While Alberta is known perhaps most for its beef, chicken farmers are also an integral part of our province’s agricultural industry. And Albertans love their chicken—people in the province eat chicken about 4.3 times each week, more than any other kind of protein.
And while so many Albertans eat chicken as part of their diets, few get to see the chicken farms where the animals are raised.
That’s why this fall, AMA Insider went for an on-site visit to meet Edmonton-area chicken farmer Dennis Steinwand, who owns and runs Stoney Creek Poultry Farm—one of 246 family-owned chicken farms in the province.
Steinwand has owned his farm for 35 years after he purchased it from his uncle in the late ’80s. He says when people visit his property—where he is raising around 27,000 broiler chickens—they often have preconceived ideas about how the animals are raised and cared for.
“The biggest myth that we still hear is that we feed our chickens hormones,” Steinwand said. “Which has been illegal since the ’60s.”
In Alberta, most farmers now use new technology that gives them better control over the nutrition and environment for the birds—which translates to more growth and improved health.
At Steinwand’s farm, the chickens roam freely in a massive barn with high-tech temperature controls and timed feeding and watering that can all be accessed remotely using an iPad.
“Our ability to control the climate has been the biggest improvement over the last few decades—it keeps them at the right temperature. They’re not wasting any energy on converting their food into heat,” Steinwand says.
That monitoring and feeding system—which also has a backup generator, so it’s never disrupted—allows farmers to digitally track how much water and feed the flock is taking in. Any changes in feeding behaviour are the first sign that something could be wrong in the flock, and chickens may need medical attention.
Steinwand says that antibiotic use is also a concern he hears from some Albertans he talks to—but in Canada, there are regulations around how farmers can medically treat poultry.
“Canada has strict rules for (drug) withdrawal times—so no chicken in stores will have antibiotic traces,” Steinwand says.
MORE TO READ
How Alberta chicken farms keep their processes environmentally friendly
Once the animals at Steinwand’s farm have reached market size at about six weeks old, they go to an Alberta processing centre and then directly to shelves at Costco locations in the province under the Lilydale brand. Some of the chicken is sold to shoppers at stores within a half hour of the farm.
“If you’re eating fresh, never frozen chicken—it is very likely from a local farm, and guaranteed 100% Canadian” says Maria Leslie with Alberta Chicken Producers.
“You’re never far from the farm.”