By David Schmidt
Witness to change
By David Schmidt
Vic had the job of delivering feed to his family’s broiler and turkey farm, and that’s how he met his wife Judy, who used to skip school and accompany him.
Aldergrove, B.C., turkey and chicken grower Vic Redekop has seen a lot of changes in his 60 years – watching the B.C. poultry industry progress from a relative free-for-all in the 1960s to a more disciplined, yet still casual, supply managed system in the 1980s and 1990s to today’s more business-like structure with its heavy emphasis on biosecurity.
He has had a hand in some of those changes, serving on the B.C. Chicken Growers Association for many years in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, including many years as vice-president and “2 or 3” as president, bracketed around a three-year term as a director of the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board, and, for the past three years, as a director of the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board (BCTMB).
In that he is following in the footsteps of his father, Peter P. Redekop, who helped to create the BCTMB in the mid-1960s.
Redekop got his start “picking eggs” on his father’s egg farm.
“I hated layers with a passion as a kid,” he recalls. “Every Saturday and Sunday, I’d have to pick eggs in the afternoon while my friends would be out playing and having a good time.”
As a result, he promised himself to never have laying hens, a promise he has kept.
His father also had a few cattle, usually with bad temperaments. “They would get out and that would be a horror for us.”
That led him to also promise himself to never have cattle, a promise he has not kept. But instead of buying the “worst” cattle as his father would, he has become an active member of the West Coast Hereford Club, spending the past decade establishing a select herd of purebred Polled Hereford cows.
Redekop became more interested in the poultry when his father built a turkey barn. His father and his uncle then bought a large broiler farm in Haney (about an hour’s drive away) and a feed truck and Vic had the job of delivering the feed. It was also when he began courting the girl across the road, Judy.
“I used to skip out of school and jump in the feed truck when Vic would deliver feed,” she recalls.
Vic and Judy got married in 1976 and bought a 10,000 bird broiler quota and a former Panco, B.C., testing farm in 1978. It had four turkey barns that could be arranged to grow chickens during two cycles and turkeys during the third. After his quotas increased and production became more rigid, he added separate broiler barns.
Acquisitions and growth have increased Redekop’s broiler quota to about 85,000 birds and the turkey quota to about 750,000 kilograms, making North Bluff Farms a medium-size operation in both sectors. When his father passed away, Vic’s brothers and sisters got most of the layer and broiler quotas while Vic’s children got their grandfather’s turkey quota, which is now also at about 750,000 kgs.
His turkey production is all hens. They are grown in three cycles/year and shipped at 9 and 13 weeks of age for Hallmark (Pollen Group).
“The Pollens proposed a fresh turkey marketing program so I met the buyers and we grow to their needs. The relationship has worked very well.”
Although both of his sons (a third son passed away at age 21) are professionals, they and their sister remain active in the operation.
“We run the farms concurrently,” Vic explains, adding he and Judy are now involved in estate planning so they can do more travelling.
Almost as soon as he had his own farm, Redekop got involved in the chicken growers association, saying it gave him a “larger perspective” on the industry.
“Just doing the chores wasn’t that stimulating,” he adds.
He was elected to the chicken board in the 80’s but served only one term, deciding he couldn’t devote the time necessary to do the job and still give his teenaged children the attention they needed.
“To do justice to the chicken board is almost a job in itself,” he says, “to do it, you really need to have a good family team behind you.”
After being out of industry politics for over a decade, he was approached by a turkey board member and asked to fill a then -upcoming vacancy.
“It was almost by appointment as I ran without opposition,” Redekop says.
He has found being on the turkey board much less stressful than his time on the chicken board.
“The turkey industry mostly runs under the radar. Turkey quota is not traded nearly as much as chicken or egg quota. Because it’s very stable, it has much less issues.”
The farms are run quite simply. All barns are single-story with the same equipment. All the broiler barns and most turkey barns have tunnel ventilation.
“Uniformity is big for me,” Redekop states. “If you know how to run one barn, you can run any barn.”
It also means the same tools and same parts can be used to fix any problem.
“Things always seem to break down on a Saturday night and there’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a barn and finding you don’t have the right part because it’s a different motor or a different feed line,” he notes.
One of the biggest changes over the years has been the increase in biosecurity.
“We are located on a busy rural road and in the old days before cellphones, feed reps and other service people would just wander onto the farm. Many would come right into house for coffee or to use the washroom or the phone,” Judy recalls.
Now, the feed reps only ever come into the farm office and never in the house. On the rare occasions they need to go onto the farm itself, they now first don biosecurity gear.
“We are now as diligent as we can be about biosecurity,” Redekop says.
Last winter’s avian influenza outbreak gave him quite a scare but he escaped unscathed. “It was like watching a bullet coming toward me. It came closer and closer but at the last moment it veered.”
Looking to the future, he sees an increased demand for antibiotic free production and increasing farm-urban conflicts.
“We have to do a lot better job of explaining our industry to the public. We don’t want to use antibiotics indiscriminately but there are times when livestock, like children, need medications.”