Poultry producers move from mainstream to niche market

Couple sells commercial broiler operation to build abattoir, sausage kitchen as they switch to specialty products

FALKLAND, B.C. — North Okanagan specialty bird producers are helping others to farm and giving their children a business education.

Hans and Lisa Dueck moved from commercial chicken production to specialty birds for direct sales to consumers and restaurants.

“I bought my first quota from my dad and spent 26 years in the business,” said Hans.

The couple sold a commercial broiler operation in Armstrong and moved to Falkland because Hans found the supply managed system “too processor centric.”

While developing a rural subdivision on their mountainside property, the Duecks decided to raise a few birds on the side to keep their farm status.

“We built a specialty egg to table brand,” said Lisa.

She said the birds are free run and non-medicated, fed a custom vegetable diet and raised in a sustainable environment.

“Its a hybrid between backyard and commercial chicken production,” said Lisa.

“We realized if we wanted to supply restaurants, we would have to have product available year round.”

“In the summer, we are able to process every week taking seven, eight and nine-week old birds,” Hans said.

Due to their limited space, they also have six backyard growers raising birds for them.

“There are lots of people who are interested in farming but it’s very daunting to get started,” Lisa said.

“I pay their expenses and $3.50 a bird on top of that,” Hans said.

“With 2,000 birds (the maximum for backyard flocks in B.C.), they are getting a fair income, plus farm status.”

Their children, Johanna, 14, and Jacob, 12, are home schooled and involved in all aspects of the farming and marketing.

“I think life is more than just numbers and writing, you have to have as broad a base as possible,” said Hans.

“The children see us developing a business plan with a local chef to raise bees and several months later it comes together with hundreds of pounds of honey.”

“If they are with us in our home till they are 20 and we live till we are 80, they are with us only a quarter of our lives,” said Lisa.

“That is a very short time really for input and impact and we want to teach as much as we can.”

The Duecks hatch on the farm and drive to Langley every three weeks to purchase non-medicated eggs.

As the eggs hatch, they are moved to the chick room for three weeks and then into one of the two grow-out rooms for two three-week cycles.

“Every 21 days is very busy as we are moving birds, cleaning the barn and processing,” Hans said.

Lisa said they are uniquely positioned in time and place to make this operation work.

“We are very careful to seek out a market that will provide a return. We found that retail does not work at this point. The chefs we are working with want local product.”

Lisa is up before dawn to drive the van two hours twice weekly to the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market to sell their whole and cut chicken and sausage products.

That market and the closer Vernon market represent 80 percent of their sales. They also deliver to winery and high-end urban restaurants.

Building their own abattoir allowed the Duecks to take the care that they wanted.

The sausage kitchen came from looking at ways to expand their business options.

“If you keep moving forward, opportunities come to you. It’s important to find that balance between being big enough to be viable and still be nimble,” said Hans.

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