Greater Victoria’s small-scale chicken farmers are grappling with inflation as they try and keep their egg stands going.
Sooke-based hobby farmer Troy Dignam crunched the numbers and found that the price for chicken feed has gone up 50 per cent in the past 10 years, largely fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic in the past three years.
Dignam sells eggs from his 40 Heritage breed chickens and recently raised prices to $7, which is still cheaper than free-range eggs at a number of grocery stores, he notes. It was a decision he struggled with but he found people responded well.
“When I raised my prices recently, I apologized to my long-standing customers, like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to raise prices.’ And most of them said, ‘Well, it’s about time.’ Because they realize if the grocery stores prices are going up, why aren’t the small farmers?”
Dignam said he’s felt self-conscious about raising the prices but it’s important farmers keep up with the cost of doing business. While Dignam raises alpacas for wool, keeps dogs to ward off predators and scavengers as well as the chickens on his land – “Everyone’s working, he quips” – the farm is just a hobby. Dignam works full-time as a nurse, but he still needs the farm to make money.
His land has farm status under the provincial agricultural land reserve – which grants Dignam a property tax break. But that’s contingent on a number of conditions, including making a certain amount of money from the farm.
Metchosin couple Patti and Dennis Dyck have been raising chickens for eggs for more than 30 years. At points they’ve had as many as 150 chickens laying at a time - now they currently have around 50.
The pair say the increase in feed costs is just one of the number of costs piling up, with building enclosures, bedding for the chickens and labour all spiking.
In addition, there’s the health of the chickens themselves.
The current flock started from around 75 eggs, with disease and bullying killing off some chicks, while others grow up to be roosters and aren’t productive.
“The return isn’t really that great. But the eggs are amazing. We feed our daughter and our son and our family with our own eggs. That’s the reward there,” said Patti.
“You can make a couple of extra bucks,” added Dennis. “Otherwise, it’s not a profit, it’s a hobby. Maybe it would be if a guy got, you know, a thousand birds or something.”
Both Dignam and the Dycks said they would continue farming eggs even as inflation continues to send prices up. Rather than being priced out, Dignam said he’s looking to grow his flock further, adding that more people should keep their own chickens.
“You don’t really have to spend too much money,” Dignam said. “If you only have a few chickens on chicken feed – they’re kind of like garbage disposals. They’ll eat all your table scraps, you don’t have to have a compost pile or a compost bin because they’ll eat it all. And they’ll supply you eggs and fertilizer.”
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