Help! A Chickenundrum

chicken lady

Dear Readers, I need advice.

I am trying to pencil out my next project: raising broiler chickens for my freezer. I don’t intend to sell them, or if I do, it would only be to friends and family, not for profit or commercial sale. I very very much want to raise them on organic, soy-free feed, and I’ve found a place that makes it about two hours from where I live.

The problem, obviously, is cost.  Organic, soy-free feed is about $.22 per lb more expensive. Calculating that up to cover 25 birds for 11-12 weeks, things start getting pretty damn expensive, raising the price per pound of meat by over $1.

Now let’s add in the second problem: my lack of experience.  I have to accept the fact that my first crack at raising meat birds is probably not going to go perfectly. I may lose birds due to disease, weather, predators, not picking the right hatchery or the right breed, etc. As I get more experience, I would expect that these losses will go down, but some trial and error must be part of my overall plan.

Aside from the vast improvement in flavor and quality of meat, probably one of my biggest motivators for raising meat birds myself was to get out of the GMO/soy agribusiness economy. So why on earth would I go with conventional feed, ever, even one time? On the other hand, its it more prudent in terms of my long term goals to do this first batch with less financial risk involved, and invest more money into it when I can be more sure of successful results? After all, I’m trying to balance this new project with all the other ones I’ve started (bees, dairy goats, garden, laying hens, horse, etc.) all with their own financial commitments.  Not to mention this first batch comes with the additional expenses of setting up the large chick brooder and building a chicken tractor.

Oy, I just don’t know!  Has anyone out there gone through this before? And if you haven’t, from just a consumer standpoint would a home-raised, free-range but NOT organic or soy-free chicken have any special value to you, or would you just prefer to pick one up at the grocery store? Is it worth it for me to start a project aiming for only half the mark, or should I go all out from the beginning?

9 thoughts on “Help! A Chickenundrum

  1. Oh yes..have I gone through this…last summer we raised 60 chickens (3 different breeds) I had the space so I put the word out if someone wanted to buy 10 farm fresh chickens…I would take care of them,we would split the expenses equally… one of the young families asked if we could feed them organic feed…instead of the conventional feed..I said, why not..well, the conventional feed was $11 for a 40 pound bag, the organic was $22 to $24 a bag…the breeds of chickens we raised (again, same family asked if I would be game to try some heritage breeds) took 3 times as long to reach maturity as a normal broiler…they were 16 to 18 weeks old before they were barely large enough to butcher, whereas a normal broiler is ready @ 8 weeks…I could go on and on..what a learning curve… we did borrow a chicken plucker..which I would highly recommend if you’re going to do more than 4 or 5..will save alot of time..Dinner bell just rang…let me know if you have any other questions. DM

    • Yes, probably due to the feed shortage going on due to the drought due to climate change due to….ugh. ANYWAY, the organic feed out my way is $26 for a 50lb bag right now. Aye chihuahua!

  2. I have no experience with raising meat poultry, but from a consumer standpoint, the only chicken I will be buy is a free range gmo-free fed bird. The farmer I buy it from at the market says it is not that profitable, even at charging $4-5/lb, because the feed is so expensive and they always lose some to predators. But it is important to me and if I’m going to eat meat it is going to be raised the right way, not fed conventional gmo/soy feed. I imagine if you were going to be selling them at market there would be plenty of people who would be interested in buying something free range/conventional fed, mainly because most people don’t even have the notion of gmo-feed on their radar. As for starting your project with a learning curve… there will always be one, but I think it is good to start out by following your ideals. Then if it doesn’t work out maybe reconsider. I am definitely thankful for the farmers who raise chickens and do eggs, because they are so much work and I would rather just buy them from someone who is raising them right.

    • I appreciate your comment, and I feel the same way (about GMO free). I don’t always buy GMO free birds because they can be hard to find sometimes. One of the reasons I want to raise my own!

  3. I can only answer based on my one year of chicken experience, my2012 evaluation chicken post is scheduled for today actually. My specific advice would be to use Murray McMurray, and go with a meat breed. Not a hybrid, but a traditional meat breed, there are a few. I picked the Dark Cornish because they were supposed to have great flavor,and I have not been disappointed, could just be because of how they were raised. I will say that the birds were super hardy and I didn’t lose a single bird from their company, predator or otherwise. I still have one rooster who escaped and won his freedom and is the only bird not in the fully enclosed winter pen, he sleeps in trees and scratches for food in the sheep pen. I suppose the other benefit was that even in their chicken tractor they foraged a lot, reducing their feed needs. They did take twice as long, but knowing what I know now about commercial hybrids, that extra eight weeks is fine by me. The feed portion was for me less important than the quality of life, so for now I am feeding commercial feed, non Medicated. Hope that helps.

    • Ok, it’s now official. I have spent way too much time in front of the computer, I thought to myself how it was funny to be talking to two different people about my Dark Cornish. I just put two and two together. duh
      I did a marathon read of your blog the other day, your stories are great, I do wish you lots of luck and hope you figure out something that works well for you.

  4. You’ve gotten lots of good advice! Chickens really are very hardy. We’ve been keeping chickens for many years and our only source of loss is predators. A really tight coop (and equally tight chicken tractor) and that is eliminated or minimized. Like whimgirl says, even when they get out and go feral, they survive quite nicely. (But good luck finding the eggs of escaped feral hens!) Poult tastrophes are few and far between.

    If you use a chicken tractor and (depending on what kind of ground cover you have), store-bought feed is necessary only as a supplement during the spring and early summer.

    It’s a quality of life decision. The only question comes from whether the high price of the organic, soy-free feed provides sufficient improvement in quality of life without negatively impacting financially the other projects you hope to accomplish this year.

    We also use Murray McMurray and can give it our unqualified support, sending us happy, healthy birds year after year here on the east coast.

    Wishing you well with your broilers!

    • Good to know about Murray McMurray. I was pretty much decided already about using them, even though they are so far away from me, rather than Ideal which is a little closer, because I’ve heard crummy things about Ideal. I hadn’t heard anything about McMurray but they seemed reputable. Glad to know you agree! As for the feed/forage thing, unfortunately I don’t have very rich ground cover for them. The ground is generally very hard and dry where I live. I’ll be starting them in spring when they will have the most forage available, but I am planning on having to feed them quite a bit as well. Better safe than sorry anyway!

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