The True Cost of Raising Chickens for Meat – Year Two
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.
Year Two (read Year One)
We like to learn from our mistakes and make improvements as we go. After reviewing what we disliked most about Year One, we decided the chicken tractor had to go. There was something about bending over into a 2 foot high poop-filled enclosure that just didn’t work for us. A hoop house would be just the ticket. It would be tall enough that we could keep our noses as far as possible from the chicken poop, and light enough to easily drag around the pasture. That way our chickens would have something fresh to eat or poop on, and the grass in the pasture wouldn’t die from too much poop in one spot.
We built a wooden frame out of 2x4s for the bottom, used the thick 6x6x6 wire for a supportive frame and then covered the whole thing with chicken wire. We used very pretty colored zip ties to hold the whole thing together. We built a “door” in one end so we could get in and out easily and then covered the back half with a tarp for shelter and shade. The electric fence seemed to fix the bear problem, so we decided to simply incorporate our new chicken raising facility into the electric netting goat fence for our second year.
We scrapped the chicken tractor. Originally we thought we’d sell it on Craig’s list, but the laminate wood on the sides was beginning to disintegrate, and we didn’t want other people to have to bend over into chicken poop. “Oh well,” we thought, “It is our job after all to share our lessons with others, and this was just a learning opportunity.” And then we bought all new materials and built a hoop house.
We successfully raised one batch of 25 chickens and put them in the freezer. Feeling optimistic we bought batch two. Wow! We were on pace to raise over 200 pounds of meat on our small three-care plot!
Now that it was summer and it was warmer outside, the second batch of 25 moved straight to the hoop house with their heat lamps and mini-waterers. And because they were young and not producing so much golden slime, we didn’t even have to move them all that often. Life was good. The only downside with our new set up was that the electric fence was slightly taller than crotch height. One of us, who is slightly shorter than the other, learned that she couldn’t comfortably get over the fence without turning it off ….multiple times. There’s something so funny about watching someone else get shocked by an electric fence….in the crotch….another learning opportunity.
Two-week old meat chicks are still cute-ish. The bear thought they looked delicious and he thought that the shock from the fence was worth a 23-pack of chicken nuggets. He smashed the Hoop House like a raging Hulk, ripped the chicken wire apart with his claws, and munched down. We took the two traumatized survivors and put them in the egg-chicken pen. One committed suicide by drowning himself in the duck kiddie pool that afternoon because he just couldn’t live with the horror of what he had seen. We let the remaining chicken live until she got too fat to walk and the egg chickens were picking on her. At 16 weeks she was the size of a small turkey. She barely fit in the roasting pan and was the tastiest chicken we’ve ever eaten.
Cost of 50 chickens $100
Cost of chicken feed for 25 chickens for 8 weeks (plus one for 16 weeks) approx $130
Cost of new hoop house- Approx $145
Cost of slaughter equipment (year 2) $25
Labor for slaughter, hoop house construction, and chicken care- at least 100 hours or $780
Total cost per bird (26 total): $45
Did we mention that the meat is really good? To be fair, our birds are generally between 5-7 lbs, the coloring is like nothing you can buy at the store (the skin is golden and not at all pasty, and the fat is yellow), and we know exactly what they ate and that we attempted to give them a good and peaceful life before we killed them.
We also hate the bear. The Division of Wildlife told us “it’s just chickens”…