What is the cost of raising meat chickens? That is a big question for new and wannnabe homesteaders, so I thought I’d just put it all out there. These are our real costs as well as comments on the labor involved and also how we know we can cut costs for the next batch.
Start up costs:
First, the chicks themselves. We ordered Red Ranger chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery. Red Rangers are a fast-growing meat breed, but not a SUPER fast growing meat breed like the Cornish Cross “franken-chickens” you hear about having heart attacks by 8 weeks of age and/or collapsing under their own weight. We ordered 18 males and 18 “straight run” (meaning unsexed – a random mix of males and females). I ordered them in a hurry, so I ordered what was in stock. We paid $2.45 for each straight run and 2.50 for each male, 18 each, so a total of $86.10 for 36 chicks. Had I been able to order earlier, we could have bought 36 of the same thing and paid the 25+price, so that would have saved us around .15-.20 per chick. I also went ahead and paid .19 per chick for each one to be vaccinated against Marek’s disease. The shipping for 36 chicks was $26.74 which brought our total to $129.52 for 36 chicks plus the extra rare breed chick the hatchery includes in each order. Apparently they include a couple extra chicks as well since 39 chicks arrived in our order. We had 2 chicks die within the first 6 weeks, so our total amount of chicks that made it to butchering age (not including our rare breed which turned out to be a Naked Neck) was 36, which came out to be $3.60 per chick including shipping and vaccination.
The first 6 weeks we kept them in a brooder area with a heat lamp. The cost of running the heat lamp is about $1.00 per day, so $42.00 for 6 weeks. One 250 watt heat lamp puts off enough heat for 50 chicks. For our 36 chicks the heat cost came out to $1.17 per chick. (Had we ordered 50 chicks, this cost would have been $.85 per chick). I also used a $5 bag of wood shavings for bedding in the brooder. That’s $.14 per chick for 36 but would have been $.10 per chick for 50 (see where I’m going here?).
$3.60 per chick including shipping and vaccination
$.24 per chick for heat and bedding
= $3.84 per chick
Now we get into the cost to feed these chickens…
Our 36 (37 including our “free” chick”) ate 950 pounds of food before being butchered. I know, that sounds crazy, right? Wait til you see what it cost.
The first few weeks I was a purist (or naïve idiot?). I bought the $24.99/50lb non-GMO feed and was planning to buy the $34.99/50lb organic feed as soon as the store had it in stock. I bought 4 bags of that sh$t. Then I realized how quickly we were going through feed and switched to the “all natural” $17.99/50lb bags from Tractor Supply. We bought 13 of those bags. At the end, we ran out of feed before we had time to butcher all of them, so we ended up buying a bag of cheap feed from the local feed store for $14.00. We got a second of those bags for the hens we decided needed an extra week to grow. So here’s our total feed cost:
$106.96 for 4 bags non-gmo feed (24.99 + tax)
$173.25 for 9 bags all natural feed (17.99 + tax)
$69.30 for 4 bags all natural feed (17.99 + tax – 10% off coupon, score!)
$14.00 for 1 cheap bag for the male chicks butchered by 12 weeks
$14.00 for 1 cheap bag for the female chicks butchered at 13 weeks (and some left over)
Total feed cost: $377.00/36 = $10.47 per chick
+ $3.84 per chick purchase price
= $14.58per chick to raise to 12-13 weeks
We butchered a couple of the largest males at 11 weeks and they averaged 3 lbs dress-out weight. Dress-out weight is the weight of the cleaned carcass like you’d buy at the grocery store. It’s a whole chicken minus the head, feet, feathers, guts you don’t want, etc. I included the necks in my dress-out weight since I kept them for making stock. Most of the males were butchered at 12 weeks and averaged 4.33lbs dressed out, so we determined growing them that extra week was well worth it in feed to meat conversion. The females were smaller and we let them have another week to grow. They averaged 3.67lbs dressed out, even with the extra week of feed, so it’s easy to see that the males were much more efficient.
How did that work out per pound of meat???
If we just average out the cost to raise the whole batch and divide it by the number of chicks to butcher, our total was about $3.45-4.05 per pound. That’s a lot more than you’d pay for CAFO chicken from the grocery store, but about the same as if you bought organic chicken. Here’s the difference: it’s a hell of a lot more work to go feed the chickens twice a day, move the tractors once a day, and spend several afternoons killing, plucking, gutting, and cutting up those chickens to have them go in your freezer or belly. But, and it’s this BUT that made me be a vegetarian for a year in my mid 20’s – CAFO chickens have a really terrible life and I KNOW exactly how these chickens lived. I know exactly what is in that meat. I don’t need a label on a package to say they were free-range (which doesn’t always mean what it should) or that they weren’t pumped full of antibiotics or the meat wasn’t dyed to look perfectly pink and fresh. I KNOW my chickens lived well. They had enough room to live, fresh air, sunshine, good food (even if it wasn’t organic), and plenty of greens to eat while in the tractors on pasture. I know that they were killed quickly and humanely and then also cleaned and either cooked or frozen immediately. These chickens didn’t live jammed together in tiny cages with their beaks cut off so they didn’t peck each other to death. Their carcasses didn’t sit for hours in a vat of water and chicken feces like CAFO butchered chickens do. By the way, the carcasses that sit in water/feces for hours soak it up and this adds weight to the carcass, so a pound of meat is not JUST a pound of meat.
So there you have it – almost $4 per pound for our first batch. I know it will be less for the next batch, so once that one is done I will share the numbers again. What we learned with this batch is the Red Rangers definitely need the full 12 weeks as they put on a lot of weight at the end. (Maybe we will grow a few out longer in the next batch?) The females really don’t put on weight as well and even with an extra week to grow their weight is a good bit less. Also we know we should go ahead and raise 50 chicks in a batch since the price point and shipping is less for 50+ as well as the heat lamp requirement being less per chick for closer to 50. I am curious to see how the Cornish X “franken-chickens” work out per pound so we will probably try them at some p0int.
***Edited to add some hypothetical numbers***
Organic chicken feed is $35 for a 50lb bag. Our chickens at 19 bags, so had we purchased all organic feed our total cost would be $665.00 divided by 36 chickens is $18.47 per chicken. That would raise our average price per pound to $5.67. The least expensive feed we found was $14 for a 50lb bag which would have brought our cost down to $2.58 per pound.
My estimates for the next batch:
$125 for 50 male chicks, vaccinated
$47 for heat and bedding
$365 for all natural chicken feed at $17.99 per bag, plus tax
$517 total, 10.34 per chicken
avg 4.25 lb dress out weights (males only)
total estimated price per pound $2.43