Backyard flock operators spread their wings

On the Farm: A B.C. couple started out small, but they now have close to 5,000 layers and grow vegetables on two acres

COBBLE HILL, B.C. — James and Cammy Lockwood have their own way of doing things.

Their business-like approach to environmental sustainability and animal welfare captured the notice of the Outstanding Young Farmer program, and they were named British Columbia’s 2019 representatives.

Neither planned on farming, but life throws curve balls, bunts and home runs. For them, starting a large vegetable and egg farm on Vancouver Island was their home run.

James had planned to join the RCMP, and Cammy was a fundraiser. His father, Barry, had a horticulture business that grew ornamental plants for wholesale and retail outlets. James did not fancy that business, but he and Cammy started growing a few vegetables and eggs for sale. They could see a chance to build a new career and business on Vancouver Island.

James’s father joined them, and Lockwood Farms was formed in 2011.

The flock grew to 99 layers, and they were selling eggs and vegetables at farmers markets in Victoria and Duncan, B.C. They later obtained a special permit for 399 hens outside the Lower Mainland.

The couple was working hard and decided they needed to go to the next step of production.

“We were scrubbing eggs by towel and hand with 399 hens and selling at the farmers market,” James said.

“It was getting a bit much, so we looked at getting an egg washer.”

In 2015 they received a 3,000 bird quota in the B.C. Egg Marketing Board new entrant lottery. They have since acquired more quota and now have close to 5,000 brown layers.

Layers at Lockwood Farms live in an open floor barn system where eggs are laid in nests. The birds are free to roam in the barn and are allowed outside in good weather. | Barbara Duckworth photo

More birds needed more space. They built a new 112-foot-long barn with two sides that offers an open floor, perches, a scratch floor and doors to an outside run. The outdoor area is covered with netting to protect the birds from predators.

Feed, water, nest boxes and roosting areas are located on a slatted floor about four feet above the scratch floor. One side is used to train the birds to lay in nest boxes, and the other side is the production unit.

The farm is about 10 minutes from Duncan, but their biggest draw is Victoria, where they have wholesale customers looking for GMO-free, omega 3 and free-range eggs. They also attend farmers markets every week.

“We really like our customers because they sought us out. We are not competing on price,” James said.

The hours are long and they sometimes worry about the work-life balance and spending enough time with their three children: Keighley, seven, Jayce, six and Simphiwe, five.

Employees are always hard to come by.

Three people grade and package eggs, but the Lockwoods struggle to keep reliable, permanent staff. Cammy is investigating the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.

Choices are made based on environmental and ethical considerations.

“What is important to Cammy and I is bridging some of the ideas from the small backyard folks to a viable commercial size. We are going to get bigger and we want to lead by example,” he said.

Being bigger is more efficient, and it provided better housing and care for the birds.

“One of the key reasons we decided to grow was because we really saw a difference in hen welfare,” Cammy said.

“With a larger scale of production, hen welfare actually improved.”

It was also more efficient from a business perspective.

“Having automated feed systems, automated egg collection, automated watering has greatly reduced the time we need to do chores and hugely increased production,” she said.

They also wanted to comply with new regulations while giving the birds a comfortable life.

“There are new regulations coming down the pipeline and we are trying to be ahead of the curve,” James said.

They direct market their eggs and are working on receiving a government-approved grading station.

They want to use their own label and keep their eggs differentiated as omega 3, free-run and non-GMO.

“Efficiency-wise, it sometimes makes more sense if we shipped them off to some other grader, but we do something quite different with our feed,” he said.

The feed program includes flax seed, lentils, peas and dried soldier fly larvae. They are the first commercial unit to use insect feed from Enterra, based in Langley, B.C. It is an expensive ingredient but adds high-quality protein to the ration and has received Canadian Food Inspection Agency approval.

“As humanity grows, we need to figure out our proteins, and insect protein is by far the most environmentally friendly,” said Cammy.

They fully support quality egg programs, and James is a director with British Columbia Egg Farmers because they believe it is important to be involved in their industry.

“It brings up everything to a standard and ensures all the egg producers in British Columbia to a certain standard so when consumers in the grocery store see free range, it actually is free range,” she said.

“It is not easy to convince consumers it is free range.”

The couple’s vegetable business is poised to expand with a fruit patch and a wider variety of vegetables. The climate on Vancouver Island allows them to grow produce up to 11 months a year.

Vegetables were still growing outdoors Nov. 1 at Lockwood Farms. The produce is grown outdoors and in greenhouses. | Barbara Duckworth photo

The vegetables are grown on about two acres of open fields and greenhouses.

Chicken manure is used for fertilizer.

They plant 150 varieties of vegetables and provide a seasonal sales list to restaurants and other customers. They do not want to grow products on consignment because menus change.

They will be traveling to Fredericton, N.B., in December for the national young farmers event.

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