Some Langley chicken farmers fear they could be facing a threat to their livelihood, due to changes that will leave them with fewer options for processing birds for sale.
Carmen Skolos, co-owner of Green Feast Farm, is only in her second year of professional farming, but she said she no longer has an affordable place to have her chickens slaughtered and processed for sale.
She advertises her birds at farmers markets while selling her other products and then customers come to her property to buy them.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s really unfair that big farms get all the power,” she said.
The facility she has been using, Farm Fed in Abbotsford, recently stopped accepting “custom kill” orders — small flocks — leaving her to look for a new provincially-inspected abattoir to take her chickens.
Poultry must be processed in such a facility to be legally sold and Farm Fed recently stopped accepting orders of less than 200 birds at a time.
Skolos currently raises 160 birds at a time.
“[In] the future, I probably can’t sustain being a farmer because probably almost half of my income comes from my [chickens],” she said.
“As a new farmer, I cannot make a living with just vegetables and flowers and eggs — I just can’t.”
Problems with Time and Paperwork
Farm Fed’s past and present custom kill customers received an email on May 17 from plant manager Ellen Vane, which read in part:
“With our expansion completed, additional automated equipment installed, adding additional product and hiring of extra employees we are unable to offer custom processing due to lack of processing time.”
According to Farm Fed co-owner Ken Huttema, many of the 200-300 custom kill clients that have used his facility over the last five years have failed to properly fill out “flock sheets” — paperwork that must be submitted in advance of a kill.
“If we don’t have it, [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] won’t let us kill the birds, but people don’t understand that,” he said.
“It takes time and effort from our staff to follow up with these people to get it and to make sure it’s filled out right.”
Huttema said trying to get customers to complete flock sheets properly and on time is more hassle than his growing company has time for.
“I mean, obviously we’re in the business to make money,” he said.
Huttema said his company would find a way to accommodate any farmers who were already raising flocks they had expected to slaughter at Farm Fed but Skolos said she had not heard the same.
Huttema said his company may consider setting a day aside each month to do custom kill.
Skolos said her birds are raised ethically, sustainably and organically, which make for a distinctive product that isn’t always available in supermarkets.
Cathy Finley, who also raises birds in a similar manner and has used Farm Fed for custom kill, said she has been able to partner with another farmer to have their birds processed together at another facility but if it were not for that opportunity, she would be unable to sell any chickens this year.
Finley said there is an increasing demand for their distinct product, while it is getting harder to raise, process and sell them.
“It does just feel that we’re maybe being pushed out a little bit,” said Finley.
Skolos said she has been looking into using other abattoirs but has not found a viable alternative yet.
She contacted a facility in Chilliwack that quoted her prices much higher than what she had been paying at Farm Fed.
She said 80 birds would cost $570 and 160 would cost $810, not including the rental of cages for transport (for $200) from a third party (Farm Fed used to lend her cages for free). This compares to Farm Fed’s fees which were $340 for 80 and $680 for 160, she said. (She would be paying more than double when rental and transportation costs were factored in).
“As you can see, this is a huge difference,” she said.
New Facility May Be in Works
Trev Rogers has been processing chickens in a backyard facility for 40 years, as well as operating a mobile unit, which he brings to farms. Neither facility is government inspected and therefore the birds cannot be sold.
He said he is working on building a new facility in either the Township of Langley or Abbotsford that will cater to small-scale farmers like Skolos.
Rogers said he doesn’t blame Farm Fed for growing and catering to bigger clients, but there needs to be room for someone like him to fill the need for custom kill in the region.
“When you don’t have a couple million dollars laid out on the line, those [flocks of] 50 and 60, they’re bringing in your bread and butter for you,” he said.
But Rogers said he has encountered bureaucratic roadblocks in setting up an abattoir in the area. He said that someone from the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture told him if he built a facility it would be easy to get the government inspector on site.
“They can’t be any more behind someone setting up a plant other than giving me a whole bunch of money to do it,” he said.
Location a Challenge
But finding a place to build a new facility in either Abbotsford or the Township of Langley has proved more difficult.
Mayor Jack Froese said Township land zoned for agricultural use would not allow for the type of facility Rogers wants to build, but industrial land may prove a better host.
Froese said there would likely be concerns from neighbours if he tried to establish a commercial abattoir in a farming area.
“You can imagine somebody has their nice, idyllic little piece of property and next door a killing plant is going to be built. You can imagine the phone calls I’m going to get,” he said.
Froese said there would likely be concerns about how the various kinds of waste would be disposed of.
Rogers claims to have a plan to dispose of both the solid and liquid waste responsibly, including supplying effluent to farmers to spread as fertilizer.
In the meantime, Skolos hopes a solution presents itself soon and she can continue to grow as a farm and meet the minimum threshold set by Farm Fed and maybe one day selling to stores and restaurants.
“I’ve already doubled-up from last year,” she said. That’s the demand in these ethically raised birds.”