Career Spotlight of the Month (March 2019)
Name: Rachel Falls, RVT
Her Business: Rachel’s Homegrown Poultry
Q & A with Rachel
OAVT: Where did you go to school, and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Rachel: Georgian College. I had always been interested in medicine but it was my love for animals that pushed me to take the RVT program instead of getting into human nursing.
OAVT: Like many RVTs, you have a few jobs on the go. What are your current jobs?
Rachel: I work at a small animal practice in Alliston, Ontario, as well as with the Rabies Response Program (RRP). I am the Livestock Investigator for my township within the Ontario Wildlife Damage Compensation Program. I also work alongside my fiancé and his parents (both in the field and in the office) to run their crop farming operation and do some part time work at a small horse farm.
OAVT: You're so busy! And on top of all of that, you own your own business. Tell us about it.
Rachel: Rachel’s Homegrown Poultry started in 2017. I raise an allotment of chickens through the Artisanal Chicken Program. I am licensed to grow 600-3000 birds per year. These birds are started in a brooder for the first three weeks of life, then moved to pasture where they consume a variety of grasses, alfala, clover, and bugs as well as a non-GMO grain feed. I market my chickens as pasture raised, non-GMO fed, antibiotic free.
OAVT: What made you decide to start your own business?
Rachel: The main reason was based on the continual disappointment of the chicken I was buying from the grocery store.
Having grown up on a beef farm (in earlier years we raised pigs as well), there was always an adequate supply of good, pastured, homegrown meat. You don't realize the difference in the quality of that meat compared to the meat purchased in the grocery store until you actually try it. Once I left the family farm and moved in with my fiancé, I again had an adequate supply of pork and beef supplied by family friends. It was all locally raised, some pastured, some grain fed, but simply good, homegrown, 'know where it came from' kind of meat.
Over the years I started eating more chicken. It's quite a bit more versatile than beef; however, the store bought chicken I always got had zero flavour, looked pale and kind of limp, and had a slightly rubbery texture. Maybe that's why it was so versatile - it had no taste so essentially tasted "good" in any flavoured dish I added it to. In 2016 I started looking into options for raising chickens. I needed something that could provide my family with good pastured, locally raised chicken, but also my community. Within a short time I found a program called the Artisanal Chicken Program. It allows for 600-3000 chickens to be raised per year in the way the farmer chooses: free run, free range, pastured, organic, non-GMO, etc. Of course, part of the requirements involve things like detailed record keeping, farm inspections, audits, fees, plus re-application each year; however, it provided me the ability to sell to outside markets - stores, restaurants, farmers' markets, caterers, etc. This is exactly what I was looking for. I made a business plan, applied for the program and was accepted. I raised 600 pastured chickens in 2017, 1000 chickens in 2018 and will be raising around 1500 chickens in 2019.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you?
Rachel: Spring to fall is quite busy. I get up early and look after the animals in this order: dog, cat, laying hens, horses, meat birds. If it is a day I am working at the clinic, I am up much earlier to get all of this completed. On a day where I am working from home, I spend more of my day tending to the chickens. There’s always something to fix, something to feed, chickens to move to pasture or rotate to new pasture, folks coming to the farm to buy chicken. Throw in a rabies call or two to extend the day a wee bit.
If it’s spring or fall during seeding and harvest I can also be found day or night in a tractor with my dog alongside me.
OAVT: How do you feel your RVT skills are being utilized in your business?
Rachel: There are so many skills as an RVT that I utilize in my poultry business; nutrition, animal husbandry and handling, identifying and understanding disease processes, biosecurity, animal health and wellbeing. Other important skills to utilize that are not always things that you want to think about (but are sometimes most important); humane euthanasia, managing and treating sick or debilitated animals, etc. These are all things that we have learned about as RVTs and I am happy to be able to put that knowledge and those skills to work for my own business.
OAVT: What advice would you give to RVTs who are wanting to start their own business?
Rachel: Research!!!!! Do your research. It’s so easy to want to jump in without looking at all the angles. There are always more costs involved than you think. Make a business plan. Know who your focus is. It takes time to build a client base and get the word out there. It’s better to start small, expand and succeed than to start large, be overwhelmed and fail.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is your passion? Does Rachel's Homegrown Poultry allow you to fulfill that passion?
Rachel: My passion has always been animal health and wellbeing with a focus on the livestock/food animal sector. I have created a business for myself where I am in charge of the health and wellbeing of the animals I raise and ultimately consume. It may be a bit of a contradiction...I care so much for the animals and then turn around and eat them. This is life. I am not against vegetarianism or veganism; however, I eat meat. I eat meat that I have raised with love. I give my animals a good life. I watch these chickens from day one as they grow. They play, they bask in the sun, dig in the dirt, chase bugs, and do things that chickens should do. They experience the sun, the rain and the fresh air. They live in pristine conditions and do not endure suffering or hardships. This is what I choose for them. It is unfortunate not all of the animals we consume have the benefit of living this lifestyle.