Skeena Voices| Sunny-side-up

·6 min read

When Kieran Christison’s father, Ian, passed away in 2018, she dove head-first into the egg farming business without very much support. Now she is the manager of Daybreak Farms in Terrace.

Christison, 30, has always been a farmer. She grew up on Vancouver Island, where her father ran a 130-acre farm near Cobble Hill. It was a commercial egg farm with around 50 cows, 40 acres of potatoes and hay.

“It was a lot of fun, it was dirty and we always had pets, it was a lot of fun,” Christison said. “I always knew I wanted to be a farmer, I always loved the cows and I always had a steer as a pet.”

In 1991, when Kieran was one-year-old, her father saw what is now Daybreak Farms for sale in the newspaper. He had no idea where Terrace was and had never visited northwest B.C. After “a little adventure” to Terrace, Ian Christison purchased the farm with a partner.

“As I got older, my dad bought the partner out and we got more involved in the business. My dad was coming up here more often so I was having to take care of the chickens and the farm back in the Island so that was not so much a wake up call but it was like a ‘okay, I don’t mind doing this, I can get up, go check the barn,’ it was kind of a leisurely schedule,” she said.

She was around 14 when she decided she wanted to be an egg farmer, in contrast to her older brother and sister who did not have much interest.

She moved up to the Northwest in 2010, living in Smithers for three years before deciding it was time to be at the farm in Terrace.

“The realization was like ‘yeah, this is what I want to do, I want to take this from being a farm to being a business, to being an empire eventually,’” she said.

“I saw that vision early on and it’s kept me working, driving to eventually get there.”

Seven years later, Daybreak Farms is a unique agriculture business, with products sold at large retailers like Save-On-Foods and Walmart. Unlike most egg farms, Daybreak Farms does everything in-house, from production to grading to marketing.

“We have to be that way because we are so far removed, the closest grading station is Abbotsford so we are pretty remote. Probably the closest egg farm is someplace like Salmon Arm down in the Okanagan,” she said.

The farm mills its own feed with grain from the Prince Rupert port and adds fish meal and fish oil.

“That gives our eggs a little bit of a unique flavour and colour that adds to it, so that’s what makes Daybreak eggs a little bit more unique.”

She said that omega makes the birds a little bit healthier, gives the eggs more omega content. Without the mill it would be very expensive to ship feed up to the northwest and would raise the price of eggs in the store.

Being a food producer in an isolated place took on a whole new meaning for Christison when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The demand for eggs was like nothing she had ever seen before, driven by consumers concerned about the pandemic. Food security and the importance of local agriculture was something her father instilled in her at a very young age living on Vancouver Island, which she compared to the northwest — it can be cut off from the rest of the province at any time.

“If Highway 16 gets cut off in any way we are completely vulnerable, so it’s having the farms here and having the diversity up here to feed ourselves is such a passion of mine and I really want to move forward with that,” she said.

“We would have been just left out to dry if we didn’t have Daybreak here supplying this area with food, we are the only agriculture up here that supplies the area, we are so insecure in terms of food security it’s kind of scary.”

Christison herself was somewhat isolated and vulnerable when she took over management of the farm without a lot of support. She quickly realized she had no idea how to run a business.

“It’s all a challenge, it’s all new to me, I haven’t managed anything before, like I said I’m just a farmer so managing people, I don’t have that experience and I’m more of an introverted kind of person so that’s a big challenge for me,” she said.

“I did think about doing business courses and there was a professor in town and he said ‘why? You are doing it, so you are going to come across these challenges but you are not going to learn that in school.’”

As a manager, Christison is more focused on the business side of the farm these days, and she spends a lot of time doing errands, replying to emails and helping staff with assorted tasks. She enjoys interacting with customers and the public, answering questions about the process and sharing information about eggs.

But she still loves being hands-on, getting out and helping on grading days twice a week.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, eggs are loaded onto rollers where they are washed and dried. Then they are back-lit so their internals and shell can be inspected. Finally, the eggs are weighed and dropped into a packer.

“It’s very busy, it’s a processing facility so you always want to keep it going and the faster you can get those eggs pumped through the earlier your day is, so it’s a lot of fun.”

“I really do love the farming part of it, I love getting in with the birds and actually seeing my flock, I love the free run, so you can walk through your flock and check them out, you can check the health of them, check out the eggs. A good quality egg, you pick up and you feel it, you kinda try to squeeze it a bit seeing the quality of it, crack it open and seeing the nice dark colour and the high yoke and seeing the quality of the egg and that’s always very satisfying.”

Christison has some goals for the future of Daybreak Farms, like transitioning to a cage-free farm with zero waste. That would mean switching from Styrofoam to pulp cartons and composting manure, any broken cartons, cracked or bloody eggs and deceased chickens. She hopes that Daybreak Farms will become a household name in the north and that she can be an inspiration for other young women while advocating for the northwest to become more food secure.

“We are a family-owned company, it’s a female run company, my mom owns it, I manage it and we have a very close family friend that is our accountant so we are a very tight group,” she said.

“I’m 30, I’m female and I run this farm on my own and it’s totally doable.”

Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News