Monthly Archives: December 2013

Free Range Chicken

Why Raise Chickens?

jasper park lodge

The Jasper Park Lodge was a regular customer for our wild turkeys and one time phoned to ask “can you raise chickens?”

It just so happened that the previous year I had tried the outdoor method of raising chickens on pasture and produced some very tasty birds.  “Of course!” I answered using my small bit of experience to qualify my answer.

That spring I built 10 small 12 foot x 12 foot chicken shelters.  I customized the construction so that the daily chore of moving the chickens would become part of my teenage son’s summer job.  The resulting chickens were a hit with the Lodge but they wanted a specific size and the variety of sizes sent me looking for other markets.  That’s when First Nature Farms established itself at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market.

Free Range


When the chickens would occasionally escape from their 12 x 12 foot chicken shelters I noticed their behavior would change.  Rather than being relatively laid back, they would start scratching at the ground and foraging, the behavior I was hoping to achieve by raising them out on pasture.  That’s when we decided to expand their freedom and move them to the big 4600 square foot pens.

Chicken Food


Chickens require a high protein diet along with the shelter of warm, dry, draft-free housing to get a good start in life.  The birds get their good start dining on a diet of wheat, peas, soy and flax oil, (organic of course). Their first day also includes a treat of melon or apples which encourage them to start pecking to search for food.  A bit of apple cider vinegar in their water also helps them out.  At 3 to 4 weeks when the days are sunny and warm, they move outside where they supplement their diet with the many greens and grubs the pasture offers.

Antibiotics? GMOs? Animals by-products? Etc?


Never!  Our First Nature Farms chickens are provided with a totally plant based diet made from organic grains and seeds and balanced with vitamins and minerals.  We always try to buy our grains as locally as possible and small organic farms are given preference. Organic certificates are required for every purchase

The combination of good food, fresh air, clean water, free range and sunshine keeps our birds health – naturally.

Where to Buy?


First Nature Farms chicken is available only in the province of Alberta and can be found at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market in Edmonton and Homesteader Health
in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Bulk orders of 10 or more are possible in each location.
Contact us for more information.

Update!     Kari Kitt has now become the master chicken grower. “I love my chickens!”  Her birds are available by contacting Kari directly: 780 402-0566 or via email
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Free Range Turkey

Story: minus 52.5 C

-43 C

About 20 some years ago we used to record temperature data for Agriculture Canada.  Every morning we would check to previous days high and low temperature.  One winter morning I witnessed the lowest temperature recorded since 1914.  It was -52.5 C.

At that time we had one turkey “Miss Turkey”.  When I saw her I was shocked.  Rather than seeking shelter on such a cold night, she had perched out in the open, on top of a fence post.  Her head was tucked under her wing and there she froze.  Or so I thought.  After a few moments of fond memories I went to touch her and her head poked up.  The temperature hadn’t bothered her at all.  I remember thinking “if a turkey can survive so well outside, I should consider raising them!”  Next year I raised 192.  The year after that 1400.  That was the year I was introduced to the Turkey Marketing Board but that’s another story.  We kept “Miss Turkey” as a pet for another 10 years.

Turkey Pens


Around the same time as I decided I would become a professional turkey rancher I had to decide how I would raise them.  The result was a mobile shelter that measured 46 feet x 96 feet.  I was pretty proud of my engineering feat.   The shelters contained their turkey food feeders, numerous sources of water along with a covered building for protection and a place to perch and roost for the night.  The 4600 square foot structures along with their occupants could move onto fresh pasture in as little as 3 minutes.

The birds loved the move to their new pastures and would make a special “cluckle” sound that was very pleasant to listen to.  I recorded the sound and would play it back them just before Christmas.

Wild or Domestic Turkeys ?


I started raising the Merriams wild turkey, a native to southern Alberta, B.C. and areas south.  I kept my own breeding stock and from the end of March until June I would be busy washing, weighing and incubating eggs.  Although very interesting it was quite time consuming.  The process resulted in a turkey that weighed an average of 9 pounds by Christmas.  The common question was “do you have anything larger?”

When the Turkey Marketing Board shut me down and told me I could raise no more than 299 birds, I switched from wild to domestic.

Turkey Feed


Around the beginning of June is the time I like to start my turkey poults (chicks).  They require a high protein diet to get them off to a good start so I use a combination of wheat, peas, soy and flax oil along with a balance of vitamins and minerals for the first few weeks.  At around 4 weeks of age they are old enough to move to their outdoor pens where they can feast on all the greens and grubs they like.  Every few days the pens get moved to fresh pasture leaving behind the droppings as an organic fertilizer.

Twice a year the turkeys go to town.  For them it is a “once in a lifetime experience”, once at Thanksgiving or once at Christmas.

SPCA Certified

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First Nature Farms organic, free range turkeys are available on order for the holiday seasons in Edmonton at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market and for pickup in Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge.


the family


Grande Prairie

Vancouver – Pork

Queensdale Market
3030 Lonsdale Ave, North Vancouver,     ph (604) 987-6644

Choices Market Kitsilano
2627 W 16th Ave, Vancouver          ph (604) 736-0009

Choices Market Kerrisdale
1888 57th Ave W, Vancouver          ph (604) 263-4600

Choices Market Cambie                   ph (604) 875-0099

Choices Market North Van              ph (604) 770-2868

Choices Market South Surrey        ph (604) 541-3902

Choices Market Burnaby Crest      ph (604) 522-0936

Holistic Goals

Quality of Life

  • To be involved in work and leisure that is meaningful and rewarding.
  • To feel financially, physically and emotionally secure.
  • To recognize that we all have individual goals and support each other as we work towards them.
  • To help our children to be healthy, happy and productive, even through adulthood.
  • To determine our purchases based on our values and principals.
  • To have and enjoy good health.
  • To farm in harmony with our natural surroundings in order to sustain and enhance its natural biodiversity.
  • To maintain and/or develop relationships with our family, friends, neighbors and community.

Forms of Production

  • Achieve profit from livestock and meaningful work.
  • Obtain much of our food, fuel and feed from our local community.
  • Create opportunities to enhance our knowledge, talents and skills.
  • Balance time for work and leisure and set aside time for communication and exercise.

Future Resource Base

  • As people we want to be honest, caring, respectful and reliable. As farmers we want to produce in a manner that sustains our natural environment and our customers.


Certification and Support

PACS (Pacific Agricultural Certification)

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1990 was the first year that the farm became certified organic.  We started with the “Peace River Organic Producers Association” which later became a part of the “Pacific Agricultural Certification Service”.  You can view the complete document at “Canadian Organic Standards and Permitted Substances List”.

BCSPCA (British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

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The BCSPCA was one of the first organizations in Canada to develop standards for raising farm animals.  First Nature Farms first joined in 2006 and have been supporters ever since.

Global Animal Partnership (GAP)

certification and support-global-animal-partnership-GAP

When “Whole Foods” in Vancouver and West Vancouver approached us with the possibility of purchasing pork we were introduced to the “Global Animal Partnership” (GAP).  This organization has a similar function to the SPCA in that they verify and certify that the animals are raised according to specific standards. In 2011 we attained a level 4 status which according to them, was the highest they had certified for pig farms in Canada.

Other Organizations We Support


Location and History


Surrounded by the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ducks Unlimited, organic neighbours and crown land, First Nature Farms are producers of certified organic meats. Glad you dropped by!  This website is here to share information about our farm, what we produce and to provide opportunities for further education.

First Nature Farms is located in the western part of Canada in the province of Alberta.  We are one hour west of Grande Prairie with the border of British Columbia 4 1/2 miles to the west.

Goodfare is our closest centre, 12 miles away, consisting of around 8 homes, a community hall, an outdoor hockey rink and a mail box.


The Beaver Tribe or Dane-zaa with their ancestors called this area “home” for the past 10,500 years.  Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to explore the area in 1793.  Towards the late 1800’s settlement of the area began with pioneers moving in from areas east, United States and Europe.

beaver tribe

The farm was settled in 1918.  For decades it operated as a large cattle ranch and has been referred to as “The Ranch” ever since.

In 1977 in my hitch hiking days I was on my way to Alaska.


Originally from Edmonton, I was starting a journey that unknowingly, would change my life.  I made it to Grande Prairie but from there had a hard time finding a ride.  Finally a 60’s green Volkswagon van came to a slow stop (bad brakes I thought).  The hairy driver got out and started walking towards me.  That seemed a bit unusual and I grabbed my pack and started walking towards the driver.  When we met he stared at me and said “Jerry?”  I realized that he was my cousin who I hadn’t seen in years.  Just that day he had signed the papers for a new piece of land.  I diverted my plans, hopped into the van and discovered a place called “Goodfare”.  Later that year, I too would become a landowner.


In 1980 I became a partner on the ranch that would eventually evolve into First Nature Farms. One by one my partners left to pursue other interests that left me and my new family as the farmers. Conventional farming was tough and it was a course in Holistic Management that change our way of thinking.  With a set of holistic goals, our path was guided to the present.

Galloway Beef

Home of Happy Cows


Around 1977 when we first moved to Goodfare, we did not bring with us a whole lot of cattle experience.  “Greenhorns from the city” the neighbours thought we were but it didn’t slow us down from trying out some new ideas at raising cattle.  It did not take long for word to spread through the neighbourhood and soon we became known by the locals as “The Home of Happy Cows”!

We were honoured by the title and thought the cows would be too.  It wasn’t until much later the source of the rumor surfaced. The reason the neighbours thought our cows were so happy is that we’re  “probably feeding them bales of marijuana”!

Why Galloway?


We’ve raised Angus cattle since the 1980’s and as I became interested in beef raised strictly on grass, the interest in Galloways increased.  Galloway is considered to be a very ancient breed originating in the Province of Galloway in Scotland.  The climate was harsh and the breed excelled at producing sweet, tender beef foraging only on grass.

Galloways come in many colors: Black, Speckled, Dun, Red, etc.  I started with the Black Galloway and have recently changed my bull to a Belted Galloway.  He is black at both ends with a white belt in the middle.  The neighbour kids suggested I call him “Oreo” and that has been his name ever since.  One advantage of the Belted Galloway that I never anticipated is that they are so unique in the area that all the neighbours know who they belong to, hence, no need to brand!

Why grass fed?


Cattle raised on grass pastures spend their time in open fields rather than crowded feedlots.  Grass based diets involve less machinery than grain diets and have a much smaller environmental footprint.  Green pastures also are rich in biodiversity providing feed and homes for a wide diversity of species.

Munching on grass is also a natural thing to do.  The reduction of stress, the open ranges and nourishment provided by the pastures help the animal remain naturally healthy and content.

Healthy for us too!  Beef from grass-fed animals has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are better for cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef also has lower levels of dietary cholesterol and offers more vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants. Studies [PDF] found that meat from animals raised entirely on grass also had about twice the levels of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, isomers, which may have cancer fighting properties and lower the risk of diabetes and other health problems.

Natural Pasture, Organic of Course


Summer grazing on First Nature Farms is about as natural as it can get.  Our 13 quarters (2080 acres) of grazing lease is mostly aspen forest with Beavertail Creek running diagonally through, providing all kinds of open meadows where the cattle like to spend their time.  Winter brings the animals closer to home and “bale season” begins.  All the hay we produce comes either from our own farm or the farms of our organic neighbours.

SPCA Certified

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Since 2006 we have been supporters of the BC SPCA program promoting the welfare of farm animals.


Our beef is currently available by the cut at the Old Strathcona Farmers Market at the First Nature Farms booth in Edmonton.  Sides are also available but presently the waiting list is almost one year.

Contact us for details.




In the mid eighties a bison rancher from around Chetwynd B.C. forgot to close the gate to his corrals.  His two bison bulls took advantage of the situation and with freedom in mind, went through the open gate, left the corrals and headed east on their hundred mile journey into Alberta.

Around the same time I used to drive to Beaverlodge to work every day.  One morning I was amazed to find two bison bulls grazing next to our farm! Not only were they still there when I drove home but they continued to stay for several weeks!

Their incredible size, majestic appearance and obvious appreciation of the area kept me thinking. “Perhaps one day I may consider raising a few”.  A trip to Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump confirmed that this was a wise thing to do.   In 1992 our first six bison heifers arrived. To this date I have never regretted the decision.

Bison are Fed Grass

Bison are naturally meant to eat grass, summer and winter.  Grain can speed up the growing process and add additional fat but we choose the slower, more natural method.

What makes organic bison different from “natural”?

The organic rules state that absolutely no pesticides can be used for the production of any organic feed. This means that even the soil cannot contain any residues (three year minimum).  We’ve been certified for 24 years.  With the recent approval of new varieties of alfalfa, genetically modified feeds are becoming a concern.  GMO’s are not allowed in organic production.

Insecticides are commonly applied to bison to reduce the incidence of parasites. I prefer pasture rotation and selective breeding to produce animals that are naturally resistant.  That’s how nature works, a good model to follow.

Feedlot confinement has unfortunately become a popular method of increasing growth rates.  The first thing a confined animal want to do is escape.  Our pastures offer ample space including trees to scratch on and willows to munch.  The bison are content.  There have been times when a tree fell on the fence and the bison have left.  They always come back home.

Are bison “wild”?


Very much so.  Not enough time has passed since bison have been removed from the wild.  To keep the  stress level low I like to spend as much time with them as possible and have the bison associate my presence with something special.  It may be a new hay bale, an open gate to a new pasture or a sprinkling of oats.  At weaning time the bison calves (about 10 months old) a kept close to the house.  Every morning we walk through calling them “Moostoos! Tatonka! Astum!” meaning “Buffalo! Buffalo! Come Here” and give them a bit of oats.  Soon they learn to come when they are called.  This comes in really handy when they are in the pasture and I want to bring them in.  Others use trucks, ATVs, horses or dogs.  I just call them.

Our bison is currently available by the cut at both the Grande Prairie Farmers Market (The Butcher Shop) and the Old Strathcona Farmers Market at the First Nature Farms booth in Edmonton.  Sides are also available.  Contact us for details.