Ottawa-area farmer brings pasture raised chicken to market

A farmer from Curran, Ont., is among the first in the province to bring pasture-raised chicken to market through the artisanal chicken program. It enables non-quota chicken farmers to produce and sell up to 3,000 chickens per year.

Program designed to answer demand for locally produced chicken

The pasture-raised chickens get to enjoy the fresh air and peck at the outdoor ground. (CBC)

A farmer from a small Ottawa-area town is bringing pasture raised chicken to market through a provincial program that aims to fill a rising demand for locally produced chicken and make it easier for small-scale farmers to break into the market.

Kornel Schneider applied for the artisanal chicken program last year and is now in his first summer of pasture-raised chicken production at Ferme Rêveuse in Curran, Ont., about an hour east of Ottawa. 

"They are out in the fresh air. They can eat grass, they can dig for there's simply more taste in them," said Schneider. 

Kornel Schneider applied for the Artisanal Chicken Program last year and is now in his first summer of pasture raised chicken production (Robyn Miller/CBC)

His family farm is among the first of about 80 others in Ontario approved for the artisanal chicken program that was launched by Chicken Farmers of Ontario in June 2015.

His licence allows the farm to produce up to 3,000 chickens per year, market and sell them to Ontario consumers on the farm and in restaurants and other food establishments.

Previously non-quota chicken farmers in Ontario were only allowed to produce up to 300 chickens for home consumption or farm-gate sales through the Family Food Program, according the Chicken Farmers of Ontario.

​"It just was not really possible for a farm to invest into that branch," said Schneider.

"There wasn't enough revenue from it to actually justify buying a freezer, getting into delivering chickens, getting into marketing and all that."

Artisanal chicken for sale in Ottawa

Schneider's chickens sell for $5.50 per pound, or about $42 per bird, but the owner of Ottawa's Red Apron gourmet food shop said it's worth it.

Jennifer Heagle is a big proponent of the new program because she said it's difficult to source locally produced chicken and her business aims to serve seasonal, local and organic food from as close to home as possible.

One day these "artisan" chickens will sell for sell for $5.50 per pound. (Robyn Miller/)

"This is a premium, premium product and worth every penny because farmers deserve to make a living," said Heagle.

"Animals deserve to be treated as humanely as possibly and consumers deserve to eat something that is going to benefit their health," she added.

Program has same standards as commercial production

Farmers accepted into the program have to follow the same safety, biosecurity and animal care standards as commercial farmers.

In addition, all CFO certified farmers must meet all disease reporting requirements as well as applicable government regulations.

But Schneider takes it to the next level by applying animal friendly and environmentally sustainable techniques.

He said there is still a lot to learn because he and other small scale farmers don't have much experience with grazing chickens on a commercial basis.

"We observe the animals and we learn," said Schneider. "We listen to other industry insiders and go from there and adapt basically daily."