Our second year of raising meat birds was filled with ups and downs. Mostly ups, with two major downs. In the end, we’re still addicted to raising our own food and plan to expand our pastured poultry enterprise this year.
I wrote about our first year of raising meat birds here: The Real Cost of Raising Meat Birds: Year One.
More from the meat bird archives:
- How to Raise Pastured Poultry, Part 1: DIY Brooder Pen
- How to Raise Pastured Poultry, Part 2: DIY Chicken Tractor
- The Real Cost of Raising Meat Birds: Year One
- Our Big Meat Bird Mistake: How We Accidentally Killed 35 Chickens
- My Pastured Poultry System: How to Use Up Every Last Bit of a Whole Chicken
Let’s take a look at how it all went down in 2018. I’ll even share our exact costs and income…
Meat birds, year two: ups & downs
First, a quick look at this year’s major highlights.
- Raised and processed three rounds of pastured poultry, despite a major transition to the new farm.
- Developed several guidelines to streamline future logistics.
- Graduated to branded labels for our chicken bags.
- Increased chicken weight.
- Lost 35 birds at full weight, just five days prior to processing, as a result of a rookie mistake. Read about that devastating ordeal here.
- Processed our last round too late in the year on a freezing, rainy, miserable day.
Meat birds, year two: what went well
1. What a year!
First of all, I have to remind myself that it’s pretty substantial to have raised meat birds at all during a year that totally knocked our socks off. Moving your entire three-acre homestead to a new 20-acre homestead is no small feat.
We’re absolutely thrilled to be on the new farm but it has been one heck of a year. Between major renovations plus installing brand new gardens, adding pigs to our lineup, and continuing to homeschool (sort of) and work our other jobs, our cups definitely runneth over.
2. New rules
We continue to tweak the process, including laying down a few ground rules for ourselves to help keep chicken processing something we WANT to do instead of something we DREAD to do. See the next section, What we’ll change, for the specifics.
3. New labels
We feel super fancy to slap official Yankee Homestead labels on the sealed chicken bag! It also helps with our transactions and record keeping, since there’s a spot on the label to record the weight and price.
4. Bigger birds
Greg has experimented with feed rations and finally achieved a heftier meat bird. In our first year of raising meat birds, they weighed in around three pounds or even less. Our second year meat birds ranged between four and six pounds.
Meat birds, year two: what we’ll change
This year, we’ll plan out our processing dates for the entire season, making sure to schedule the final processing date while temperatures are still warm enough to avoid numb fingers. Numb fingers definitely slow the process and dampen the spirits. But now we know!
Despite our numb fingers, there was a bit of levity on processing day: Little Bro was carrying around a laying hen and Older Bro was eviscerating meat birds, so Middle Bro grabbed one of his favorite laying hens and every brother had a chicken…
We plan to process fewer chickens at a time this year, so processing day doesn’t feel so overwhelming and never ending. This might entail acquiring our own processing equipment instead of renting a Mobile Chicken Processing Unit. (See #3.)
The more chickens we have to process in a day, the more stressful and time consuming the process. Owning the equipment gives us greater flexibility, reduces rental fees, and saves travel time (and gas money) to pick up the rental unit.
Equipment obviously increases our costs, but the trade off might be worth it and we’d recoup the expense over time. We would need several more killing cones, a plucker, scalder, and eviscerating table. Greg thinks we could do it for around $1100. Hmmm…
As we continue to tweak our process, maybe we’ll get better at processing with friends there to “help”. For now, we’ve learned that the presence of friends adds hours to our processing time, which we simply cannot afford on an already long and arduous day.
BUT if we get our own equipment and gain the ability to process smaller batches at a time, I can see this becoming more of a possibility.
The sealing process continues to challenge us, mostly because we use a small scale vacuum sealer to seal 50 birds in one afternoon. Sealing by far consumes the majority of our processing time.
Truthfully, I hate this part. The sealer always malfunctions and we wind up sealing far into the evening when everyone is sick of chickens and ready to eat dinner.
But this year we learned a few tricks and perfected our process. We’re still researching alternatives, but at least we’ve improved the system a bit. And again, if we have our own equipment and can process fewer birds at a time, the sealing process becomes more manageable.
6. More birds
Greg plans to build two additional chicken tractors which will allow us to raise more birds and to stagger each batch in order to process more frequently. Again, this is where owning the equipment will be super helpful.
Meat birds, year two: the numbers
In our first year of raising meat birds (2017), we spent the most and earned the least due to startup costs (mostly for building the chicken tractor).
In our second year of raising meat birds (2018), we had a huge setback which sent hundreds of dollars down the drain. It was awful, but it was also a learning experience. And we still came out ahead over the previous year.
As we head into our third year of raising meat birds (2019), we’re cautiously optimistic. This might be the year that we eat chicken for “free” and actually turn a profit!
Here’s the breakdown of our year two numbers (2018):
A few notes…
- We completed three rounds: spring, summer (the disastrous round), and fall (too late and too cold).
- We ordered 150 birds, harvested 137, sold 72 and kept 64.
- The average weight of our birds this year was about 6 pounds.
- We sold 320 pounds of pastured poultry at $5.85 per pound.
Despite a major setback, our personal cost for the pastured poultry that our family consumes for one whole year is only $1.40 per pound. This includes whole birds, boneless skinless meat, and feet for making broth.
That’s still a big win for us!
Plans for year 3
We’re looking forward to completing an entire season of raising meat birds on the new farm this year, from start to finish. Renovations and projects are still under way, but the actual move and the unpacking process are (thankfully) behind us. Whew!
Greg and the boys have already constructed a huge, new, and improved brooder pen in our big barn and our first order of chicks should arrive any day!
We’re about to do it all over again, this time hopefully without losing half a round of birds!
Does your family eat pastured poultry? Have you ever considered raising your own meat birds?
Kathleen Henderson is the yankee behind the homestead. Follow along as we grow real food and three boys while renovating a 20-acre farm in northern Virginia. Do you love homegrown food, Paleo-ish recipes, and natural living? You’re in good company! Let’s grow together…