MORE CHICKENS AND EGGS

THE CONTRARIAN

Why is this of interest to you? Because this history impacts our area more than most; we are small farms, and this history of destroying small farms’ chickens and eggs business is our history.  Not to mention impacting the quality of food on your plate.

Glenn Black is the hero of this latest (2013) chapter, coming up with really embarrassing numbers which highlight how government and big companies have taken control of chickens and eggs, to the immense profit of a few companies. All while shutting out small or just beginning farmers, and destroying the traditional family farm which was the founding backbone of our country. (Does anyone suppose big companies might support/bribe any of our political parties?).

Let me explain. When most of us lived on small farms, producing our own food, chickens and eggs were a good option by which a starting farmer could raise some cash without a large capital investment. I was about 9 when my dad made a deal with Vernon’s store, he would raise a few hundred spring roosters, and deliver them in the fall, in customer-ready condition.  In those days, that meant the innards were still in, if you know what I mean, and the head and feet (well-scrubbed) still on, so the buyer would know she got a healthy rooster, not a tough old hen.  Chicken was a local product.  As was eggs, many a family farm derived much of their cash income from delivering farm-fresh eggs directly to customers, or to retailers.

These local small farms were animal-based, the fields raised feed for the animals, and the animals produced manure for the fields, no chemicals of any kind needed. They were sustainable, the fields got better with time, and being small, erosion and pollution were unheard of.  Additionally, your entire food dollar stayed in the community, an economic advantage.  These farms were brutally forced out of business by government regulation in favour of large corporations elsewhere in the province.

Here are some stats from Glenn that apply to meat chicken (the situation on eggs might be even worse). A basic marketing board quota which would allow a new farmer to get into raising meat chickens costs $1 million, and that is just the quota, the right to keep chickens, then you need a million dollar barn, sewer and water services, and so on.  After this multi-million dollar investment, you at the bottom of a pecking order which savagely disadvantages you, you are up against giants.  Not surprisingly, there are not very many new chicken farmers.

Very small flocks are allowed without quota, and the board is quite aggressive about enforcing these restrictions, to protect those million-dollar investments. Even though the 13 000 small flocks in Ontario only produce 0.1% of the chicken, while the 142 largest flocks produce 63%.  These are large corporate entities, generally owned by giant feed companies which have a stranglehold on feed supply and therefore a quasi-monopoly.

Other provinces allow producers to have 2000 birds without a quota, which is enough to be a worthwhile addition to a small farm. Ontario only allows 300 meat birds (or 99 laying hens), which is almost silly, too small to be considered a business.  Black has been lobbying for the same treatment for small farmers as the other provinces allow, and in the process has uncovered some scuzzy practices which is embarrassing the Province.  In the meantime, the Federal gov’t has floated a trial balloon proposal to reinforce the marketing boards, which would destroy the base even the other provinces allow.  One hopes the Trump initiatives might be of help.

One small example of the benefits of access to chicken and eggs from small flocks would be this. ‘Free range’ in a small flock means the birds are outdoors as much as they wish, in fences to keep them safe from predators, eating vegetation and bugs as they find them, exercised and healthy.  ‘Free Range’ in the commercial operators lexicon means a veranda on the side of a 50 000-bird barn, big enough that each bird could see the outdoors (but not touch the ground) as much as 10 minutes a day.  Another  example would be that market boards store eggs in times of high production to cover times of lower production, which is a benefit in terms of eggs always being available.  Stored ‘first-in, first-out’, which means marketing board eggs have always been in storage at least several months(!) before they come to your supermarket!

So if you are having trouble finding naturally grown, locally grown chicken or eggs, and find them expensive, there might be an explanation in all this. In the meantime, we all need to cheer for Mr. Black. (Information for this column comes from Small Farms Canada magazine, Nov/Dec 2013 issue.)

All this is from 2013. What brings it to the fore is that since 2013 Ontario was embarrassed to find that there wasn’t enough quota to supply all the chicken we eat.  Because of lobbying from small farmers, no doubt Mr. Black’s activities have something to do with it; the door was opened to small producers.  Ontario and the Chicken Farmers of Ontario came to an agreement which seems to indicate the 300 might become 600, or even 3000 birds, still a flock small enough to be managed using natural feed and methods.

Sadly, they were less than sincere; a regime was put in place too complicated too expensive, and with too short a time line for any new entrants. So, they closed the door and said ‘see, there isn’t anybody out there’. and gave additional quota to existing giant operations instead of creating something useful.  No doubt what they wanted to do in the first place, it was all smoke and mirrors to shut we Northerners up.

There is an irony here, in that chicken and eggs in our northwestern Ontario stores all come from outside the province, so enforcing quota’s here does nothing to protect Ontario growers.

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