Nunavik hen house almost ready for business
“They should be laying eggs any day now”
Thomas Shea is used to picking up friends, family and cargo at the Kuujjuaq airport.
But Shea made his most interesting pick-up ever July 15, when he arrived at the airport to collect 120 live chickens, flown in from Montreal.
As soon as they came out of cargo, Shea said he put them in the back of the truck and drove them up to their home, a new heated facility on the outskirts of the community that is part of a local food production project.
“They were all glad to be out of their cages,” said Shea, who serves as president of the local Niqliit wildlife committee. “They felt pretty free — they flew around for a few minutes and then settled.
“Now they’re set up in their hen houses and should be laying eggs any day now.”
The birds arrived in Kuujjuaq as part of a project that aims to sell inexpensive eggs to the community.
The laying hens, at 19 weeks of age, are expected to start laying by 20 weeks, he said.
Once that happens, the first laid eggs will be sampled; some will be taken to the local elders home and other non-profit organizations in town.
After Kuujjuamiut have had a taste of the eggs, the Niqliit wildlife committee will start to sell them — by the dozen — from the facility.
The committee has also hired a staff member, responsible for visiting the coop daily to feed the birds and to keep the facility clean and well-maintained, Shea said.
The committee hasn’t quite decided on pricing. A local store sells a dozen large eggs for about $5.50, so Shea said the committee members are considering asking $3 a dozen.
Depending on the hens’ laying schedule, they will decide on a sales schedule — such as three days a week when residents will be able drive up to purchase eggs.
The sale revenues will go towards feeding the birds and maintaining the operation, Shea said — the project is not meant to be for-profit.
It’s not the first time that chickens have been brought to Nunavik to produce eggs. In the 1990s, Ivujivik resident Karl Kristensen operated a chicken coop in that Hudson Strait community.
But this time, organizers hope the project will be permanent and even expand to other communities, like Akulivik, which has already secured its own facility to house egg-laying hens.
The chicken coop and egg sales are just one of a handful of food production projects that the Kativik Regional Government has studied in recent years as a way to bring down the cost of living in the region.
Among the projects, the KRG has looked at growing fresh crops in local greenhouses — an initiative that has caught on in Kuujjuaq, although not as a commercial venture.
The KRG has also looked at raising rabbits in Salluit although that community has decided against launching the project for now.
In Kuujjuaq, Shea said there’s still much to learn about raising chickens in a northern setting, but he expects the operation to do well.
It’s already drawn the curiosity of Kuujjuamiut, he said, who have been driving out to the coop to take a peek inside.
Shea is already looking two years ahead, when this group of hens’ laying days will be done, and the group plans to bring up a new and even larger brood of hens to replace them.
At that point, Shea said his staff will likely kill and pluck the older hens, before donating the meat to local residents.
Although the KRG has secured plans for building a local provincially-approved abattoir, Shea said the meat of laying hens isn’t commercially viable at that point in their lives.