep you updated on what we're up to.

Once you have tried true free-range chicken you will never want to go back to that factory farm chicken from the grocery store.

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