FALKLAND – Normally, the goal for any business is to expand. But after 20 years in the commercial poultry industry, Sterling Springs Chicken is strutting in the opposite direction.
The Falkland-based company (formerly located in Armstrong), has hatched a plan that will ensure a better, and tastier, end product for the customer. To achieve that, owners Hans and Lisa Dueck have had to scale down their operation – a lot.
Back when they were commercial farming, the Duecks raised about 50,000 birds in a single eight-week cycle. That might seem huge, but Hans notes that B.C. produces around 30 million kilograms in a cycle, and nearly 200 million annually.
Sterling Springs now has an quota of just 1,500 kg per cycle, placing them somewhere between a backyard chicken coop and a commercial operation. The lower quota suits the Duecks just fine; it allows them to pay more individual attention to the birds, while incorporating their know-how and the technological benefits of a larger operation.
“I was probably one of the biggest cynics of all,” said Lisa, of when they first began their new endeavour. “We tried to be as careful as can be on the big farm, but there was just no way we could do what we’re doing here.
“We’re certainly not saying they’re not safe – B.C. probably has the safest chicken in the world – but you can’t raise one that tastes and looks like this.
“We didn’t have the freedom to do what we wanted to do in terms of the feed and in terms of how they’re raised. It makes a huge difference for the end quality and taste of the product.”
Where once Hans would focus more on feed cost to meat ratio, and other bottom-line percentages, he now spends more time tailoring the chickens’ omnivorous diet to suit the needs of the end user.
“Vegetable feed is better in the early part of the birds’ development,” he explained. “As they’re older, they crave meat. We’ve been monitoring and try to adapt.”
Added Lisa: “They’re really fussy. If you’re really looking, they’ll let you know what they want.”
Sterling Springs chickens are free-run, medication-, hormone- and preservative-free, and have constant access to filtered water, top-quality feed and sunlight. Each bird is processed one at a time, by hand, and is inspected by a member of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The barn features heated floors and walls, automatic feed and watering systems and computerized climate control. Heating the barn is a European wood gasification system, with a built-in geothermal backup system. It uses 98 per cent renewable energy to ensure it maintains a low carbon footprint.
Kyla McAuley, owner of Vernon’s Gumtree Catering, is one of several local businesses already incorporating Sterling Springs in their menus (Monashee’s Bar & Grill, Little Tex, and Gray Monk and Summerhill wineries also use it). Gumtree uses it in everything from sandwiches to chicken lasagna.
“They’re local, they take really good care of their chicken and it’s better chicken than we can get anywhere else,” said McAuley. “We want to support local farmers and they’re doing a great thing.”
The Duecks are in the process of attaining certification for onsite processing. Further along, they might also consider creating their own hatchery. Lisa says it makes sense both from a cost standpoint, and for the raising of the animals.
“We want to do everything on the farm so the birds don’t have to move. The less stress it has, the better it’s going to taste.”
Sterling Springs will be at the Vernon Farmers’ Market periodically throughout the summer and they also offer a delivery service in the Vernon area.