She was new to turkeys and he was new to farming. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, not much, which is why Marc and Hinke Therrien of Redwater, Alta., are proud winners as Alberta regional nominees for the Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) Award.
“I’m not a farm kid; I grew up in the city, but I’ve always had a passion for agriculture,” says Marc.
Growing up on a dairy farm, Hinke shared that passion, so when they met at the University of Alberta and married soon after, it was a match made in turkey heaven.
“In 2010, Hinke’s parents said we could take over one of the family’s turkey farms, but only if I got work experience first,” says Marc. ”
He quit his job and worked on a chicken farm full-time, gaining hands-on exposure to barn management and learning as he went. When an opportunity arose in 2012 to run the Pine Valley Turkey Farm near Devon, Alberta, they jumped at it. Two years later, they had a chance to turn tragedy into triumph.
“Hinke’s dad suffered a fire at his turkey farm in Redwater in 2013 and lost two large production barns,” says Marc. “Since he was close to retirement, he approached us to take over and spearhead the rebuild.”
Despite the huge learning curve, they had the barns rebuilt a year later and now grow upwards of 140,000 turkeys per year.
“At one point, Marc worked in Redwater while I was at the farm in Devon with two babies,” says Hinke. “It got pretty crazy, but we have fallen in love with raising birds: the science of how they grow, nutrition, lighting programs.”
Their passion for poultry was noticed by CIBC, one of the main award sponsors, who nominated them for the OYF award.
“We were a bit blown away when we won,” says Marc. “It was daunting going against multigenerational farms when we’ve only had seven years in the business. We feel honoured to be part of the OYF family.”
While their time in the business has been brief, they’ve made the most of it so far.
“When we rebuilt the barns after the fire, we made alterations that let us produce more turkeys without extra labour costs,” says Marc. “Once the new barns and production unit are complete, our Redwater farm will be able to produce double the amount of turkeys as our Devon operation.”
They also began buying local grain after the rebuild and mixing it on-farm, allowing them to save on feed costs and reduce their carbon footprint.
Most importantly, they now have three daughters: Annelies, four; Emilie, three; and Natalie, one.
And befitting award winners, there are more changes to come.
“This year we’re converting to straw bedding so we need to renovate our hay shed to boost biosecurity,” says Marc.
Other enhancements are more about innovation than expansion. That includes technology upgrades to old barns and internet-based systems for the new ones. They’re considering a viewing platform in a new barn to facilitate tours.
New barns, new systems and a fresh perspective. Is it all moving too fast for industry rookies like the Therriens? If it is, it’s news to them.