Dan MacIsaac was one of those Antigonish area individuals who found themselves out west for work but, at the same time, constantly looking for the right opportunity to move home. That opportunity has come in the form of Loch Abar Farms.
“I bought this farm in October (2016), started Christmas trees last year and, this year, I needed to do something with the actual farm land so I, kind of, jumped into this (raising chickens) head-first,” MacIsaac said, from his location in Lochaber, just off Highway 7.
“I was trying to figure out a way I could start farming without having the overhead of large equipment and items like that. I did some research, throughout the winter, and took a course on pastured animals and, just realized, the difference in that it’s a superior product because it actually gets to be a chicken. It gets to eat, lay out in the sun and get fresh air.”
MacIsaac said people really notice a difference in the taste.
“The fatty acid content in a chicken that gets to eat grass as compared to one that stays in a confinement situation – it’s not even comparable. So far, the reaction has been great in the local community, so I’m just trying to get the word out there more,” he said, talking to the Casket Aug. 25.
MacIsaac said his goal, right now, is to sell directly to people.
“The more people I can put these chickens in the hands of the better,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll spread the word after they taste them.”
A typical day for MacIsaac begins around 7:30 a.m. and is a combination of tending to the chickens and, later, Christmas trees.
“I let the chickens forage for an hour and then I feed them,” he said. “Then I go off and trim Christmas trees for the day and every time I take a break I move the chickens to new grass so they’re getting fresh forage for the day. Pretty much, seven-days-a-week, that is how it has been.
“As this grows, my schedule basically becomes busy with chickens in June and ends, at the end of October, once it’s too cold to have a chicken outside … that’s pretty much it. I’m licensed for pastured, free-range chickens so, once October comes, that’s basically the end of the free-range season; after that, I’m done until the following June. It’s just Christmas trees after that.”
He talked about expanding his operation down the road once he is firmly established in those two areas.
“Chicken and Christmas trees are a start,” he said. “Eventually, I’ll get into other animals but, right now, I just want to try and do two things well, instead of a bunch of things half-heartedly.”
MacIsaac’s operation is firmly supported by an online presence which has helped him with early marketing.
“The best way to get in touch with me would be through my website, lochabarfarms.com; there is an order chicken button on there and most of my orders, so far, have been pre-orders through my website,” he said. “If not, my phone number is 902-318-3342 and I’ll be glad to help anyone who wants to get involved, buy some chickens that way.
“Facebook has been amazing; the following and the help I’ve received through Facebook has really helped me out marketing-wise. You can reach so many people these days through social media, so that has been wonderful for me … Facebook has been a blessing.”
MacIsaac talks about the importance of local products on his website as well as a healthy product.
“I put the extra time in,” he said. “If you look at my birds; they’re clean, fully-feathered, they’re healthy and they’re eating grass. If I’m going to claim I have a better product, I’m going to put the time in to make sure that product is different, better, when someone puts it on their plate,” he said.
“And when that chicken goes through its eight to nine-week lifecycle, I want it to be happy the whole time. I don’t want to be cramming them up in a barn and, basically, just producing them as easily and as cheaply as possible; I want to take the time to make sure it’s actually a premium product.”
MacIsaac talked about his location on West Side Road in Lochaber.
“We’re not too far (from Antigonish) and Lochaber has been a booming farm spot for a long time,” he said. “Right now, we’re kind of in a change over from an aging population. It’s a great spot for me; there is a ton of knowledge around here which has been a huge help.”
He talked more about the aging population when it comes to farmers.
“When it comes to agriculture, if we don’t start seeing some recruitment we’re going to be in a bad spot, because the average farmer is an older man right now; 65 is probably on the low side, it could be closer to 70,” he said. “In the next 10 years, farmers are going to start to disappear like crazy; so, hopefully, some young people realize that and also see that our food industry has, kind of, gone the way where it’s just mass production and stuff that’s not really healthy for us.”
He said for young people who have moved out west or are thinking about it; it might mean thinking a little bit “outside of the box.”
“Most people are heading west but there are options here if you want to think outside the box, put your head down and go to work,” MacIsaac said. “Maybe the money is not going to be the same off the start, but your lifestyle is going to be way better than it would be being on the road. I just spent 10 years in Alberta and, the last four, where I was travelling back and forth. That lifestyle is far from ideal; especially if you’re going to have a family.”