The University of Alberta’s Poultry Research Centre is embarking on a project to sell the eggs of heritage chickens to restaurants and local farmers’ markets.
As part of the university’s Faculty of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences, the Poultry Research Centre (PRC) has been considering ways of offsetting the costs of raising and keeping heritage chickens — a breed of poultry that has not been exposed to industry breeding and standards.
Agnes Kulinski, who is in charge of the PRC’s business development, said the centre is preparing to launch a new product for Edmonton’s markets as part of its new “Reclaiming Value of Rare Breeds” project.
With over 500 heritage chickens and five different rare breeds in its possession, the PRC has the ability to finally make a profit from maintaining them.
“Recently, we recognized the heritage chicken presents a very unique opportunity — we can capitalize on the heritage and historical attributes of the birds, and the natural farming methods of the Poultry Research Centre,” Kulinski said.
“The new trend in Edmonton (is that) people want to buy local food — so there’s a lot of restaurants … that (have) opened up, and they actually use and sell local foods only. We would like to approach these restaurants, and farmers’ markets (too), and maintain this tradition for Edmonton.”
Some of the chickens the PRC keeps were introduced to Canada over 100 years ago. Until this project, the centre maintained the birds at an annual financial loss.
“The cost of maintenance of these birds comes from professors’ research grants — so currently they bring barely any income back to the Poultry Research Centre,” Kulinski said.
“It costs about $30,000 in total (to maintain them) for a year … and so we are trying to keep the minimum of birds possible.”
Since the research centre doesn’t breed the birds for commercial purposes, they are smaller and in less demand than industry chickens. However, the farming practices of the PRC have also given the chickens some unique benefits.
“Chickens for meat purposes are bred bigger now, and chickens for laying eggs are different than what they used to be. We’re preserving these birds just to keep their genes just in case something happens to the commercial birds,” Kulinski said.
“The farming practices that we have here (are) free run, natural mating, long living, and free of some specific pathogens such as salmonella and thyroiditis. Unlike other Canadian farmers, we feed our heritage chickens 100 per cent vegetarian grain.”
On Sept. 13, the research centre presented the project to the Canadian Poultry Research Council and decided to introduce the product to the poultry industry.
“We got the packaging done, and the label that would go on the box. At this point, we can only sell them at the Farmers’ Market — the eggs have to be graded and inspected before we go to restaurants,” Kulinski explained.
“The chicken itself, the meat is very flavourful just because it has had time to age. I haven’t tasted it — apparently it’s a different flavour. So some of the restaurants would be interested in using the meat from the chickens (as well).”
Student members of the PRC’s Undergraduate Poultry Club will also be involved in the project.
“As students, we are currently involved a little bit in developing the marketing campaign. Right now, that’s a large part of our job,” said Dustin Banks, a member of the club.
“We hope to get involved as much as we can. We would love to be directly in charge of management decisions, that would be a long term plan as opposed to something we’re going to be doing this year.”
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