life on the funny farm

Friday, November 23, 2012

Farm Friday: The Cost of Sustainability

OK, as I promised in my last post, I am going to answer a few questions about the process of raising chickens for meat.

Cost to the Wallet
Let me get this out of the way:
It is not cheaper to raise chickens for meat than it is to buy them in the grocery store.

That is assuming you are buying regular-grade (as opposed to organic) meat, or that you are buying whole chickens and cutting them up. If you just buy parts (boneless, skinless breasts, for example), then you would probably save money by raising your own. Or like I said, if you pay a premium price for buying organic, or buying local farm-raised chicken, you will definitely see a cost savings.


Here's how the costs broke down for me:

12 cornish-rock peeps @ $1.97 (I'll call it $2) apiece..........$24
3 - 50lb bags of Start-n-Grow feed @ $15 a bag..................$45
Processing costs @$1.50 per bird x 9 birds..........................$13.50
6 cockarels (company sent for free as "fillers").......................0
1 extra bag of feed to take cockarels to maturity..................$15
Processing costs @$2 a bird x 6 birds (over 9 is cheaper)....$12

$109.50 divided by 15 birds = $7.30 per bird, which comes out roughly to about $1.80 per pound (based on a rough estimate of 4 lbs a bird).

Now, here's how costs could be less:

*Ordering more peeps (I plan on ordering 50 next summer), will reduce the cost per bird.
*Having them all processed at the same time will reduce the processing cost per bird.
*Raising them in the summer, with time on pasture, will reduce feed costs, as they will get a portion of their nutrition from grass, weeds, and bugs.
*Better "management" for reduced loss. I lost three birds: one died a couple days after shipment (which is pretty normal), one was (I think) taken by a rat or something. I don't know, it just disappeared. One drowned in a bucket during a hurricane. If I hadn't lost any, that figure would change to about $6.30 a bird.

Before I raised my own, I had bought farm-raised chicken a few times in an effort to steer clear of the factory-farm stuff.  I believe it was $3.00 a pound, for a whole chicken, so raising my own was definitely cheaper than that.

Oh, and I didn't include "facility" costs, such as heat lamps and pens,and the like, b/c I'll be using them for future batches of chickens, as well.

Cost of Time
Obviously, there was way more work involved with raising my own vs buying from a grocery store.  But really it wasn't all that bad.
Basically, it's a twice-a-day committment, of between 5 mins and 1/2 hour at a time.
Mornings (when they were little) I would let them out of their pen, and refill feed and water as needed, and then put them back in again in the evening.  Bedding needs to be refreshed now and then.  Waterers need to be scrubbed out from time to time.  That being said, I always spent more time out there than was needed, b/c they're so darn cute!  And entertaining.  And relaxing.

Cost to the Heart
Some asked if I had a hard time taking them to slaughter. 
Given my history with animals, a valid question.
However, I have to say, I really didn't have a problem with it.

All it took was me watching a couple of those videos of factory farm practices to realize that if I cared at all about animals, I either needed to become a vegetarian, or pay for the pricier stuff raised locally, or humanely raise my own animals for meat.  I chose the latter.  Well, at least for chicken (and eggs).  I will likely venture out to pork and beef in the near future, but baby steps, right?
So when I dropped them off, I didn't feel bad about sending them to their death, I felt good about giving them a good life.  If I'm not going to change the fact that a chicken is being killed for me to eat, I can at least change how that chicken lived and died.  Make sense?

Fortunately, almost the whole family felt the same way, and ate the very first meal I made with the chicken: chicken spaghetti (thanks, Ree Drummond!).  We had only one that didn't feel comfortable eating it, and that was OK by me.  There were no forced feedings under this roof.


So bottom line, I was able to get chickens for about what I would pay in the grocery store, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I am feeding my family with food that has been raised humanely, and was not filled with antibiotics and steroids and nasty chicken "food", which more often than not includes: same species meat; feathers, hair, skin, hooves, and blood; manure and other animal waste; plastics; drugs and chemicals*.

I spent a lot of my time in the care of my chickens, but in my book it was enjoyable time.  Grounding.

My family and I (with the exception of one child) were able to get behind the concept of raising something for slaughter.  We have been able to move on with our lives and no one will be hitting the shrink couch because of it.  For other things, perhaps, but not for eating food we raised.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I covered all the questions, but I think I got most of them.
Have any more?  Send 'em my way and I'll do my best.

Image courtesy:
*from the Union of Concerned Scientists


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Since today is Friday, I'll be linking up with:
Deborah Jean's Dandelion House's Farmgirl Friday
Fresh Eggs Daily's FarmGirl Friday
Little Becky Homecky's Fantabulous Friday
@Home Take 2's Weekend Blog Walk
Oh So Amelia's Friday Chaos

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Rudeness disclaimer:

I love all your comments,
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  1. Good job, and glad you enjoyed the whole experience!
    Janie x

  2. I love this post! For the last few years I've been wanting to raise our own chickens for eggs and meat but my husband thinks the costs will outweigh the benefits. I haven't had time to sit down and calculate it all out so this was really helpful and I'm pinning it! I think one challenge for us that I have to figure out is the cost of keeping them warm in the winter because Montana can get some pretty cold winters. That is the big factor my husband thinks will make them really expensive to keep so I need to research that one a little :)

    1. Its expensive to heat chicks in the winter. Lamps, hay, etc, cost. Bigger groups can help keep them warm, but there are more costs associated than people think.

    2. Anon, you are right. And you know what? I'm just realizing I never factored in cost for bedding. It wasn't much, but still, it's a cost. That being said, since I plan on pasturing my meat birds next summer, bedding won't be a cost. But it is a cost for my layers, and that won't change. Thanks for keeping it real!

  3. We just purchased our first milk cow and I feel the same way! It's work well spent and very grounding. I love my barn time.

  4. Thanks Soooo much for the breakdown! Makes me feel better about raising meatbirds now (only if I can find a processor to do the hard part for me). I will pin this one to my board for reference. Finally good to see a breakdown and perspective from one who hired out the parts I don't plan on doing again.

  5. Great breakdown of cost! we've been raising our own chickens for eggs and have debated getting some meat birds. Thanks!

    See what I'm up to at:

  6. Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Danielle, I most sincerely hope you can find a hired gun to do the dirty work. I know that I would have the know-how and the fortitude to do it, and I love the idea of getting the meat w/o the processing costs figured in, but I just plain don't WANNA!

  7. 2 weekends ago, hubby and I processed our own 3 chickens. They were roosters, and we didnt know if we could do it! To be honest, the worst part was the first 2 minutes. I have a post coming out next week about our experience, which wasnt bad at all.

    I know that I couldnt cut the head off myself, but everything else I was able to do! And with so many helping hands that you have, the process should go pretty quickly.

    Our birds arent meat birds. That being said, they each averaged about 4 lbs after processed. We processed them because one of them was a little too loud and we didnt want to be turned in by a neighbor!

    We kept 1 rooster so that we can breed it with a few hens to make more chicky-babies in the spring to process before the fall.

    Again, it really wasnt that bad of a process. The worst part is the cutting off of the head and then the subsequent flailing of the wings that they didnt warn us about in the how-to video!

    1. Good for you for doing your own! I really think I COULD do it, but it is definitely something I'm willing to pay for! Have you ever heard of "killing cones"? You can Google it, but it's basically a funnel shaped piece of metal (alum, I guess) nailed to a wall or tree. Smaller end of the funnel faces the ground, and you place the chicken in it upside down, so theur head sticks out the bottom. This position is actually calming to the birds, they don't squawk or wiggle around, and of course their wings are held in to their bodies, so there's obviously no wing-flailing! You just grasp the chicken by the head, and slice. You should try that next time.

  8. Did you get eggs from your chickens prior to slaughter? If so, then maybe you could account for the cost savings of that and count that against the total cost of raising them --- thereby reducing the cost per bird. It's just scemantics in the math, but I'm all about getting the bottom line cost down! We're hoping to move out of the city in the next year or so and chickens are high on my list. Current city regs where we live prohibit chickens on less than 3 acres. ugh!

    1. No, Deanna, these were meat birds I raised, which mature much faster than layers. From day old peeps to full-grown and ready for slaughter in about 7 weeks. The layers aren't mature and laying eggs till they're about 4 - 5 mths old. I sure hope you get your place in the country!

  9. This makes me want to raise chickens even more. KNowing what they have been eating is the biggest thing for me. I would love it even more if I could give them less bagged food and let them rely on what they can find in the yard. Now to convince k-ster....



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