The day after Christmas, post “great flu incident of 2014,” we processed 50 Cornish Cross chickens to stock our freezer for the upcoming year. Unlike our first year raising chickens for meat (Freedom Rangers in 2013), I actually tracked our costs this time around. Say what? High fives self and eats chocolate chips as reward.
And so here I am, a mere four months later, disclosing all the details.
The chickens themselves, 50 “Jumbo Cornish X Rocks” chicks, cost $134.47. We ordered them from Murray McMurray, where we also get all of our laying chickens. McMurray sent a few extra chicks at no cost, and coincidentally we ended up losing a few chicks, resulting in 50 chicks as planned. Out of all the flocks of chickens we’ve had over the years, this was the first time we lost any in shipping or as babies. I am assuming this has something to do with the Cornish Cross not being a very hardy chicken, and I’m also assuming that’s why the hatchery sent a few extra.
We opted for Cornish Cross this time around just to get an idea of how they are different from Freedom Rangers, and because we were looking forward to their quicker growth time. We expected them to be to slaughter weight as much as a month before Freedom Rangers would have been ready. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.
As I’ve mentioned before, we have a local-ish (~1.5 hours away) organic feed mill where we can purchase bulk grains for a much more affordable cost than pre-made organic feeds.
Because I didn’t want to use soy or fish meal, both high protein sources, our home-created recipe was lower in protein than recommended for Cornish X. (You can find the details of our broiler recipe here.) We supplemented with worms and meat scraps from deer season, but even still we went through more feed (over a longer period of time) than what is typically needed for Cornish X.
These birds were slaughtered at 11.5 weeks of age. They were actually ready around 9-10 weeks of age, but we all got the flu so they had to wait. Everything you read online says they can be to slaughter weight by 6- 8 weeks. We assume our low protein feed coupled with the exercise they got out on pasture contributed to a slower growth rate.
We used 18, 50-lb bags of feed at $19.20 per bag. That came to a total of $345.61 and 900 lbs of feed. This total also includes the mineral and kelp supplements, which the feed mill adds to each bag.
900 lbs of feed to grow 50 birds to a weight of 4-6.5 lbs per bird, dressed (aka, cleaned and looking like a grocery store chicken), works out to a feed conversion ratio of 3.3:1 to 4.5:1. (Meaning it took 3.3 to 4.5 pounds of feed to get 1 lb of weight on the finished meat bird).
According to the always informative Walden Effect, a feed conversion rate of 3.5:1 is great for pasture raised Cornish Cross, whereas industrial birds are at a reported 2:1 conversion rate.
- $134.47 for 50 chicks
- $40 in pine shavings for their coop bedding
- $345.61 for 900 lbs of feed (fed over 11.5 weeks)
Total of $520.08 spent for 50 chickens, which works out to $10.40 per chicken. The chickens weigh between 4 lbs and 6.5 lbs each (dressed), with a couple falling in the 3.75 lbs range and a couple above 6.5 lbs.
Since I was not feeling 100% on the day of processing, I did not weigh each finished chicken. I am weighing them as we eat them, so I don’t have a total weight for the entire batch yet. Hence, the range of costs.
Conservatively assuming most were 4.5 lbs, that works out to $2.31/lb. It’s seeming to me that the average weight is closer to 5 lbs, making the cost $2.08/lb. Considering we would have to pay $4.59/lb for pasture raised whole chickens from a local farmer, I’m pleased!
Obviously you can see that there are a lot of things not included in my little quick and dirty cost analysis.
- Our blood, sweat, and tears. Aka, our time.
- Gas and vehicle wear and tear to make the round trip to the feed mill.
- The wood chipper we purchased to be able to grind our own chicken feed in larger batches.
- The electric poultry netting we used in place of chicken tractors.
- All of the processing equipment.
- Brooder, coop, feeder, and waterer costs.
We already owned the processing equipment, brooder, coop, and feeders and waterers. But we did indeed purchase them (or the materials to make them) at some point in Whistle Pig Hollow’s past. The electric poultry netting ($139.95 from Kencove) and wood chipper ($400 used) were new purchases for this batch of chickens, although we will use them for many future flocks.
As for our time, the electric poultry netting was so much less labor intensive for us than the chicken tractor was, so we really felt like we didn’t devote too much time to the daily care of the chickens. I’ll conservatively estimate 30 minutes a day at $10 an hour for one person, taking care of the chickens daily for 11.5 weeks. That comes to a total of $402.50.
Farmer Dickie and his brother processed them all in one day. Let’s pretend we paid them both $10/hour for 10 hours of labor, working out to $200 in processing costs. Instead we paid them in chicken.
The feed mill is a 185.6 mile round trip. Assuming $0.55/mile, that works out to $102.08 in “cost” of going to get the feed. We did buy corn for the pigs and some extra grains to start our egg layers during that same trip, so the trip wasn’t entirely for the meat chickens, but still.
Just for fun, still not counting equipment, but adding in gas and man time, and assuming a 5 lb bird, that brings our cost to $4.90/lb. Suddenly you can see how those Farmer’s Market chickens cost so much, right? And that’s only paying $10/hr and not including any equipment costs!
However, if you already have everything you need for chickens and you have a source of feed for a reasonable price, then with the addition of an electric poultry netting and a few non-technical processing items, you could be ready to go quickly and expect to raise them for less than you could buy them.
If you’ve raised chickens for meat, how much did they end up costing you?
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