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Keeping Records

May 24, 2012

Even though we no longer raise chickens to sell, we still keep records just so we know how much our food is costing or saving us, depending on how you look at it.

It’s not much different from keeping garden records, and really can help you troubleshoot any problems you may encounter especially with raising chickens.  All sorts of things can happen and a set of records can come in handy for making decisions.

Three week old Cornish Cross.

Two week old Black Sex Link pullet.

I just use the regulation green columnar pads for my record keeping.  I find it easier to jot down something on paper with a pencil than I do going to the computer and using a spreadsheet.  However, spreadsheets or programs like Quickbooks are great if the computer is your tool of choice.  I think what is more important is actually keeping detailed records, the method doesn’t matter as much as just putting it down…somewhere, in a cohesive way.

Things I keep track of:

♦  Chick cost – we buy chicks from a hatchery, but you may hatch your own, or buy hatching eggs.  It all costs something, whether it be your labor, or the electricity to run an incubator.  Determine your actual costs.

♦  Feed Cost – we buy a custom mix feed, you may purchase something similar or mix your own from purchased or homegrown ingredients.  Again determine how much it is per pound, bag or ton.

♦  Feed Usage – I keep track of this by date, so I know how much I need to have on hand at what stage in the game.  For instance during the first week our batch of 75 broiler chicks hardly consume much food, but that changes rapidly as they grow, and you don’t want to be caught short-handed.  My feed is bagged, so when I replenish the feed barrels in the brooder or pasture, I write the date down and number of bags, so when I look back I can see how fast they are consuming the feed.

♦  Mortality – this is very important and can help you track the problem.  Birds die for many reasons, and keeping accurate death records with dates can help you determine the true cause.  My general rule of thumb is after 72 hours of hatch, it is operator failure.  Whether it be from the wrong type of feed or poor housing or misplaced ideals about how chickens should be raised, usually the nut loose behind the wheel is the root cause.

♦  Dressed weight – per bird and a total dressed weight is very useful in determining how much it cost you raise your birds.  You can find your feed conversion rate by dividing the total feed used by the total pounds of chicken when dressed.  1500 pounds of feed ÷500 pounds of dressed chicken = 3 pounds of feed per pound of meat raised.  Very helpful if you’re going to sell your birds.

♦  Processing costs – This might be per bird or just your labor if you do them at home.

For Eggs:

♦  Number of Eggs – I keep track of how many eggs per day, a decline in lay can help you determine if something is going awry, or just help you learn the egg laying cycle.

♦  Feed Cost and Usage – same as above, with these numbers you can determine your out-of-pocket costs for producing eggs on a per dozen basis.

Obviously, none of these items tracks your capital equipment costs, which may vary depending on whether you are just starting or have owned your equipment for some time.  But a good set of numbers based on day-to-day observations can really reveal a good deal of information to guide you in the future.

It may sound kind of nerdy, but record keeping can be fun 😀

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Lesli permalink
    May 24, 2012 9:46 am

    How do you pluck all those Cornish Cross chickens? Do you own an electric plucker? What brand would you suggest, if you do? I love your blog and check it every day! Thanks.

    • May 24, 2012 9:59 am

      Lesli, we have several friends with scalders and pluckers. One who is more commercial has an Ashley and Pickwick setup, and the other one uses a Featherman. Both are good, just depends on how many birds you want to do. And it is very expensive to take them in to a professional.

  2. Joshua Bardwell permalink
    May 24, 2012 9:51 am

    We keep records in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Mostly just money we pay and meat and vegetables that we harvest. Also rain amounts. It’s hard to know what to count as “garden” money and what to count as “house” or “personal” money. Obviously, if we buy seed or feed, that’s “garden” money. But what about a pair of galoshes? We use the trailer and the truck to pick up hay and take livestock to slaughter–should we count some percentage of that as “garden” inputs? It’s tough because I don’t want to cheat and make my enterprise look more profitable than it really is, but I also am not interested in nickle-and-diming myself crazy. I don’t really care what percentage of my truck’s miles are spent on food production.

    It’s also tough, because, from a strictly cash perspective, there’s no way I can compete with the grocery store, or even the farmer’s market. That tiller I bought? It’s going to take a lot of heads of lettuce to pay that back. But there’s an intangible value in producing my own food, and I don’t really know how to count that. I mean, I don’t expect my television to pay for itself. Why do I expect my garden tools?

  3. May 24, 2012 10:26 am

    We’ve been tracking brooding costs for a long time, both for meat and for egg birds. For some reason we have never really tracked egg production….. I think that just changed, especially as I was scratching my head as to why we went from 2.5 dz a day to 10 eggs a day in the last two weeks…

    • May 24, 2012 10:47 am

      adalyn, we’ve racheted down, since it used to be real important, but it sure can help pinpoint a change so you can make the right connection. Feed quality and consistency is a huge one.

  4. May 24, 2012 1:41 pm

    Wow, you guys are so good. This is the first time I have kept any records and then only for the blog and I am not going to keep dressed weight and all that. I don’t really want to know how much all this costs. I know it is a good bit more than I would spend if I bought the crap in the stores. I see no reason to deter myself from trying to raise good food so I just don’t want to know the cost.

    • May 24, 2012 1:57 pm

      Becky, ahh come on, you know your fresh food can’t be compared with crap, that’s why it costs more. Plus the fact that you can’t buy your supplies at wholesale, small farmers have to buy almost everything at retail price, or buy used stuff. 🙂

  5. Bee permalink
    May 24, 2012 3:25 pm

    I keep records, but trying to figure costs would drive me right round the bend (not a long drive, I admit). I know what my grain middlings/screenings cost (14-16 cents a pound), but how do I calculate the dollar value of the leftover lettuce from a restaurant meal that I just chopped up for the new chicks? Or the well-mashed hard-boiled egg my chickens laid that provides the chicks with protein? What about the grass I pull from the orchard for my confined laying chickens so they’ll have some greens? When you buy almost no commercial feed, calculating costs can be crazy-making if not impossible. I’m reasonably sure that I spend less in terms of actual dollars and fuel costs on my eggs and chickens than I would at the grocery, although I do spend more time. But it’s fun time — I’d rather watch chickens or lambs or pigs than go to the movies any day — and it’s much better food.

    • May 24, 2012 5:00 pm

      Bee, I don’t keep track of those things either, nor do I measure the copious amounts of compost we generate here with deep bedding, I just keep track of what my out of pocket expenses are.

      I haven’t yet found a way to calculate the joy in finding the new batch of kittens first or the feel of frog toes on your clasped hands either, but I know they are still pretty exciting after all these years and priceless really 😀

  6. May 25, 2012 2:00 am

    I learned to keep records in 4-H and have continued to do it throughout my life. I’ve found having the complete info invaluable. I track all costs on the farm, what size and how many eggs we get (including how many broken ones), feed usage, soil amendment costs per garden area, and a host of other things.

    Much of it is done on the computer, but I also use the accounting pads for comparisons. The year by year improvements in costs and increase in meat and eggs has been encouraging.

    • May 25, 2012 5:07 am

      PamR, I think that’s what got me in the habit too, gotta love 4-H. It seemed tedious at time but my mom was the 4-H leader and there was no way of getting out of it 😉

  7. May 25, 2012 2:01 am

    Do you consume all 75 chickens that you raise then if you don’t sell them?

    • May 25, 2012 5:12 am

      Joanna, pretty much, I use the heck out of them, lunch meat for DH, several meals for all of us, plus quarts of broth for DH and then the dogs get the spoils. They aren’t cheap to raise, but I get a lot of mileage out of them not including all the fertilizer they generate. But I give some away too, and I don’t like to count my chickens before they are in the freezer – lots can happen in between. I want to end up with at least 52, and if I have too many I can sell a few, I have a waiting list for that.

      • May 25, 2012 5:21 am

        Oh right, that’s a lot of chicken then. I did wonder and it makes me realise how 19 chickens in the incubator may not go far enough after all, although we don’t have dogs or kids around at the moment so that’s okay. Still I need to take it slowly, hubby is just adjusting to my announcement that we need sheep to keep the grass down and we are already in the process of buying three alpacas. Veg he can cope with, animals as well! Well that is another story altogether

  8. A.A. permalink
    May 25, 2012 3:00 am

    I kept good grazing records last year and that was very helpful and a load of fun too. It’s not so much work to mark things down as it is to get started. It was great to reminisce and go through the season after it was over last fall and then another time before spring grazing, float all sorts of ideas and all that. So far I’ve done it with a pen and paper and some printed pasture map blanks. I tried to type it all down on the computer to get a bit more tabulated. I tried that twice actually. Both times it was close to noon, a good time for a little computer work right after lunch I thought. It turns out it was also a good time for a few short blackouts and a little unannounced grid repair work for the utility company, so I’m still good with pen and paper 🙂

    • May 25, 2012 5:15 am

      AA – I’m with you on that, paper in my hands is easier than getting on the computer or kicking someone off of the computer to get to a file, that I can just grab out of the filing cabinet and jot something down. Not against computers or that type of bookkeeping since I do that on the side for cash…but I really like looking at my stuff on paper. 😀

  9. May 25, 2012 6:16 am

    How many pounds of feed do you typically use for 75 Cornish Cross birds? I want to order my feed ahead of time this year, and I’m currently kicking myself for the lousy records I kept last year,

  10. JP Swift permalink
    May 25, 2012 9:00 am

    To Lesli in the first post above,
    I built a chicken plucker from Herrick Kimballs plucker plans bought from the internet. I have put 1000 cornish rock crosses and 100 turkeys through it. It’s easy to build and it cost just under $300. It works just as well as commercial pluckers of the same size. I usually pluck 2-3 birds at a time. JP Swift

    • May 25, 2012 6:45 pm

      I put around 1500 birds through my Whizbang. I don’t find mine works JUST as well as my Featherman plucker but it’s OK. I had to clean out under the Whizbang every 20 birds or so because the accumulated feathers would knock the belt off of the pulley if I kept going. A belt tensioner would have helped some but a plate or stilts would have helped more. It was also hard to adjust the bottom plate to keep feet from getting wedged between the plate and the wall.

      We had 20-25 pound turkeys last year and we just plucked them by hand. The whizbang just wasn’t big enough.

  11. May 25, 2012 6:53 pm

    I keep a spreadsheet that helps me calculate feed costs as I grind our own. We keep a diary of chick arrival, death, pasture dates, etc in a $0.45 composition notebook. We keep detailed sales records because the tax man cometh. Combine all three, shake well and serve chilled.

    Feed records are hard to calculate until the season ends as our batches overlap. I can’t say for certain how many pounds each batch eats until I can average out across the year. I also have trouble valuing the alfalfa they graze on daily. As it grows they get more out of it. Then it gets a bit older and they seem to eat less. Then I bale hay and they get almost none for a few days while it regrows. Maybe leaves that fall off as we rake and bale. That’s tough to calculate.

    New cause of chick death this year: Pre-teen feet. Yeah.

  12. May 26, 2012 8:10 pm

    Very admirable, but I fear I will never get around to it. Here is my bottom line blog post…

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