The hens of discord

Small chicken farmers are climbing to the barricades in front of a new regulation which makes them fear having to give up their breeding. Beyond the technical and regulatory contest, in their eyes it is above all the latest chapter in a long history of colliding visions of agriculture.

Filed by the Producers of hatching eggs of Quebec (POIQ), the regulation limits to 15 females and 5 males the number of animals that a breeder can have, and to less than 500 the number of total hatching eggs. that a producer can draw from it per year without holding a production quota. A hatching egg is an already fertilized egg, most often sold to a large accredited hatchery that will hatch it. The chicks are then sold in turn to chicken farmers who raise them to maturity.

If this regulation were strictly applied, “it would be a disaster for our small-scale breeding and for the genetic survival of heritage breeds,” says Dominic Lamontagne.

Known for his book The impossible farm, he operates a farm with his wife, Amélie Dion, in Sainte-Lucie-des-Laurentides. They thus have around 50 hens living with a few roosters – more than the new limit – and incubate fertile eggs mainly to ensure the reproduction of their own flock.

“We were faced with a fait accompli, without consultation in any way, or even knowledge of the current process,” also laments Léon Bibeau-Mercier, of the Bibeau farm in Sherbrooke.

Also secretary of the Cooperative for ecological proximity agriculture, he sees this “unilateral approach” as being at odds with the political discourse on the inclusion of diversified agricultural productions and food autonomy.

Faced with the outcry, the POIQs have for the moment suspended certain provisions. Their president, Gyslain Loyer, assures us that he was “very surprised” by the reactions and specifies that the intentions of the POIQ “have always been very positive”.

Different interpretations

The problem is that small producers have always understood that they are not subject to the supply management system for hatching eggs. “We just don’t do the same thing and we don’t have an industrial aim,” says Marlène Bonneville, of the Feathers and Pines farm.

The hatching egg sector, like many other farms, is under supply management in Quebec. In total, between 35 and 40 hatching egg producers share the market and produce more than 200 million of these eggs.

“Our objective was therefore to open up our regulations to more small producers,” says Mr. Loyer. In particular, loans could be granted to a limited number of applicants.

The POIQ for their part believe that the regulations, until now, “did not allow producers other than those with quotas to make hatching eggs,” he specifies.

This vision corresponds for Marlène Bonneville to a form of “reverse reinterpretation” of the regulations, which she finds “totally aberrant”, she says.

Her clients, she says, are mostly individuals who own a few chickens, “almost as pets”: “Yes, they will eat the eggs, but not to market them. “

She annually produces eggs which are fertilized and used for the reproduction of her own flock. “Would they then be considered hatching eggs?” This is what is most nebulous, ”says Mme Bonneville.

The POIQs did not wish for the moment to further specify the way in which the new regulation would be applied or amended. “Our reflection is in progress, we take note of what is happening now and our board of directors will look into it”, reiterated Gyslain Loyer to the Duty.

Genetic maintenance and agriculture

Other dissatisfied breeders are joining an effort to preserve certain rarer breeds. From a family of farmers from generation to generation, Étienne Laliberté says, for example, that he is very concerned about the possibility of no longer being able to produce his purebred hens if the regulation were to be applied.

He participates in large-scale agricultural exhibitions and is part of a solid network of enthusiasts who want to maintain genetic diversity in this species. He has more than the group limit allowed by the new regulations. “You can’t freeze the egg to keep the breed. Our duty is to keep it alive to keep the races alive. I’m also like a tulip hybridizer in Holland, ”he says.

We must have the right to do another agriculture

“If I had been considered a hatching egg producer, I would have known it for a long time,” he explains in support of his colleagues.

“We do not understand that this kind of supply management ‘tools’ should endanger our small farms. We do not put their commercial farms at stake, ”says Dominic Lamontagne.

Is it just a matter of specifying certain details of the settlement? Or irreconcilable interpretations? The Régie des marchés agricoles etimentaire du Québec (RMAAQ) should help to see things more clearly and to decide, since public sessions will be held in February on the subject.

Small breeders consulted by The duty intend to request the outright cancellation of the settlement. And even more: they want to be explicitly excluded from the scope of the joint plan. “You have to have the right to start small, you have to have the right to do another type of farming,” concludes Mr. Lamontagne. We don’t want to have to choose between the chicken or the egg. “

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