When Marlene Thimer and her family started Happy Pig Organic Farm in 2008 some people in the farming community were a little skeptical of the potential of an organic livestock operation in this area. Now, the only certified livestock producer along the highway 16 corridor and one of only three certified pork producers in the province of BC, Happy Pig Organic Farm raises 60 pigs, 1000 roasting chickens, and 100 turkeys annually.
When asked about the challenges in starting an organic farm, her first answer is the high cost of “everything”. Marlene recounts a conversation with a customer which has always stuck in her mind. “As an organic farmer, you should be cheaper then everyone else,” the customer boldly complained. “You don’t use any medication, fertilizer, herbicides or pesticides. Your costs should be less.”
This is almost all true, Marlene says, but it is very difficult to find certified feed that has not been fertilized or sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. Marlene has to purchase organic grain from Darwell, AB and then have it trucked into the valley. She then mixes her own feed in small batches so it is always fresh for the critters. The minerals and vitamins for the feed also have to be trucked in – the minimum order is one ton. Pens and fence posts all require using untreated wood and no oil based paints. Marlene notes that even though she has never had a sick animal (knocks on wood), once you give an animal pharmaceuticals, you can no longer sell it as organic, even though you have already invested into raising it as an organic animal.
One of the biggest cost increases with an organic system is labour required for animal movement across the pasture. Marlene’s new chicken and turkey pens are moved once per week, instead of the twice per day I with my old system, and the pigs have a new 10 acre paddock every two months which means moving plenty of temporary electric fencing.
Despite the hardships of starting a new organic farm, the hard work is starting to pay off. Happy Pig Organics have been marketing using print, Internet and word of mouth to attract more customers and regularly attend Farmers Markets in Smithers, Terrace & Prince George. Next year Marlene and Paul will increase pig, chicken, and turkey production hoping to double their current numbers.
Marlene is very grateful for her customers that take the time to become educated about the benefits of organic food. It’s a growing customer base with increased awareness of the impacts of conventional farming practices on the environment and animals. You can witness some of Marlene’s success yourself each Saturday at the Bulkley Valley Farmers Market – there is always a steady line up at her stand purchasing Happy Biscuit breakfast sandwiches and placing orders for pork, chickens & turkeys.