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Expensive chicken, is it worth it?

June 28, 2008

No gruesome photos today.

Here is the breakdown on the costs of raising this batch of chickens, and my thoughts on whether it is worth it or not.  If I didn’t stretch these chickens so far, getting 5 days of lunch meat for DH, 2 family meals and a fair amount of broth per week, raising so many birds would not be a good value.  However, for me, since I know my way around these birds, raising 75 in one pen is the same amount of labor and capital expenditure as raising a smaller batch of 25.  (chicks are shipped from hatcheries in increments of 25.)  I make estimates of how much food I need to stock up on, loosely based on 1 unit a week, except items like beef of course.  For instance I try to can 50 quarts of sweet cherries, and glare at my husband if he eats more than one a week.  ;)  The way food goes around here, we might eat 3 quarts of those cherries in one week, and then not touch them for weeks, it always seem to work out.  So I plan for cooking a chicken a week, and I devote that much freezer space to that.  If I raised the same number of chickens in two batches, I would be doubling my labor/time expenditure during a time when I really need to be doing other things. 

Here are the costs based on 75 chicks:

♣  day old chicks    –     $  80.25
♣  brooder electricity –      12.00
♣  feed, 3/4 ton   –          558.75
♣  processing –               117.00
♣  gasoline –                     20.00

Total expense                $ 788.00

If I sold these chickens, I would sell them for $3.75 per lb.  I ended up with 71 chickens.  At first I thought I received 72 from the hatchery, and lost 4, but the actual count was 71, so I did receive my full order.

Value:

♣  average dressed weight was 5.7 lbs.   405 lb  x  $3.75  =   $ 1518.75
♣  hearts, livers, gizzards and feet            42 lb  x    3.50  =        147.00

Total Value                                                                               $1665.75
                                                                                                    788.00 

Net after expenses:                                                                  $  877.75  
Cost to raise – $11.10 per bird.  
that is about $1.95 per lb.
Prices here in the Pacific Northwest range from $ .69 per pound for conventional fryers to $3.75 per pound for organic fryers. 

The following are some things I can’t reconcile on my spread sheet: 

I didn’t include my labor costs because these are for our personal use, but I spent 14 hours over 8 weeks, and 6 hours processing, for a total of 20 hours.  If I do bookkeeping for someone I charge $20.00 per hour.  If I count my time, that would add another $400.00.  That would be a figure to take into consideration if you were going to sell these.  I could have sold all of these at our high price.  I need approximately 60 to satisfy my goal of one a week and have some extra.  I will barter the balance of these.  By keeping track of my costs I know how much they are worth.  I’m here anyway, I like these chickens for all the good food they provide, and their stay is brief, so I don’t mind this chore either.

Another detail I have a hard time placing a dollar value on, is the fellowship on butchering day.  My daughter always has fun, and gets a chance to visit with kids she knows, and meet some new friends, who don’t think it’s weird to be killing chickens.  I have fun too, I like the smells, and sounds and I never have a problem eating fresh chicken for dinner that very night!  Does that make me a bad person?  I decide what my family eats, this is one way to ensure there are good feelings surrounding that food.

Placing a value of the broiler manure for pasture fertilizer is hard compare with the typical fossil fuel based fertilizers that need to be applied every year, and do more harm than good.  But that is the test conventional farmers always use – if it gets taller than everybody else’s, that’s what counts.  I’m not looking for tall hay, or volume, but quality.  This pasture has been grazed down twice this season before we dropped it out of the rotation for hay. This is our only flat field, so we raised our broilers here, when we were doing it as a business.  Note the strip of Spotted cats ear, or false dandelion Hypochaeris radicata.  This dandelion grows on our ground that needs help. In this field we had to run the pens along side the plow line, so this strip never received any chicken manure.   The cows relish this bitter herb fresh, and in hay, so we don’t worry about it. (It does tense out our neighbors, though, hehe.)  We use it as an indicator to tell us we are slipping backwards in our fertility applications.  Broilers haven’t been here for 3 years.
 

For us, if the grain prices continue to climb, which they will (I’ve heard at least until 2010.)  It may not pay to raise these chickens.   We rarely ate chicken until we started raising them, and it would be hard to go without now.  We squeeze so much out of each chicken nothing goes to waste, but it would be more cost effective for us to raise more beef, since we don’t grain our cattle, we would have less cash out of hand, just labor costs.   That’s why chicken used to be reserved for Sunday dinner, it was expensive to raise on a farm where cash flow was nonexistent, and the chicken supply was usually a young rooster that wasn’t needed.

On our trip to process the chickens, we were able to stock up on Thorvin Kelp and Redmond Salt for the cows, so I can really charge the gas for the trip to the beef, offsetting the cost to chickens.

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So, as usual I’ve probably raised more questions than supplied answers.  If grain is available at an affordable price in your area, that would certainly help make the decision on whether or not it would pencil out.  So I hope this helps.

For dinner tonight – you guessed it!  Roasted Chicken Huge Salad.

Jericho romaine, Merlot, Flashy Green Butter Oak, and New Red Fire lettuces, Five color silverbeet, lambsquarters, Genovese basil, cilantro, Goldgerber purslane, vetches, violas and Lemon Gem marigolds.

Foxglove in the barnyard.  Digitalis purpurea

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28 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2008 3:22 am

    I never buy chicken any more unless I can get it from my brother who raises them. Store chicken is just nasty. I would pay a lot more for home raised and be glad to do it rather than eat what passes for chicken at the supermarket. Yours looks wonderful, as does your salad. Have you ever tried Merveille de quatre saisons lettuce? ( just the name is a mouthful) I bought some this year and so far we really like it.

  2. June 29, 2008 7:30 am

    thanks for the insight on ‘Sunday chicken.’

    I’ve wondered about geese. Since they are strictly pastured it would seem like they are a better value to raise – and then there is that luscious fat! Have you raised them, and if so, how did it work out? Obviously the size makes them a less convenient “package” than a chicken, but it seems some could be frozen portioned out to simplify things.

  3. June 29, 2008 3:34 pm

    I could get free grain if I wanted to shovel it into bags but the Bossman dislikes having the chore around so I haven’t in a long while. I get my birds from a local lady for $2.50/lb and how she can sell them that cheap is beyond me. She does graze them though and her grain is free.

  4. June 29, 2008 8:41 pm

    Great looking place you have there, wish I had a bigger farm. Just be more work that I wouldn’t have time to do though. Sounds like you done ok on you chickens if you ask me. You know what your eating and that’s worth a bunch in my book. Feed was ofcourse your biggest expense, if you could raise some sort of feed yourself you would be eating some cheap chicken. I have been looking into that myself for my chickens. We just have some hens for eggs but it would still be nice to not have to rely on an outside source for feed. If you have a garden anyhow you might aswell raise food for the animals too I supose. Great blog by the way, nice easy reading.

    Chris

  5. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 29, 2008 10:06 pm

    Threecollie, I hear you on the store chicken. That’s nice that your brother raises them, so you know what kind of care they’ve had.
    It’s funny you should mention that lettuce, I haven’t grown it before, but a friend just gave me the rest of her seed packet and I was going to try it when I seeded again. Hopefully this week. Now I will try it for sure.

    Hayden, I never have raised geese, but they were listed on our homestead proving up papers. I love to eat duck and goose, but just have never been motivated to add on different birds yet. They would probably take to your place perfectly.

    I don’t break down our chickens, but on the turkeys I do, a thigh and drumstick are perfect for us as a roasted “turkey.” It sure helps with the freezer space.

    Linda, boy that is a deal, free grain is unheard of around here.
    It’s nice you have a source that you trust and then you don’t have to raise them yourself.

    Chris, thanks for stopping by, my husband tinkers around with blacksmithing, he liked the forge videos you had on your blog.
    Yeah, I agree, I think the chickens were worth it, we get a lot of meals out of each one, so it’s cheaper than driving to the store these days.

  6. June 30, 2008 5:23 am

    My daughter has a “sensitivity” to commercially raised chicken. If she eats any chicken product (even something like hotdogs where the chicken is combined with something else) she gets what she describes as a heavyness in her chest that increases until she throws up…then after a bit she is okay. It is to the point now that we have to watch at restaurants because they don’t use seperate grills or oil for chicken. She gets the feeling just the same at some restaurants even though she didn’t eat chicken. Red Lobster seems to bother her the most. All the doctors have ever been able to guess is that it is a sensitivity to the growth hormones and what not used in raising them. We’ve proved she can eat organic chicken, but she is afraid to after all this time.

  7. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 30, 2008 6:04 am

    Stacy, that’s terrible, no wonder she is scared. My husband is like that on some things. Once you have a bad experience with a food, it’s hard to eat it again. Most of the commercial birds receive medicated feed from the start, so it is no wonder she can’t tolerate it. If you raise birds in smaller numbers, instead of thousands at time, they don’t need to be medicated.

  8. June 30, 2008 11:03 am

    Thanks for posting the great photos and and for sharing your cost information. Raising meat birds is not my favorite thing to do but buying chicken in the store isn’t happening either. I purchased 6 meat birds that a friend raised and paid $3.50 lb. Seems that’s a fair price for fresh birds.
    We have a new processing Co-op that’s close enough where I could take them be processed. My biggest concern is the cost of feed. As you mentioned, the price is going to continue to increase. I’d like to find a crop that I could raise to feed my chickens so I didn’t have to purchase commercial feed. I have the space – any suggestions?

  9. June 30, 2008 11:48 am

    MoH, I’ve got some chickens this year, but the feed *is* pricy.

    I’ve heard that rabbit is interchangeable for chicken in most recipes, so was thinking of doing that next year since I was already thinking of adding rabbits for transitioning my dogs to a raw diet. Have you heard anything good/bad about rabbit meat or how difficult they are to raise? I’ve only researched it superficially at this point.

  10. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 30, 2008 8:45 pm

    Debi, that price seems fair, raising them yourself might not pay if you have someone close that you trust. The “problem” with the cornish X is that they have to be grown on a high (20%)protein ration. (If you don’t want to be disappointed or have a high mortality rate.) The standard is corn, roasted soybeans, fishmeal, oats, wheat, and added minerals. Sometimes dried peas can be used. These birds grow fast, and give you a lot of meat. But these materials are already cost prohibitive, and more than likely not coming from the U.S.
    If you can live with the longer grow out time, you can grow heritage dual purpose breeds, that forage more, and don’t require the hot feed. The best chicken we raised and ate were cockerels of any laying breed. We raised them with our replacement pullets and processed them at about 18 weeks.
    AKA Spring Chickens. The meat was firm, and the broth was excellent. However, they required slow, moist cooking, and weren’t the same in consistency as a 8 week old broiler.

    You also could grow your grains, and supplement with milk, or eggs for a homestead source of protein. Corn, wheat, and oats would be good choices. We used to process our own feed and it doesn’t have to be ground too fine, and after they are out of the chick stage, they can eat whole grains.

    It mostly depends on how much time you want to invest, and what kind of meat you can live with, and if it is laying chickens they are quite a bit more tolerant. Colleen might have a better handle on what grains will grow good for you, since she is closer to you geographically.

    Sarah, the feed price is awful, I hate to think about what this fall will bring.
    You’ve been reading my mind, I’ve been thinking of going back to raising rabbits. That was our white meat when I was growing up, since we only kept banties for eggs. My brother always had rabbits, and when he quit, I started raising them for 4-H. They do require some type of grains, but not near as much and they can get by with quite a bit of alfalfa or good grass hay. I raised Rex and Californians for meat, and the breeders needed a good quality feed to keep in milk, and for the babies to grow out. A big plus about rabbits is the ease of processing, you don’t need any equipment except a sharp knife, and then you have nice hides for gloves and slippers, etc. Plus, the manure is excellent garden fertilizer, they are quiet, but some people while they can process a chicken, a cute Easter bunny turns them off.
    I’m still thinking for us as a total meat source – beef is the easiest for us to raise, with a nominal outlay for inputs. But, rabbits have been on my mind now for a couple of years, since it tastes so good.

  11. July 1, 2008 11:17 am

    Okay, I have to ask… :) How the heck do you get 2 dinners and 5 lunches from one chicken? And I thought I was good at stretching a bird… LOL.

  12. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    July 2, 2008 6:04 am

    Karen, first I have to stretch the chicken, I grab the legs and the neck and pull… .

    I couldn’t resist. I butterfly the breasts and saute in a little olive oil. DH makes that last 5 lunches. I also roast the rest of the chicken in a covered roaster with water. This gives me both gelatinous broth and enough meat for 2 more meals or snacks. Then that poor chicken carcass goes in the stock pot for even more stock. Look at the top of the post there is a link to an earlier post that explains it in more detail. The dogs and cats share in all this too.

  13. July 2, 2008 4:01 pm

    That’s good to hear.

    I don’t know if I can “process” a cute little bunny, either, but rabbits fit into a lot of our “issues” on our small space here. Add in the pelt – that I hadn’t even considered – and that makes it more attractive.

    Now if I can stop collecting goats… lol

    • January 30, 2010 6:19 pm

      A friend of mine from work is raising chickens, almost for as much as a hobby as a side income or for food. He has mostly leghorns for eggs, and some bantam De Ucles, which are fun. He’s started thinking about rabbits as well, and that’s got me thinking about them too. If done right, I could do it in 6 cages with 2 bucks and 2 does, giving me 2 different lines if I wanted to cross breed some later.

      I’ve been considering how I might slaughter the little buggers. The most common methods seem to be the chopping block (I like my fingers too much for that), the club (like clubbing a seal?), the pull and twist method (like chickens), or the broomstick method (like twisting the neck, but with a tool). All of those kind of turn me off. What I did come across is using a CO2 kill box. Some shelters and vets use commercial systems that flood a contained space with CO2, anestatising the animal before killing them. Some pet owners use a similar home-brew system to kill old or sick animals, or to kill feed animals for reptiles. It seems like a simple-enough rig to build for the volumes I would be looking at (no more than one litter at a time). A container to mix vinegar and baking soda releasing CO2, and a larger container (maybe a plastic tote) to hold the animals. Next time he needs to put down some chickens, I may ask him to let me build a test box.

      • March 3, 2013 12:52 am

        We find for rabbits, a pellet gun with the barrel against the skull is quick and effective. This is all the processing we need to do to feed our german shepherd, but the Maremmas like at least the belly cut open.

  14. kelly1234 permalink
    November 15, 2008 8:49 pm

    I haven’t raised chickens for meat for many years and I have been raising chickens for over 30. In the past I always came out with a final cost of not too far over the sale price at the store.

    The ethanol gasoline has forced the price of grain, not just corn through the roof. I don’t even try to figure the cost anymore. Lately my wife has been buying the layer mash so I don’t even know what that costs.

    I do know the meat doesn’t compare in quality with the trash at the stores. I also know I don’t want eggs from the store except in an emergency for cooking.

    I couldn’t kill a rabbit unless I was facing starvation. It is difficult for me to kill a chicken.

  15. March 25, 2009 2:54 pm

    MoH, just barely off topic here, but I’ve been wondering. The pastured chickens I buy from a local farmer “lay down” in the pan when I roast them. The uncooked flesh is soft and the joints are “wiggly.” A grocery store chicken “sits up” in the roasting pan, the flesh is firm (to bursting) and the joints are solid.

    Can you give me any idea what causes these differences?

  16. March 27, 2009 12:07 am

    On your list of costs you didn’t list mortality; both shipping and brood out. you don’t lose a single chicken? I usually lose 3-5%.

  17. March 27, 2009 5:42 am

    Bruce, I listed in the first paragraph that I lost 4 chicks, and the cost of those chicks and the shipping are reflected in the $80.25 figure. Since this post was in response to a question from a homesteading standpoint, I did not list my labor, which I would do if I was still selling chickens. I only wanted to put out the numbers of cash outlay so people could see actual costs. So my actual brooding costs amount to electricicity only. For a small batch of broilers like that, I spend 10 minutes a day max on them. That includes feeding watering, and moving them on pasture. Other things not included are the 1/2 hour that it took me to transfer them initially to their field pen and the day I spent processing them.

    Offsets to all that, are the fertilizer I gain for the compost piles and the pasture, and the farm I processed them at is where I buy my stock minerals, so I would have driven there anyway.

    I am trying to convey that it isn’t cheaper to raise your own food, but it is the quality and control over your food supply that is important.

    Accounting is my field of expertise, so if I was still selling poultry I would be adding in much more expense to arrive at my final price for purchase.

    Hope this helps!

  18. June 20, 2009 9:06 am

    We are having the same issue with grain prices here; will be doing a similar comparison of cost raising chickens by the end of the summer. Thanks for a great post :)

  19. Aliza Vanderlip permalink
    August 14, 2009 12:56 pm

    Instead of grain you can go with mangles – fodder beets. This is what they used to use for dairy cows in the winter before the advent of the grain combine. Each beet is around 20 pounds. All types of stock love them and they are as easy to grow as regular beets. Also you can grow maggots – I know sounds gross – but it is an excellent source of protein for the birds. I believe that Harvey Ussery (the guy that writes all the poultry stuff for mother earth) has a section on his homesteading site for raising maggots for his birds. Its really a very easy to use source of excellent high protein.

    Aliza

    • August 14, 2009 1:28 pm

      Aliza, it would be hard to sustain meat chickens on mangels. Harvey writes some great articles.

  20. March 8, 2010 7:47 am

    Thank you for the good info. Started raising meat birds last year and LOVED it!

    This year, I have advertised with my church, which is pretty large and with groups of friends locally and am taking orders for chickens. Basically, I am going to raise enough for my family (70) plus another 100 for others.

    We have them spoken for at $3.50/lb and last year, our pastured birds got to 7-9 lbs. processed weight in about 9 weeks. My goal is for my family to eat chicken all year for free. The cost of raising and feeding all the birds is paid for by selling the additional chickens.

    We purchased processing equipment as well, so this will be an investment that will pay for itself over time.

    I like that we have a job for 8-10 week and then are done for the year…and have a freezer full of meat! Nothing goes to waste because we feed feet,necks, heads, etc. to our dogs who are on a raw diet plus quality supplements.

    All of us, including pets, are healthier because of our wonderful chickens!

  21. September 14, 2011 1:21 pm

    Raising chickens is not a cheap thing to do. But, saving money on eggs is just one pro and not to mention that it is environmentally friendly which is huge and priceless!

  22. January 31, 2012 8:11 pm

    At SIFAT, our training center (www.sifat.org) we hosted a conference on edible insects. Presenters came from universities or research centers in Mexico, the U.S., China, Norway, Nigeria and other countries. Many cultures survive by eating insects some part of the year. A missionary had an analysis made of insects they ate in Africa and compared it to chicken and found the insects had more nutrition. Though I wasn’t attracted to eating insects, I think the Insect Factory Foundation in Norway could be used to produce crickets or other insects for chicken food. They used a 55 gal. drum. I have not yet tried it, but hope to this year. There are videos on the internet showing people in China and other places making a living raising insects for selling for food. I want to try different ways of growing them and being sure they don’t escape my chickens. But this could be a good, cheap or free source of chicken food. Any one want to join me in experimenting?

  23. March 17, 2012 12:36 pm

    I am wondering if you are feeding organic or conventional grain…our organic feed is 25 dollars a bag…does this sound comparable to yours? Thank you so much for all of the info, it’s very helpful for us because we have someone who wants to pitch in a bit of money and we want to make sure that we don’t promise him more than he will deserve (price wise). We are planning on having a chicken tractor that we rotate through 6 different small pastures and we are hoping that it will be sufficient for 50 chickens. We will be rotating pastures with goats and Hogs as well, so three pastures will be in use, while 3 grow (resting period about 1-2 months) We are very new to all of this but are excited to get started. We got our hogs a week ago and it’s working out great…chickens arrive on wednesday! Goats in a few weeks. We are so very excited. Would love any feedback from any of you all on pasture rotation, costs, etc. Any advice? thanks

    • March 18, 2012 7:16 pm

      Myria, organic is very expensive here too, so we have been feeding conventional.

      Your plan sounds good, you’ll know more what works best for you after you go through a growing/grazing season.

  24. November 11, 2012 1:03 pm

    Well, I did a search on what it costs to raise meat chickens your post was the first link in google to show up! Glad that I already follow you. We had a friend ask us about buying chicks and having DH and I raise them; I’ll be passing along the link to them so they know what they’ll be looking at if DH and I raise them for them! (They all live in town.)

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