The True Cost of Raising Chickens for Meat – Year 3
For the last three years we’ve been raising meat chickens. We’ve learned a lot. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is how important the industrial food complex is to all of us. This is the story of our three years as chicken farmers to serve as a warning to all our readers, and to help us all be more thankful for the people who grow our food for us.
By now it was clear that the bears had us beat when it came to providing chicken security. So we decided that for year three, we would raise multiple, smaller batches in the pen with our egg-laying hens. Our chicken enclosure is built of chain link fence cemented into the ground with a wooden frame and a chicken wire roof. They also have a hen house with a chicken-sized dog door where they can get out of the weather, and hide. The bears had never tried to get in there, and the only invader we’d ever had was a giant, levitating bull snake that was after our eggs. (Did you know that if you trap a snake in a feed tub, it will actually levitate up and over the side and then chase you across the chicken pen while you scream and wet your pants?! All the while your friend watches you laughing. That’s what you get for laughing when she shocks her crotch on the electric fence.)
We thought that by raising small batches, the poop factor wouldn’t be so bad. Theoretically, we were right. Kathy bought 10 chicks from the local feed store, brought them home and put them in the garage in a little kiddie pool with their heat lamps since April can still be chilly in Colorado. The next morning Leah came to visit and we headed out to look at the new chicks. On the way, we found an explosion of feathers. Not a good sign. Rather than checking on the chicks, we went to check the hens. All but two were gone. The raccoons had busted through the roof of the egg-laying enclosure and they took 9 chickens, one rooster (that we were planning on slaughtering that day anyway), and two ducks, Waddlelupeh, and Olive. The last two have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One was walking around outside the pen, and the other didn’t come out of the hen house for a week. Neither one of them lay eggs much anymore,
but who can blame them?! Would you want to bring children into a world like that?
We spent a half hour looking for our chickens. We only found three carcasses and three more feather explosions. We weren’t in the right state to even think of taking pictures of this mess… Hopefully the raccoon family appreciated all the work we did to raise such tasty birds!
Being the optimists we are, we headed to the feed store to get replacement egg-laying chicks and to Home Depot for supplies to fix the hen-enclosure. While picking out new egg-layers, we found that the feed store had too many meat chicks that they couldn’t sell. They were already 2 weeks old, and they were half price, so now we’re saving money by buying more chickens, and we only have to take care of them for 6 weeks. We’d be done with chickens by the end of May!
So on a warm April day we brought home another 18 fast grower chicks, 12 assorted egg-layer chicks, a guard goose, and 6 future meat ducks. We predator-proofed our hen enclosure with galvanized steel, more zip ties and more 2 x 4s. We put all the chicks in the garage for their presumed “short stay.”
And then it snowed. It snowed for one week, every other week, from the middle of April through the first week of May. Three weeks of knee-deep snow at this time of year is not normal. We went from drought to normal snow pack in 5 weeks. We struggled together through snow, mud, wet bedding, more snow, more mud, and the horrible stench of growing meat birds. First they lived in the garage until we couldn’t stand the stench anymore. Then we moved them into the hen enclosure where they lived in a little tent city of blue vinyl tarps, chicken wire, and extension cords to feed the multiple heat lamps. It was so bad that we couldn’t even take a picture. When it warmed up a bit, I cleaned out the 3 inches of shit they’d left in the garage.
It was also so bad that for the first time in her life, Kathy couldn’t muster the energy to be optimistic. She called Leah to say that she would never raise poultry again, and that she wasn’t even sure about gardening.
But then it stopped snowing, and the sun came out. We lost a few chicks to flip-over, but at this point in the game, we expect it. We butchered in 2 batches, May 26 and June 2, and put 23 birds in the freezer. We were too tired to try slaughtering ducks for our first time. And besides, Kathy said, “They’re having such a nice day!” Leah said, “Honestly, they’re not fat enough.” So they’re still in the pen enjoying the kiddie pool. We’re calling around to find out if there’s anyone who will butcher them for us. We’re tired. And have seen how cute a duck is? They look like the AFLAC duck.
Cost of 28 chickens – $51
Cost of chicken feed for 28 chickens for 6 weeks – approx $120
Cost of slaughter supplies (year 3) – $50 (ice, gloves, trash bags, freezer bags, painters plastic tarps)
Labor for slaughter and chicken care- at least 80 hours or $624
Total cost per bird (26 total): $37 – Wow! About $6 per pound!
We thought we were doing ok for a minute until we remembered that Whole Foods sells it’s free-range, organic chickens for $3.99/lb. But ours IS better.
Are we going to raise more meat birds? Probably not, though there was a long pause before we typed that. We want to be self-sufficient. We want to use the land we have to make food. And we want to make good food. But the reality is, it’s a huge time and money investment. And we do have real jobs and other hobbies which is the reason most of us don’t have time to devote to raising good food. We’ll talk more about that later.