Kris Friesen was a busy man on the afternoon of November 20, after a sudden surge of cold air enveloped the Lower Similkameen.
“I had a water line break, and I’m trying to keep my birds from freezing,” he explained, as he dismounted from his tractor.
Kris, along with wife Jody, are the new managers of Similkameen Turkey Farm, previously VanDieman’s.
The business changed hands roughly a year ago, and is now owned by Brian Pauls of Abbotsford. The Pauls family own a number of turkey farms in the Lower Mainland and on the prairies.
The Friesens arrived in Keremeos five months ago, and since then, Kris has been a very busy man, last Wednesday notwithstanding.
Similkameen Turkey Farm processes 660,000 kilograms of turkey annually, which translates into approximately 88,000 birds.
“It takes about 13 weeks to raise a bird,” Friesen explained, “we processed five flocks in 2013, and we have plans to expand.”
The farm is currently raising the flock bound for Christmas dinner tables this year – 13,500 birds that will complete the growing cycle for the farm for this year.
Friesen said that locally, the farm sells roughly 3,000 birds over the Thanksgiving season, and another 5-6,000 over the Christmas season. The remainder of the flock sells under the Sunrise Poultry label.
Similkameen Turkey Farm is the only free range turkey farm of its size in B.C. – there is one other, but it is miniscule in comparison.
New to the farm this year is its recently acquired humane certification.
“We have spent five months acquiring the certificate,” Friesen said, “we have addressed such issues as the amount of square feet each bird has, measured food and water, a strict diet of vegetable feed and grains, and access to toys and exercise.”
The farm compiles letters of compliance with respect to the components required for humane certification, and there are other technical aspects of the operation that must be satisfied in order to qualify.
“I think I bought out Keremeos Toonie’s complete supply of toy balls,” Freisen chuckled. Other enhancements, are provided in an effort to ensure that while the birds are alive, they are unstressed, and hopefully, happy. The better living conditions of the birds result in better flavour, and healthier meat.
Local orders for birds from Similkameen Turkey Farms are still welcome, and, according to Friesen, always available.
“I’m going to ensure that birds and bird parts will be available at all times,” said Friesen, who said that no one is turned away from the farm’s retail gate.
“This Thanksgiving was awesome,” he said, “we were able to supply everyone, even those who had forgotten to reserve.”
Other than having to deal with a sudden onslaught of cold air and the odd bald eagle, Friesen said that he felt the Lower Similkameen was a nearly perfect spot to locate a poultry farm.
“There are no other poultry farms nearby, so therefore little chance of cross-contamination,” he explained. “The dry weather here is also a key factor – when birds get wet, they get sick.”
Friesen has another couple of weeks to go before the final flock of the year is shipped to the Lower Mainland for slaughter. The birds are normally processed here, but a province wide dismissal of inspectors has temporarily forced Similkameen Farms to transport the birds to larger facilities on the coast for processing.
Local consumers who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it is grown can continue to take heart in the knowledge that the locally grown poultry they’ve known for years will continue to be not only available but healthier and tastier.