Back to their roots – raising chickens on WindRose Farm

Back to their roots – raising chickens on WindRose Farm

There is a new player in Oxford County’s chicken market, and it is a couple who decided to go back to their rural roots after a few years of living in the city.

Manita and Brandon La Rose bought a farm in East Zorra-Tavistock last year, just west of Hickson, and wanted to find a way to get back to the land. Manita said they weren’t exactly sure what they wanted to produce when they bought the property but landed on chickens. “We wanted to buy close to my parents but also wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to do something. The original intent was to be commercial chicken farmers but that is extremely expensive to get into. The only way that might happen is if we bought a farm with a chicken barn already on it. To buy a farm, the quota, and build a barn was just too much.”

After spending last year in the Family Food Program, the couple decided to enter Ontario’s Artisanal Chicken Program this year. “We could raise up to 300 broiler chickens, so meat birds. When you do that, you don’t have to report to anyone, you can butcher them yourself, but you can only consume them yourself and sell to friends and family through word-of-mouth marketing only. No Facebook or ads in the paper and customers have to come to the farm to pick up the meat.” She added that with the artisanal program, they can raise between 600 and 3000 meat birds, all without quota. “It gives us the opportunity to be farmers without having to pay big dollars. But just like a commercial operation, we do get audited by the Chicken Farmers of Ontario who checks out our bio-security measures along with records of feed, and our flocks.” All of the couple’s chickens must be processed in a licensed facility just like commercial chickens meaning their products are just as safe as anything that could be purchased in a grocery store.

For the first three weeks of their lives, the chicks are fed inside and have access to a starter feed. “It has about 18 percent protein content that helps give them a boost. After about three weeks when they are fully feathered, we take them outside if the weather cooperates but if it is too cold or wet, we won’t. They get fresh pasture every day. They graze, run, scratch, and do anything a chicken wants to do but they also get supplemented with a grower feed which is well-balanced to help them mature.” Manita said they are also required to give their birds grit, something commercial operators are not required to do. “They can’t digest grass without something to grind it down. They don’t have the same kind of digestive tract that we do, and they don’t have teeth so they can’t chew and that is where the grit comes in.”

The couple uses what is called a Cackellac mobile poultry shelter, otherwise known as a chicken tractor, to house their birds outside. “It could be a homemade mobile coup, but this is what we use. Each of these can hold up to 100 birds and comes with two feeders and automatic waterers so the birds have water any time of day.” She explained that on hot days the feed is wet down so they can take in some water when they are eating. “This breed has been bred for years and years for growing. That is their primary focus, and they are always hungry.”

Oxford County has seen a shift in terms of grocery store meat versus small providers. Manita believes the quality of their chickens is above and beyond what is available in grocery stores. “We eat our chicken ourselves and we find the meat is more tender because the birds move more and have more opportunity to frolic. The added activity doesn’t make them tough, it makes them more tender. The grass makes them more nutrient dense which I believe adds to the flavour.” Brandon said the difference between their birds and the commercial sector is obvious. “It’s hard to explain but in-store meat is kind of mush, it’s just there. Take the breast meat for example, it’s almost like there’s a grain to it. You can slice through our chicken with a spoon if you cut it right and it’s juicier.”

The farm offers whole or cut chicken pieces along with the other products. “We have honey garlic chicken sausages and chicken burgers and there are no fillers or gluten in them for anyone who has any sensitivities. We also have ground chicken which is just chicken,” said Manita.

As for what’s next in their business plan the couple is working towards the farm being their full-time gig. “The end goal is to have the farm be self-sustaining so we can quit our jobs or at least slow down. We both like what we do, and we don’t really want to just stop, but it would be nice if we could have more time for the farm. We lived in Woodstock for three years and something was missing. I grew up on a farm, and Brandon grew up in the country. We realized that wasn’t the life for us so here we are.”

They named the farm after experiencing the unique weather conditions at the top of the valley on the 11th Line. “We came here two or three times before we moved in and every single time it was so windy, I could hardly talk to the person next to me. We would be walking against the wind sideways and go in the shed to get away from it and we’d all of a sudden fall forward. I guess it is because we are at the top of the hill, so that’s where the wind part comes from. And for the rose, we just wanted to incorporate something from our name.” She added ‘wind rows’ is an agricultural term for when hay is cut and then raked into rows.

WindRose Farm is active on social media and orders can be made on their website at

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