A Slocan Valley couple is hoping to put new life into the local poultry industry by establishing a mobile abattoir.
Judi Morton and her husband just bought the unit, which they will take possession of in April and expect to have running on their Passmore property by June.
In the meantime, they’re leading a workshop Saturday on small-scale poultry production.
“Around 2002 or so, there were roughly 14,000 birds being raised between Nakusp and South Slocan,” Morton says. “When the new meat regulations came in, most of it shut down. People just did it for themselves and maybe quietly for a neighbour or two, but that was it.”
The new restrictions say meat can only be sold to restaurants and stores if it passes through a government-inspected abattoir — of which there are few in the Kootenays.
“My husband and I felt that what was holding this area back into being sustainable for their own poultry needs was having a certified unit,” Morton says, estimating that there are now only about 4,000 chickens being raised for meat in the same area.
They’ve been working with the provincial government’s meat transition assistance program, which encourages people to set up units in areas that don’t have abattoirs. Birds from their facility will be certified by a federal inspector.
“I would like to see us eventually get to the point where there is no outside poultry coming into this area, because I think we can do it ourselves,” she says.
She adds their unit can only go to certified docking stations, of which there is one in Salmo and another in Creston. They will also establish one on their property, and she’s heard talk of setting them up in Silverton and Kaslo.
She expects it will further help bolster the case for backyard chickens in places like Nelson, where one of the stumbling blocks has been what do with birds when they are through laying eggs: “Now they can go to council and say there is a local abattoir we can take them to.”
Morton has a certified organic farm and raises chickens herself on pasture, but because she couldn’t get her birds to an abattoir, she wasn’t able to obtain organic status for them.
To encourage others to try chicken farming — which will in turn keep her unit in business — Morton is hosting a Chicken Day at the Vallican Whole on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The morning will be devoted to basics of poultry production, followed in the afternoon by a discussion on how to work collectively.
“If we buy equipment together we can get it at a lower price. If we batch the chickens so we have bigger numbers available, that’s better for the inspector,” Morton says.
She says some people with small holdings lost their farm status when the new meat regulations came in, because they no longer earned enough to qualify. She thinks increased poultry output can help push incomes back past that threshold.
“I would think in encouraging people [to raise poultry] that I’m going to encourage farms and keeping their status,” she says.
Saturday’s workshop is for both current producers and anyone interested in learning how to raise chickens for their own use or sale.
Admission is by donation, but pre-registration at 250-226-7100 is appreciated. Fifty people have already signed up.