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Meeting high demand for Christmas turkeys challenging farmers in Kamloops, Okanagan

Organically raised turkeys are seen at Spring Valley Ranch in Pritchard.
Organically raised turkeys are seen at Spring Valley Ranch in Pritchard.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Spring Valley Ranch

If you want a free run, locally grown turkey for your Christmas table you might want to hustle to get your order in. Some organic farmers in Kamloops and the Okanagan are struggling to keep up with demand.

“There are people already calling me for Christmas birds,” said Peachland turkey farmer Taryn Skalbania. “I could quadruple what I raise and still sell them all.”

Skalbania has been raising and selling organic turkeys and chickens on her 14-acre property for over a decade but that’s proving to be more difficult every year. She said a number of growing demands on the local, free-run turkey farming industry is creating a shortage and she is expecting more challenges for the industry going forward.

“Good birds are going to be in short supply this year and I’m already hearing from other local farmers there’s a shortage.”

She doesn’t expect the same issues to affect major grocery chains.

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“It depends what you want, if you want a pellet fed caged bird from a big commercial grower they are everywhere and they cost less. But when stores advertise much lower prices what kind of birds are you buying?”

Skalbania picks up produce that is expiring from Real Canadian Superstore to feed her turkeys which reduces costs and helps make for “healthier birds.” The cost of grain, she said has skyrocketed and she’s paying more than twice the cost for a bag compared to last year.

“Organic chicken and turkey farmers are getting driven out of business with higher expenses for feed, land and irrigation,” she said. “There is inconsistent weather, climate change and wildfire smoke. Floods in 2021 in the Lower Mainland took out some farms and two years in a row of avian flu took out a few more adding to the demand.”

She raised the prices for her turkeys this year and she is “barely breaking even.”

Tanya Tinker co-owns Spring Valley Ranch in Pritchard that produces organic turkeys and chickens. She said it is “going to be really close” trying to fill all the orders for Christmas turkeys this year. The turkeys are raised on pasture and fed on organic feed and weigh roughly 24 pounds each.

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“The demand for our turkeys is high, I’m already filling orders for Christmas and I’m not sure there will be enough,” she said. “It’s looking similar to what it was last year.”

Like Skalbania, Tinker had to adjust prices per pound for her turkeys and chickens due to rising costs of feed, irrigation, fuel and organic fertilizers.

“Everything costs a lot,” she said. “I expect it will get more challenging for all farmers, not just organic.”

Tinker is driven to provide organic birds for human and animal health, animal welfare reasons and the environment.

For Skalbania, raising organic turkeys who are free to run and are well cared for is worth the challenges.

“Turkeys are so entertaining, I just enjoy watching them,” she said. “They’ll wander the whole perimeter of the property and never cross it, and they’ll sit on my car. They need a lot of protection when they are babies because they’re not smart, but I love my birds.”

Skalbania said she’s also seeing a growing trend for consumers to purchase different meats for Christmas tables like lamb, ham, venison and duck.

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