Podcast: How are broiler chickens raised in Canada?
As more and more Canadians become removed from farms and ranches, many people have questions about how animals are being raised on Canadian farms. Tiffany Martinka is active on social media and has made a point of sharing how their family farm takes care of their chickens. In this podcast, Tiffany explains the audited programs that all Canadian farmers must follow and describes how this system of raising chickens is unique in a global setting.
The main points of this podcast include:
- What it is like on a broiler chicken farm and the process that chicken farmers go through.
- The different programs that farmers must follow, and be audited on, to be licensed to sell broiler chicken in Canada.
- The full circle of practices on Tiffany’s family farm, including growing their own feed for chickens, then recycling the manure back onto the fields to grow future crops.
- How the supply of chicken is regulated in Canada to ensure a consistent supply.
- Changing practices on farms to become more environmentally friendly.
“There’s less and less people living in rural areas and that connection between how your food is being raised and the farmers who are producing it—it’s becoming a little bit more stretched… I think sometimes people don’t take the time to appreciate what goes into actually raising birds for meat on farms.”Clinton Monchuk
“We have approximately 2,000 acres of grain land…Hulless barley is what we feed to our chickens, it makes up a portion of their diet. So we’re able to plant our crops, harvest our hulless barley and feed it to our chickens. Then as we clean out our barns after every flock cycle, that manure is then spread on our fields and we are able to cut our fertilizer requirements by as much as half… It’s really nice to be able to take everything full circle on our farm.”Tiffany Martinka
Guest: Tiffany Martinka
Grain and Broiler Chicken Farmer
Tiffany feels it’s important to reach consumers to talk about how food is produced. “As the years go by, we are losing the connection to our food and how it’s grown. People no longer have family to visit on the farm.”
Host: Clinton Monchuk
Grain & Egg Farmer
Clinton Monchuk grew up on a mixed dairy, beef and grain family farm outside of Lanigan, Saskatchewan. He received his Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture majoring in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan and Masters of Business Administration in Agriculture from the University of Guelph. Clinton has enjoyed numerous roles across Canada, the United States and Mexico as a researcher, educator, manager, economist and director of trade policy.
In 2016, Clinton accepted the role of Executive Director with Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan to promote farming and ranching to consumers. Clinton understands the value of increasing public trust in agriculture and actively promotes engagement between the agriculture industry and consumers.
Clinton, Laura and their children Jackson and Katelyn, are active partners on their family grain and layer farm in Saskatchewan and cattle ranch in Oklahoma.
Clinton Monchuk: (00:07)
From Canadian Food Focus. This is Ask a Farmer. I’m your host Clinton Monchuk, a Saskatchewan farmer. In this podcast, we talk to food experts to answer your questions about your food.
Clinton Monchuk: (00:28)
Welcome everybody to the podcast. Today we have Tiffany Martinka, who is a chicken farmer from the northeastern part of Saskatchewan. Now we’d like to learn a little bit more about how your food is being grown here in this great country, and sometimes we don’t really know when it comes to the grocery store when we’re buying that chicken breast, chicken thighs, or chicken wings, which we’ll talk about later on how necessarily that’s actually grown. And, we have the privilege today of listening to a chicken farmer and understanding a little bit more about how that chicken is raised. So, Tiffany, do you want to give us a little bit of an overview of kind of who you are and maybe some history of your family farm and just what you farm in general?
Tiffany Martinka: (01:14)
Myself and my husband and as well as family, we all grain farm and also run a broiler chicken operation here in the northeast of Saskatchewan. I knew I wanted to take agriculture as a secondary education because we need, everybody needs a agriculture every day. We all eat every day, and I knew that, I knew that we needed it all over the world as well. So it was something that I really wanted to be part of. And when I met my husband in university, we talked about the goals and the opportunities and, and what we wanted for a future. And we saw that future right here on the family farm. So we actually rolled into his father’s third of the farm when his father was ready to retire. There was another uncle he was farming with and he retired. So that has actually left us farming with another aunt and uncle. So that is our current situation on our family farm. We’re very lucky in the sense that we get to farm alongside family. We, we don’t actually have any outside employees at this point in time anyways, it’s all family owned and operated. So we run some grain land as well as our broiler chicken operation. And I can’t forget to mention, I also have a small flock of sheep. That’s a story for another day, but they are little special part of our lives for sure.
Clinton Monchuk: (02:42)
Yeah, it’s kind of nice to see the family and, and the sheep and the birds and the grain farm all kind of running together.
Tiffany Martinka: (02:49)
Yeah, it comes together and it is a nice mix for us for sure.
Clinton Monchuk: (02:53)
So one of the things that we can see just with society in general, we’re moving more towards cities. There’s less and less people living in rural areas and that connection between, you know, how your food is being raised and you know, the farmers who are producing it, it’s becoming a little bit more stretched. I see you’re on social media and in fact we have a great video on Canadian Food Focus that kind of highlights you walking through the barn and going through the process of getting the, the barn prepared and growing the birds. But I think sometimes people don’t take the time to appreciate what goes into actually raising birds for meat on farms. Maybe give all the listeners out there just an overview of how this works on your farm so we can give a good picture of what it looks like on Martinka–and it’s Martinka chicks, right?
Tiffany Martinka: (03:47)
Yeah. Martinka Chicks for sure. Yeah. So to give a little bit of context, our farm is one of 68 farms in all of Saskatchewan for broiler chicken farms. It’s so special to be a chicken farm. You know, there really isn’t a lot of us out there, and I believe the number is 2,800 in all of Canada for broiler chicken farms. Because of this, we take what we do really seriously. I grew up on a grain and cattle farm, and when I married into this operation, I was so fascinated by how the broiler chicken farm operated and how efficient it was. And it just, it still amazes me to this day how, how we can bring everything full production to the restaurants, the grocery stores, to the kitchen table.
Clinton Monchuk: (04:38)
During the video that you took, and like I mentioned before, it’s on CanadianFoodFocus.org or the YouTube channel as well. But you mentioned the biosecurity and you do the farm tour with the video because we can’t really go into the barn. Do you want to just explain why that biosecurity exists and why somebody like me can’t just willy-nilly go into your barn?
Tiffany Martinka: (05:00)
Yeah. We, we would love to have people come in and tour our barns firsthand to, you know, smell the chickens, feel the straw.
Clinton Monchuk: (05:11)
Smell the manure, yeah.
Tiffany Martinka: (05:13)
Hear them chirping. I would love for that to happen firsthand, but because of our biosecurity, we cannot do that, especially at this point in time. So biosecurity means that we are trying to keep our chickens safe from any sort of disease or infections or whatnot that may enter the barn. Just keep them healthy and thriving essentially. So in order to put some of our biosecurity protocols in place, we can’t wear our street clothes, our street shoes, into the barns. So as soon as we’re walking into the barns, there’s like a, even a yellow line drawn on our floor. It’s part of the auditing process. Nothing crosses over that line once you cross that line. We have barn clothes, barn shoes that are changed into, and that is what we wear in and amongst the chickens. It’s so we don’t track any sort of illness into the barn. And one of the most popular illnesses right now that you might hear about is avian influenza. People probably hear it all over the radio right now in the media. And it, it really truly is a huge risk to chicken farmers and, and our chicken industry and essentially our food supply in Canada here. So we take that very seriously and, you know, because of that, we, we do not allow tours on our farm. So the next best thing is to do those virtual tours.
Clinton Monchuk: (06:47)
The video. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which was great. So you’ve mentioned broiler chickens and obviously there’s different types of chickens out there. Do you want to explain what the difference is between broilers and layers?
Tiffany Martinka: (07:02)
Okay, so I like this question a lot because I like to compare it back to cattle. There are dairy cattle for milk and milk products. Beef cattle are for producing meat. And that’s like what broiler chicks are. They’re for producing meat. There are specific breeds that are for laying, laying eggs. Our table eggs and broiler chicks are specifically bred and their genetics are there to grow the best meat possible and to grow efficiently as possible as well. And a fun fact of our farm: there is never a single egg laid in our farm. We raise our broiler chicks for 34 days and we are asked to raise them to 2.32 kg within those days. We have two barns; they’re 60 feet wide by 470 feet long, and there’s two of them that size. And the barns are filled with straw. The feed bins are full of feed and the chicks arrive. They are all less than 24 hours old. And we are placing just shy of 90,000 chicks in our, in our barns. So roughly 45,000 in each barn. And that number can change a little bit depending on what we are asked for the weight we’re asked to raise our chickens to. And that’s because if we’re growing a bigger bird, we place less chicks. If we’re raising a smaller bird, we can place more chicks. And that’s because there’s regulations in place for how densely our barns can be populated.
Clinton Monchuk: (08:42)
Just for some context, so what do you do when you said the birds were going to be coming in and placed?
Tiffany Martinka: (08:49)
What does that mean?
Clinton Monchuk: (08:50)
What do you do beforehand? Yeah, and what do you do beforehand to get ready for the birds?
Tiffany Martinka: (08:55)
So to get the barns ready, we are, we’re spreading straw and to spread straw, we have these great big round bales. They are put in our bale processor, which shreds the straw and spreads it evenly all throughout our barns. And even before that straw’s placed, we have the barns pressure washed, cleaned–like everything is very clean, disinfected to prepare for these new little chicks to come. And then when the chicks arrive, they’re all less than 24 hours old and we’re placing approximately 45,000 chicks in each barn. And then we have feed lines that run the full length of the barn as well as water lines so that there’s 24 hours access to for those chicks. And at the beginning, they’re so small they only take up, like, we only give them half the barn at first. One of the reasons that we only give the new chicks half length of our barn is because that they always flock together. They want to be together, they don’t necessarily spread out, and they’re like that all the time. So that is one of the reasons why we keep the barn at half length. They can all be together and then as they grow and need a little more room, we can open up the barn to the full length.
Clinton Monchuk: (10:13)
So I’m trying to draw a visualization of this. So, when you say those birds are placed and they’re kind of in half the barn, is it completely open? I’m just trying to get a better sense of what that looks like in the barn.
Tiffany Martinka: (10:28)
The barn is completely open. The only thing in their way is the feed and water lines hanging down. So I think a common misconception is that our chickens are in cages when it comes to broiler chicks. Chickens for meat, they’re not in cages. They are free run and every broiler farm across Canada is free run. So free run means they have free run of the barn and there there’s no cages at all.
Clinton Monchuk: (10:57)
You have all these little chicks running around there in the barn, but they grow. Yes. Right. Yeah. Like, they’re not going to stay the same size of the palm of your hand, right? They’re going to grow. How does that work? Do the feeders move, do the, like how does that all work?
Tiffany Martinka: (11:13)
Yeah, so the barn is designed to accommodate the chickens as they grow. The feed lines are on a pulley system up to the ceiling. So as they grow, we have these feed pans and a little auger system that runs all the way down the barn and it augers out feeds 24 hours a day into the feed pans, and then this line can be lifted up as the chickens grow. Same with the water lines. There’s like a little water nipple that they kind of peck at to get the water out. So that runs the length of the barn and can be raised up as well as these chickens grow because yeah, you’re right, the difference between the difference in size is incredible from the chick to the 34 day old chicken.
Clinton Monchuk: (12:00)
Whenever they want. It’s like a buffet of feed and, and water. But how do you know what to feed them?
Tiffany Martinka: (12:05)
Yeah, my father-in-law who I credit to starting our chicken farm, he always says, our chickens eat better than we do because we work with a feed nutritionist who would be similar to like one of our dieticians, right? So we work with a feed nutritionist and they tell us exactly what the chickens need for energy, for protein, for their supplements, their vitamins and minerals that they need in their feed, and they’re getting exactly what they need. And to give you an example of how important these feed nutritionists can be, we were working with one company a few years ago and we switched over to a new company and just the small little changes that they made in the feeds, uh, we were able to shave an entire day off our production cycle. So we went from 35 days to 34 days, and that was just due to the few small changes that they made. So it does make such a big difference with knowing exactly what you’re feeding them.
Clinton Monchuk: (13:13)
And you said they grow roughly about 34 days. So then where do they go from there?
Tiffany Martinka: (13:19)
So after 34 days they are ready to go to be processed and made into our favorite chicken products: chicken wings, Kentucky Fried Chicken, whatever it may be. So different farms are contracted with different processing companies. For us, on our farm, we’re contracted with Lilydale, which is out of Wynyard. So our chickens go to Wynyard. Other farms may be contracted with Prairie Pride and they go to Saskatoon. It just all depends on the farm. They’re picked up by a crew called ‘chicken pickers’. So we have a crew come in and they actually come in at nighttime, which is really interesting because that’s when the chickens sit really still at night. And the barns are kept really dark. They work with flashlights to pick the chickens because the chickens aren’t running around then we don’t want them to run around and injure themselves or just be stressed. So they sit really nice and quiet and the chicken pickers come in at night and they are all handled with care and loaded into a semi-truck. And the unit that they’re loaded into, kind of imagine it kind of like a dresser, like a crate. They’re all crates with holes so that there’s a lot of airflow, but it’s almost like a dresser with drawers. And the chickens are kind of put in drawers and then it’s loaded up into the semi-truck and they are taken off to Wynyard to be processed.
Clinton Monchuk: (14:54)
So that’s the overview. How does technology kind of play into that? And, and I think in your video you highlight some of the, you know, the sensor technology and the computers, but do you want to just touch on how things are controlled within the barn?
Tiffany Martinka: (15:07)
When you have animals, you’re essentially on 24/7 call because it’s our job to make sure that they are thriving and well taken care of and that there’s no issues. So all of the feed sensors, water lines, are all connected to a computer system. And if, for example, maybe a feed bin runs empty or the auger system isn’t working properly, it all is connected to that computer system and goes to a phone app with all the information right on there. So it is my husband who has the app on his phone. So sometimes at three in the morning he can get a phone call saying, there’s an issue in the barn, you need to come out and check and see what’s going on. So sometimes he needs to go out there and do that, or maybe we can, we’re in the city running errands in town and he can always keep an eye on things that way.
Tiffany Martinka: (16:07)
And maybe it’s getting too hot in the summer or in the wintertime, there can be things that freeze up and all those systems alert us to all of that. And then there’s the other side of the technology as well where it helps us know what’s going into our chickens too. So the systems are weighing and measuring everything they’re eating, everything they’re drinking. There’s this little weigh scale inside that every time a chicken hops on and off, it weighs them and it tracks that too. So that’s really neat to see how they’re gaining their weight and growing every day.
Clinton Monchuk: (16:47)
So there’s 34 or 35 days that you grow the bird, but then you al already mentioned that you have to clean out the barn and there’s pressure washing that takes place and disinfecting that takes place. So how does that actually work? Do you put the birds back in right away or, or what do you need to do? How does that work?
Tiffany Martinka: (17:07)
To give you an overview, they’re eight week cycles. So chickens are in the barn for roughly six of those weeks or less, less than six weeks, I guess five weeks . Yeah. And it can vary. It can vary farm to farm, right? Everybody goes, you know, a few days different. So roughly five to six weeks they’re in the barn and then two weeks the barns are empty. That’s when they’re all cleaned and disinfected and getting ready for the next flock. And then we do that about six or seven times a year. So eight week cycle makes sense, six to seven times.
Clinton Monchuk: (17:44)
When you do that every eight weeks, then that has the ability to adjust your production too. Right? So every eight week cycle, it’s not necessarily the same amount of birds, is it?
Tiffany Martinka: (18:00)
Yeah. Because ultimately like what we’re growing is what the consumer has asked for. So because it’s every eight weeks, we can adjust like based on seasons. So barbecue season might be different than Christmas with what consumers are asking for, and the weights of our chicken can be adjusted to what the consumer is asking for at the grocery store. So we really have that ability to quickly adjust. And you know, a great example was when we all lived through Covid and you know, restaurants were shutting down, nobody was going for wings at the bar anymore. We were able to quickly adjust within our industry to what the consumer was actually taking home with them.
Clinton Monchuk: (18:51)
So, now you touched on it before that you also have a grain farm portion to the broiler chicken side of things and, and then obviously the sheep that are there. Do you want to talk about how you kind of use one to benefit the other and how that works on your farm?
Tiffany Martinka: (19:10)
I love how our farm goes full circle and I love telling this story. So we have approximately 2000 acres of grain land and the cereals that we grow there, barley in particular, hulless barley is what we feed to our chickens. So it makes up a portion of their diet. So we’re able to plant our crops, harvest our hulless barley. We keep it to feed to our chickens, and then as we clean out our barns after every flock cycle, that manure is then spread on our fields and we are able to cut our fertilizer requirements by as much as half. And you know, the other thing to note too is, when that grain is harvested, it leaves the straw behind that straw is baled up and that is what we use in our barns for bedding as well. So it really works well going both ways. It’s really nice to be able to take everything full circle on our farm.
Clinton Monchuk: (20:12)
That is interesting. And I just think of in the last however many years, the price of fertilizer has gone up quite a bit. So it’s interesting that you have the ability to save some of that and, and you’re really just integrating all these different steps of the farm to be more sustainable, I guess.
Tiffany Martinka: (20:28)
You know, our neighbor farmers are always asking us, hey, can we get our hands on some of that chicken manure? But we’re like, no, sorry, it’s taken . But one of the recent projects that we have integrated is we’ve just put together a solar panel system on our farm here. So we’re hoping to generate enough solar energy to power our barns and our farm.
Clinton Monchuk: (20:58)
Wow. Wow. That’s amazing. There’s a lot of moving parts, right? You have the feeders and everything and the computer systems. So that would power the entire, both of the barns with the solar energy?
Tiffany Martinka: (21:12)
Yes. Yep. That is our hope. There’s a few little roadblocks we’re trying to overcome at the moment. As always, it seems to be on the farm and nothing, yeah, nothing comes super easy. There’s always something that comes up. So that is our hope and that is our goal.
Clinton Monchuk: (21:33)
This kind of gets us to the fun farm fact for the podcast. Today’s fun farm fact is did you know that the highest consumption of chicken wings is actually during Super Bowl Sunday? And in fact, last year during the Super Bowl, which was the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, Canadians consumed 76 million chicken wings for the game. This was from the Chicken Farmers of Canada. I was trying to do some math in my head on this, on 76 million chicken wings. So roughly speaking, that’s two chicken wings per person here in this country on Super Bowl Sunday. And I know for a fact because we’re big football family in my family, but my family definitely did their fair take of consumption of chicken wings on that day.
Tiffany Martinka: (22:26)
What’s your favorite flavor of chicken wings?
Clinton Monchuk: (22:30)
Ooh, that’s a good one. I always get buffalo chicken wings always. I like a little spice. How about you?
Tiffany Martinka: (22:37)
I have to bring this up because I think it’s unique to my little small town . Have you ever heard of granch? Granch wings?
Clinton Monchuk: (22:46)
Yeah, I’ve heard of the Grinch, but not granch.
Tiffany Martinka: (22:49)
Okay. These are my favorite kind of chicken wings. Granch is Greek – ranch: Greek and ranch flavour.
Clinton Monchuk: (22:56)
Greek Ranch Wings, chicken wings.
Tiffany Martinka: (22:58)
They’re so good. There’s also a version called Gruffalo.
Clinton Monchuk: (23:04)
Tiffany Martinka: (23:05)
Yeah, Greek and Buffalo, I think. Something like that.
Clinton Monchuk: (23:10)
Greek and Buffalo–Gruffalo. I love that. That’s funny. When you’re in the protein section of a grocery store, you have tons of different choices, right? So you have, you have beef, you have pork, you have chicken, you have plant-based product, you have all these different things. But one of the things that I think is kind of unique is that we all seem to have different, you know, programs that we follow. And I notice on the chicken packages, especially when I buy the tray pack chicken breasts or wings or whatever, it’s got a little red chicken. What does that mean?
Tiffany Martinka: (23:45)
All Canadian chicken farms, we are all regulated and we all follow–there’s three different programs and we are audited for these programs, third party audited. And so what those programs are, they include the on-farm food safety, the animal care program, as well as the sustainability program. So we have strict guidelines that we have to adhere to and follow, and we’re just really able to set the bar high by following those standards. And that’s all Canadian chicken [farms] that follow these standards.
Clinton Monchuk: (24:22)
So when you say all Canadian chicken, so every farm then in this country is kind of, has the same audit process and the same program that you have to follow, is that correct?
Tiffany Martinka: (24:34)
Every broiler chicken farm that is quota owned and operated, we all follow the same set of standards across the country.
Clinton Monchuk: (24:43)
Hmm. Well that’s interesting. That kind of gives a little bit of assurance that, you know, it’s similar if you’re buying chicken in Saskatchewan or buying chicken in Ontario, it’s, it’s going to be held to the same standard.
Tiffany Martinka: (24:54)
You know, we know that Canadians want to eat Canadian chicken, so also with that, with the quota system, we can ensure that’s happening as well. There’s very little chicken that is imported into Canada. Most of it’s coming from the farms that are within your province. If you’re buying the fresh raw chicken breasts at your grocery store, there’s a very high likelihood that it that is coming from a chicken farm within your province. So it’s a really neat system that is set up in that way.
Clinton Monchuk: (25:24)
We touched on going to the grocery store and looking at the different things that are there and searching for that red chicken [symbol]. Now the system here in Canada is slightly different than what it would be on the southern side of the border, and there’s sometimes some general questions that come, like how is it different? Right? You might hear about it a little bit in the news and I know prices especially here in the last little bit with food inflation have come up, but what is the difference between the systems, between say Canada and some of the other countries when it comes to chicken production?
Tiffany Martinka: (26:01)
Mm-hmm. I think we can get lumped together a lot of times or people see the media articles pop up or you know, on social media they’ll see various things pop up and a lot of it is maybe in regards to the US agriculture, but we are different here. And part of that is with chicken, we are supply managed, so supply managed. Also think your dairy products, your table eggs, turkeys, those are supply managed industries. And what that means is the demand in Canada is matched to what chicken farmers are supplying in Canada and there’s just, there’s rules and regulations placed around what’s imported into Canada and exported as well so that we can be guaranteeing that the majority of chicken that Canadian consumers are buying is coming from Canadian farmers. One really neat thing about our industry is that it’s designed so that the fresh raw chicken breasts you’re buying in your grocery store should be coming from chicken farms that are within your province that are closest to you. So we are able to provide you with the freshest chicken possible because of the way it is designed. So that’s a really unique piece. I think that is special and unique to Canada and because of that, we’re able to ensure that… You know what? I personally think that we grow the best chicken in the world here in Canada.
Clinton Monchuk: (27:38)
You do! I’ve tasted it before. It’s pretty darn good. . Well that’s awesome. Well, we thank you very much for being a part of the podcast, Tiffany. Anybody who’s listening can watch more of Tiffany’s video on our services on YouTube or just go to our website and do a search. I want to thank you for taking the time to listen to our Ask A Farmer podcast. We at Canadian Food Focus value the input from our listeners and ask that you share this podcast with your friends and family. Remember, this is a two-way street, so we seek your input for future segments that are of interest to you about food and farming. To do this, please click on the ‘Ask Us’ icon at the top of our website, canadianfoodfocus.org. While you’re there, feel free to follow our numerous social media links and sign up for our newsletter. This segment was produced and edited by Angela Larson, research and writing by Dorothy Long and Penny Eaton. Music by Andy Elson. I’m your host Clinton Monchuk. And from all of us here at Canadian Food Focus, we wish you good health and great eats.
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