Not many aspiring Alberta farmers find inspiration in Hawaii, but that is exactly what happened for 11-year-old Colin Brown of Carstairs, Alta. While on a family vacation three years ago, the Browns, who attend Bergthal Mennonite Church, Didsbury, rented part of a house and helped to care for the landlady’s animals, including a few chickens.
“When she went to walk her dogs, I would play with the chicks.” Colin says.
From then on, he was hooked on the birds.
Colin’s chickens are not run-of-the-mill egg-laying Leghorns, or the chunky Broilers commonly found in the butcher’s section of the grocery store. His unusual heritage breeds are dual purpose and appeal to a growing number of urban backyard chicken owners and collectors, as well as to hobby farmers. Currently, Colin has about 70 birds representing 12 different breeds.
In summer, separate enclosures isolate the varieties, and Colin collects eggs to hatch in an incubator. Extra eggs are sold for consumption. When he has chickens to sell, Brown posts a descriptive ad on Kijiji. Buyers for his chickens sometimes drive hours to his family’s farm and pay up to $30 for each adult, and $15 for a chick.
Raising the unusual chickens has created some unique opportunities for Colin.
“Once last year, a couple of guys, I think from Big Rock Brewery, came to me,” he recounts. “They wanted a rooster to put into a commercial. I had one I wanted to keep.” The men paid $50 to borrow the Buff Brahma, then brought him back the next day.
Colin has also had success showing some of his chickens. Last year at a show in Red Deer, one of his Black Cochin hens was judged the best-at-show.
Raising chickens is a great educational experience for Colin. “I learn about everything,” he says. “I learn about money and responsibility and stuff. I’ve never really got around to [keeping records], but I’ve thought about that. I’ve also met a lot of people at shows and selling chickens.”
Why does he raise the birds? “I like everything about them,” he says enthusiastically. “I like hatching them out. I like breeding them. I just like the joy of having them around.”
Colin sees farming in his future. “I definitely want to continue with chickens and maybe have a few other farm animals around,” he says. “I love the animals. . . . I’ve always been an animal person.”
Young chicken farmer Colin Brown of Carstairs, Alta., holds a Light Brahma chick in his hand. Note the feathered feet common to the type.