Out on the pastures of Tulaberry farm in Passmore, meat chickens happily peck about in the beautiful fields. This is Cripple Crow Ranch, run by Tamara Smith. After raising her own meat chickens for 20 years, last year she took the leap and turned it into a commercial operation. This year she’s raising around 1750 birds in total, with 500 currently in the fields and 600 four day old chicks in her two brooders.
She rents fields as her own land isn’t suitable for raising large numbers of chickens, and both the land she rents and the whole operation are certified organic. “What little life these little people have, I want it to be a good life,” she pointed out. “And I believe it creates a better meat to feed to my neighbours. I’m told they’re the best tasting birds because they’re out on pasture and they get to run around.” Watching the chickens pecking at the grass and exploring their area, it’s obvious to see Tamara’s passion for her birds. “They get moved onto fresh pasture every day,” Tamara explained. “And they’re in various types of shelter depending on the field, depending on the age of the birds, depending on what predators are where.”
We asked what the most rewarding thing about the job was. “Not being at a desk,” she replied, smiling. “You’re a master of your own little ship, whether it’s sinking or floating. I’ve always really liked birds, had a way with them. And the birds are just fun. And funny!”
A key part of Tamara being able to run her operation is another enterprise that is run from the farm. “On the property is the only certified poultry abattoir in the area, that’s Passmore Pluckers,” she pointed out. “They go for a little wheelbarrow ride for about 40 feet, so it’s not stressful for them. I can make a living because that abattoir exists. It’s really a gift. I wouldn’t be driving my birds to Grand Forks or Creston – I wouldn’t do that to them.” Providing food for her local community is also a key driver behind the business. “It makes sense. You can know the people that you get food from. If I’m creating food that I know my neighbours are going to eat, I’m really going to do a good job. And just economically, try and keep things as local as you can. I think we have a very enlightened community that values food, who spend their money on food. I prefer to think of how my community can be better supported so they can purchase good organic local food. I don’t mind working hard providing organic food for people, and charging a price that allows me to make a living. I’d like them in turn to be able to get work that allows them to buy the food.”
Her advice for anyone thinking of getting into the chicken raising business? “Raising meat birds is not easy. It’s a lot of work, so get your systems right. Start small and definitely have someone mentoring you to start. What happens in the first week will affect how they will perform up until the last day. I think that’s something people don’t realise. So that’s why I sleep here in the first week! And her message to the eaters in the Kootenays? “It’s just good food, it’s not world peace,” she replied with a laugh.
Tamara also notes that the Kootenay Coop is now stocking Cripple Crow Ranch chickens and folks in Nelson can get them there. “I’d like to give the Kootenay Coop a big thanks for stocking local birds! And to Judi and Alex of Passmore Pluckers and Tulaberry Farm and Doug Baxter of Chicken Lips for their mentorship.