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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Frugal Tuesday - Costs to Raise Chicken for Meat


If any of you have raised chickens for meat you most likely are very well aware of some of the differences between home grown and "factory farm" grown chicken. For one thing, they don't taste anything like what you purchase in the stores and if you have raised them with the freedom to run all over the farm they can be a bit tough to eat and the flavor is much different. Of course this depends greatly on the breed as well. The beautiful guy you see in the photo is definitely not very tasty. He has been running around all over the farm having a great time with the ladies and as a result his muscles are very well developed so he would be very tough and require a lot marinading to make him remotely palatable. He is also too old. Oh well...  Lucky for him he is not a meat bird. :)

But lets say you wanted to raise some chickens specifically for meat. Would it be cost effective? Is that a factor? or do you just want food you have raised yourself or maybe something organically or humanely raised?

The best and cheapest way to do this of course would be to have your own multipurpose hens raise or at least hatch the chicks for you but this isn't always possible especially if you want them to all be ready to butcher at the same time or want a meat bird that is.. well meaty! Another way to use your all purpose breeds is to save the eggs for a while and then using an incubator hatch them all at once. This way you can separate them from the rest of the flock and watch their diet much more carefully.

This is what I found in my area, but where you live prices might be quite a bit different, so it is always a good idea to do your research before taking on a project like this. My reasons for raising chickens for meat are a bit varied. Personally I don't want birds that have been fed antibiotics and kept in tiny little cages or even so called free range barns with no room to really move and never seeing sunshine or doing what chickens do. I want my food to be raised well and fed well. In short I guess I want to know where it is coming from. If butchering is something you have difficulty doing you might be able to find a butcher around who will do it for you but I would rather do it myself so I know it is done correctly and quickly. It's never a fun job but I always figured if I'm going to eat meat I should be able to do that part myself as well.

So, enough said! Lets count the cost so we can see if its doable. One of the most popular meat chickens here is the Cornish Giant. Many chickens breed specifically for meat can have problems with their legs as they grow very quickly, therefore they must be fed a proper and monitored diet so as to no over load them. The nice thing about them is they can be butchered anytime after 8 weeks although I prefer 10 or 12 weeks of age and the feed to meat average is two pounds of feed for one pound of meat. This is pretty reasonable especially if you can find a decent price for feed.

First of course you need the starter feed then the grower and they come in 50 pound bags. Roughly you can average about 4 to 5 chickens finished per bag of feed. So... Lets say we were going to raise 25 birds to start what would it cost? Remember these are my prices (I found a new feed place with GREAT prices!) check your area and see what they are for you.

Purchased chicks: $1.82 each. 25 x $1.77 = $44.25
Chick Starter: 50 lb. bag - $9.99 1 x $9.99 = $9.99 (they only need it for the first 3.5 weeks but 25 birds will probably eat a whole bag, especially if you mix it in with the grower feed for a bit)
Grower Feed: 50 lb. bags - $13.99 4 x $13.99 = $55.96
Total cost = $110.20

This works out to approximately $4.41 per chicken. Not to bad really when I consider in the store the cheapest chicken parts I've seen it lately is $2/lb and whole birds are usually about $8 on a real good sale.

But, is there a cheaper way? Of course! However, this depends on where you live and if you are able to acquire grains for cheap or free from nearby farmers. Meat or grower birds need on average 20 percent protein to start but once they are 3.5 weeks old the protein levels need to be lowered to 17% and at 7 weeks to 14%. By using a high protein mix (which has 35% protein) and mixing it with grains at about 3 to one for the 3.5 to 7 week range, and a bit less after that, I can save a bit of money. Depending of course on what type of grain I find. There is a great protein chart here which lists almost all types of feeds and their protein content.

So... Counting the cost this way.

Purchased chicks: $1.77 each. 25 x $1.77 = $44.25
Chick Starter: 50 lb. bag - $9.99 1 x $9.99 = $9.99
Grains from nearby farms - Varies (last time I had to purchase some I payed the farmer about $20 for about 420 lbs. and for these birds I would need about 150 lbs. Which would be about $7.14.
High Protein Feed: 50 lb. bags - $18.99, 1.5 x $18.99 = $28.48
Total cost = $91.11 or $3.59/each bird

Of course you may find another way to acquire feed. Perhaps you can grow it yourself or have other grains of higher protein content in the surrounding farms. Either way, despite the work involved its worth it. Besides, if you love chickens the way I do, the work is half the fun! (well, except for the butchering of course)

Money saved this year if I raise 25 of my own meat birds? $108.89 If I raise 50 (which is more likely) its $217.78. Piece of mind? Priceless!

Thank you to Frugally Sustainable, the Prairie Homestead and Common Sense Homesteading for their blog hops.

20 comments:

  1. We loved the chickens we raised ourselves and it was great seeing them in the freezer knowing they ran happily around our yard first! :)

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  2. Very timely post for me - we are discussing getting some meat birds (we currently have layers.)
    Do your fed amounts include time out to pasture? Our layers free range all day every day which results in less feed.

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    1. No they don't but that will cut down in the feed. We have a problem right now with wildlife so the birds must be contained in a large run and as a result don't get as much free range as we would like.

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  3. Excellent post! We raise a few chickens for eggs, but we're finally getting ready to raise a flock for meat. Perfect timing!

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    1. By the way, I hope you don't mind that I pinned your cool rooster picture to one of my boards on Pinterest!

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    2. Don't mind at all. :)

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  4. i raised broilers last summer. i had right about $7 per chicken and ended up with a cleaned whole weight of 5-6.5lbs. if i had paid to have them butchered it would've been more like $8.50-9 per bird...

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    1. oh, AND i got specially ground feed from a grain elevator, NOT fancy pellets from someplace like TSC. it would've been quite a bit higher if i was paying retail feed prices...

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    2. That's why it is so important to check what is available in your area. Feed can vary widely in price. Also, the type of bird you choose makes a difference too. Good Idea about the grain elevator! I will check out my area.

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  5. We raised meat hens a couple of years ago too. We had 100, were sharing the cost with a neighbour, kept for ourselves what we needed, the neighbour kept what he wanted and we sold the rest to other neighbours who were interested. We made a small profit, even (enough for us to go out to dinner with the neighbours to celebrate!). So in the end, even though we didn't keep our profit, we did end up with free chicken for the year.

    It was a lot of plucking.. wouldn't look forward to the cleaning and plucking on that scale again.

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  6. How do you figure 4-5 birds per 50 lb bag? What are you basing that number on? According to a chart from a hatchery (not the hatchery I use, but it's a good chart) cornish X chickens will eat 20 lb of food in 9 weeks- if you're raising them to 10+ weeks they would most definitely eat more than that. And in my experience this measurement is right on- I rationed my chickens according to this chart and ended up with birds that were 4.5-6.5lbs dressed. Like the commenter above, my cost breakdown came out to more like 5.75 a bird for the chicks and feed- still a pretty good value. Of course, I also choose to take my birds somewhere else to process. I've done it and I hate it, so as long as I have the option I will fork over the $2 a bird to have someone else do it!

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  7. Hi Brandislee, My figures are based on the hatchery I purchase from and other research as well as experience. This will vary widely between types of birds, the environment they are raised in and I think even between hatcheries as genetics can be a bit different. I'm thinking of doing a controlled experiment this summer between the Cornish Giants and Berg Grazers. The Grazers take quite a bit longer to mature so eat more but are also much better at finding their own feed. I'm not so worried about the price as the taste and how much better they are for my family.

    As for butchering? I've been doing it myself since I was very young and would rather do it myself. But then I don't pluck my birds, I skin them. It only takes a minute or less per bird that way and since we never eat the skin it works perfect for us.

    Thanks for your comments!

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  8. I don't suppose you'd want to write up a blog in how you do your butchering and skinning? We are not skin eaters either in our house so that would work well for us.

    Thanks!

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    1. Good idea Steph. :) But it will probably be later this year when I am butchering.

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    2. I would also find that helpful! I raised them and helped butcher them growing up, and if i can avoid the plucking i would consider doing it myself :-)

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  9. Good article. Was wondering though, where can you buy grain for less than $100.00/ton ($20.00 for 420lb.), maybe more like $300.00/ton. I notice that your chick starter price was lower than the grower - seems it should be the other way round as starter is higher in protein and here it is more expensive.

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    1. Thanks for visiting cowboss. I am able to get my grain from a wonderful neighbor so my price is probably much lower because of that. Check around where you live and see if you know anyone who is willing to sell it. You are probably right on the chick starter but I called my local feed supply store just before I posted this and that was the price they gave me. Same price I payed last time I purchased it. Different places may have different prices though.

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  10. Do you have any particular breeds you would recommend for rasing chicken for meat?

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    1. I prefer the Cornish giants as they are specifically bred for meat and mature very quickly. I also make sure to get only cockerels as they will dress out much larger than pullets. They do have problems with their legs sometimes so you have to be careful not to over feed. Check with your local hatchery and see what breeds they have and what they recommend.

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  11. We raise dark cornish for meat, we also have a variety of egg layers. I let them free range every other day from their chicken tractors, I have two sets of chickens that are old enough to free range effectively (4 weeks) so I give them a day out every other day, hope that made sense. Our pasture is terrible so I'm working on improving that and only consider what the tractors cover as free bedding. At the moment I pay about $2.50 in feed to bring a chicken to it's full grown weight (I harvest around 16-18 weeks). I've found that the quality of breed is the most important factor, Murray McMurray dark cornish cost 1.25-1.5 times more to bring to weight than Ideal dark cornish. I got my last batch of hatchery dark cornish from Cackle and am excited to see how they fare. I have as much pasture as these chickens could use so that's one of the reasons my feed bill is so low but if that's not an option I would do some serious research into the quality of the chickens you are getting because as I've learned just saying something is dark cornish doesn't mean it's going to act exactly like they are supposed to, plus who knows how pure the strains are from the hatcheries. My birds are very intelligent and active birds that wouldn't last a day in factory farm, the meat is flavorful and tastes like MEAT if you know what I mean. I love this breed and will keep raising them, this year I'm keeping a flock and plan to raise my own chicks next year, since I have all the pasture they could want my goal is to eliminate my Spring/Summer/Fall feed bills, we'll see. Hope this helps anybody who is interested.

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