Canter Valley Poultry

May 2018

Growing and processing gourmet poultry in Canterbury

Lachlan Dick and his wife Kathy Guard took on Canter Valley 15 years ago. The gourmet poultry company farms and processes turkeys and quails, with contractor farmers supplying duck, and poussin for processing. Over their 15 years of ownership, Lachlan and Kathy have steadily grown the business from 16 staff to 35, and they now run 2 processing shifts.

About 18 years ago, Kathy gained a promotion that saw the family move from Marlborough to Christchurch. The difficult decision was made to sell up their beef, sheep and venison farm in the Awatere valley. After weathering Marlborough droughts and the vagaries of the sheep and beef market that set prices after they’d grown the produce, Lachlan was looking for a new business challenge that he could control.

Canter Valley is a producer and supplier of quality gourmet poultry products (turkey, duck, quail and poussin) to the restaurant, food service and retail markets in New Zealand. Canter Valley has control from day old poults through to market. All turkeys are grown free range and under ethical farming guidelines, with a focus on producing the best possible product for end customers enjoyment.

Canter Valley is a family business with son Shane working full time managing the farming operation, and daughters Ellen and Tamara have worked on a part time basis over the years.

The farm is accredited with FREPNZ (Free Range Eggs and Poultry NZ), adhering to stringent animal welfare codes. Lachlan notes that the humane treatment of farm animals is important for the animals and the consumers.

Lachlan reckons turkeys are satisfying to farm, they’re not aggressive and a healthy flock will naturally come to you and crowd around. However, he cautions, turkey farming is unforgiving, “if you don’t do the right things at the right time, you’ll have “issues”.

The day-old poults need to be well managed. Their environment needs to be warm, dry and free from draughts - that can result in smothering if the poults huddle together for warmth. Heating has to be monitored and reduced over time, with increasing use of ventilation and area. Keeping the litter (sawdust) that the poults live on warm and dry is paramount for both warmth and health.

The poults are manually fed ‘starter crumb’ – a feed pellet that has been rumbled to make it small enough for the poults to manage. Once fully feathered, the birds are moved into sheds with fenced off runs. They are given daytime access to the free range run, in order to peck and dirt bathe. The birds are fed grain-based pellets and water through special drinkers.

Paramount to the farming is cleanliness. All staff practice best practice biosecurity by ensuring they have clean gumboots and overalls when with the birds. All feed and water lines are routinely cleaned out at the end of each run. The used litter is taken by local farmers (and a market gardener next door) to be used for fertiliser. The clean conditions mean parasites are not an issue and no therapeutic antibiotics are required, or used, as per the free-range requirements.

Selected contractors supply duck and poussin to Canter Valley for processing. Contract farmers supplying birds to the processing plant on the farm are not allowed to farm other poultry or be in proximity to pig farms, to prevent potential cross-viral contamination.

Canter Valley complies with the FREPNZ guidelines. For example, stocking density guidelines require densities to be below 35kg/m2 and the range area must be 1.5 times the shed area with a minimum 20% of shade. Canter Valley exceeds these requirements and Lachlan says it results in a bigger, healthier bird.

Having the ability to keep all birds warm and dry in adverse weather conditions while still complying with stocking density levels is a must.

Recent weather events like cyclone Gita, which dumped 160mm of rain over 3 days, emphasize the importance of being able house all the birds inside at less than the required 35kg/m2. Canter Valley’s policy is to have stocking densities lower than required by regulation, currently they are at levels not above 25kg/m2, which is resulting in better general bird health and lower mortality rates.

Outside shade and mechanical ventilation in the shed is vital when temperatures rise above 25C. Early December 2017 saw unusually hot temperatures, into the 30s, but the low stocking densities and the shade offering ensured this was manageable.

Food safety and welfare guidelines also have a number of stringent biosecurity measures such as; restricted entry of vehicle and people; dedicated footwear and protective clothing; washing of vehicles between farms – including the disinfecting the wheels of vehicles that have been on other poultry sites. Feed and water must only be available in the sheds.

Only top quality feed is sourced and this comes from an accredited manufacturer. Canter Valley also has a rodent control programme to eliminate any cross contamination from rodents, which can also be a source of campylobacter and salmonella. Canter Valley operates a food safety RMP (Risk Management Programme). As they’re on “Step 5” (the highest grade) they are audited by MPI every 3 months.

Currently there is an NMD (National Microbial Database) data gathering exercise with all Turkey processors in New Zealand measuring the incidence of campylobacter and salmonella in finished product. It has been implemented in the chicken industry for a few years now and the plan is introducing it to the Turkey industry in the near future. Recent results in the data from Canter Valley have shown that when compared to the chicken acceptable guidelines.

Each year Canter Valley has steadily increased production numbers - Lachlan says steady growth, to avoid ‘boom and bust’ situations, has been key to their success. Properly managed infrastructure and well-trained staff are vital to their ongoing success - and a large expansion would challenge this and their stringent farm practices.

Marketing is primarily based on direct to customer engagement and this is Kathy’s department. Social media is a growing part of the business communication alongside their website and online shop. The site has proved highly effective with steady growth as evidence. Products can be bought directly from the website and delivered by courier in poly-bins. They sell their products both fresh and frozen. They predominantly supply the local market, with some exports to the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea.

Canter Valley prides itself in providing best quality products and service. Having good relationships with customers is very important. They’re always looking for new and better ways to do things, to give the best possible customer experience.

The team is working on innovative ideas for new products, in particular turkey, as it has many health benefits. Products like turkey mince are proving popular with a growing consumer demand for lean healthy meat. They have also developed a gluten free stuffing. They are further working to eliminate all nitrate use, and to source natural brines for clean natural products. Cathy adds that their turkey is 100% turkey and not plumped up with additional brines.

Lachlan say’s often people enquire for game birds such as pheasant and goose but when they see the price it becomes the barrier. For example, a 4kg goose is retailing for $230.

Lachlan points out the statistics for poultry consumption in New Zealand – each New Zealander on average eats a whopping 40 kilos of chicken a year, to only 300 grams of turkey or 650 grams of duck – and quail would be lucky to register.

Lachlan says, “there are probably better investments for less stress – it’s not the easiest way to make money”, however right now he’s finding his turkey farm satisfying work. As celebrity chef Al Brown notes in his book “Get Fresh”, “Lachlan is clearly proud of his operation and gets immense pleasure from raising happy, great tasting birds".