A Kemptville family is one of few in the area who are offering ethically-raised, genuinely free range chickens to the public.

Bart and Maureen Millson bought their farm on Muldoon Road, just outside Kemptville, 15 years ago. For a while, they rented the land to local farmers, but eventually decided to build a house and turn the land into a hobby farm of their own. “I grew up on a farm in Southwestern Ontario,” Bart says. “I was eager to get back to it.”

The Millsons and their three boys farmed the land themselves in their free time, growing cash crops like corn and soybeans. Recently, however, they began looking for a new challenge and stumbled upon the Chicken Farmers of Ontario’s artisanal chicken program.

The program, which was launched in June, 2015, allows small scale farmers to raise up to 3,000 chickens a year and sell them without quota. Previously, they were restricted to 300 birds, which could only be used for home consumption, or farm-gate sale. According to the website, the goal of the program is to help small, local farmers to fill local food and seasonal markets and give Ontario consumers more choice and options on how and where they buy local chicken.

“They want you to propose alternative ways of marketing and reaching different target markets,” Bart says. “Our application was to raise our chickens as naturally as possible, have them outside as much as we could, and be truly free-range.”

Often, even when chicken products are labelled as free-range, the birds only spend a small portion of their lives outside, where they can run around and eat grass and worms, as well as traditional feed. Other than the first few weeks of their life (when they have to be kept warm with heat lamps), the Millsons’ chickens live in a large pen with an open concept shelter, where they can escape the summer wind and rain. “Our big thing was that we really believe in the idea of them having fun and enjoying their life, rather than being cooped up in a cage, even when they are being bred for meat,” Maureen says. “It was fun to see them running around outside and doing their thing,” Bart adds.

The Millsons’ chickens are also raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, something that you can’t guarantee when you are buying meat from the grocery store. “People can come out and see our chickens, and know, from day one, that is what they are buying,” Bart says. “We’re appealing to a subgroup of customers out there that have that consciousness.”

According to the Millsons (who admit they are biased) and many of their customers, the meat is also tastier and healthier than the traditional chicken on the market. “When the chickens can be in motion, the development of the meat is different,” Bart says. “It’s a richer, more oxygenated, healthier, tastier kind of meat.”

The chicken-growing season is now over for the Millsons, after having two flocks of 250 chickens to care for. They sold 350 of the 500 fresh chickens and had the rest frozen, to be able to sell to customers well into the Fall. They are continuing to sell their frozen chickens straight from the farm, and are also hooked up with the Two Rivers Food Hub in Smith’s Falls. They are hoping to get them in to the B&H Grocer in Kemptville at the end of the month, and are working on donating some chickens to the Dinner on the House program at the House of Lazarus, which provides a free dinner every Thursday to people in need.

Both Bart and Maureen feel that the first year has been a success, and they hope to raise even more chickens next summer. “It was great meeting people and seeing them excited,” Bart says. “There is a real sense of accomplishment, that we are contributing something to our community that they really want.”

For more information or to order chickens visit their website at www.kemptvillechicks.ca.

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