What is the real cost of raising meat birds? Is it worth it?
For my family, the answer is yes. Definitely. Absolutely! Today I’ll show you the numbers and provide a list of our exact costs as we’ve raised our own meat birds over the last two years.
Comparing apples to apples
First, let’s make sure we’re comparing apples to apples. For the sake of this discussion…
- Homegrown pastured poultry is apples.
- Pastured poultry purchased from a local farm is apples.
- Grocery store chicken, even if it’s “organic”, is oranges.
Comparing the cost of pastured meat birds, whether raised on my own sustainable farm or on someone else’s sustainable farm, to the kind of meat birds available at any grocery store, is like comparing apples to oranges.
It’s just not the same.
What is “organic” chicken?
The “organic” label on grocery store chickens simply means the birds were raised on organic, pesticide-free food, without antibiotics, and had access to the outdoors. Access to the outdoors often means there was a small door to a small outdoor space.
For sure, “organic” chicken is a step up from non-organic grocery store chicken, which is raised in disgusting “concentrated animal confinement operations”.
Check out the excellent documentary Food, Inc. for a closer look at where the majority of America’s food really comes from. I also recommend In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin.
Once we learned the facts about grocery store chicken, even “organic” chicken, we decided to prioritize sustainably raised poultry (and other meat and dairy products) in our family’s budget. For several years, we purchased all our meat, including whole pastured chickens, from local farms.
Then, after several years experience with laying hens under our belts, we decided to try our hands at raising our own meat birds. We wanted to feed our family the best possible chicken at the lowest possible price.
We refer to our homegrown pastured poultry as “beyond organic” because once these birds are big enough to go outside, they’re on fresh grass every morning and evening. They eat bugs and breathe fresh air. We feed them high-quality organic, non-GMO feed.
Our chickens receive zero medications; instead, we add Oregano oil to their water for immune support and apply oils like Lavender, Frankincense, and Melaleuca for occasional skin issues. More details here: Top 8 Essential Oils for Chickens.
So, did we come out ahead by raising our own pastured poultry? What is the real cost of raising meat birds?
The Real Cost of Raising Meat Birds
Let’s take a look at the numbers, and you can decide for yourself…
In northern Virginia, the cost of high quality pastured poultry is about $6/pound for a whole bird. Boneless skinless breast is over $10/pound. Leg quarters are about $6.25/pound and drumsticks cost almost $7/pound. Chicken feet, which are amazing for adding to homemade bone broth for gelatin content, are about $3.25/pound.
Our goal was to beat the lowest price, or $5.85/pound for a whole bird, which we planned to accomplish by raising extra birds to sell to friends and family.
Year one: 2017
In our first year we spent the most and earned the least.
The biggest startup cost was for building a chicken tractor. We also invested in a standard 11″ FoodSaver vacuum sealer.
Our earnings were small because we grew small birds and offered a small discount since we were amateurs. There is definitely a learning curve in the first year.
Here’s a breakdown of what we spent and earned in 2017, our first year to raise meat birds.
A few notes…
- We didn’t keep very good records from our first year, so we estimated high on our costs. Our actual cost was probably closer to $4-5 per pound.
- We created a brooder pen from materials we already had on hand. We also had heat lamps on hand. More details about our brooder pen here.
- Some of the materials for the chicken tractor were also on hand, so our cost was less than $200. But Mr. Native Texan says that even if you had to build a tractor with all new materials, you could do it for $200. Instructions coming soon…
- We completed two rounds: one in the spring to fill our own freezer and one in the fall to sell to friends. Each round lasted 8-9 weeks from start to finish.
- We ordered 100 birds, harvested about 90, sold 43, and kept about 55.
- Our first-year birds averaged about 3 lbs (after processing).
- We sold 142.4 lbs of pastured poultry at $5.35/pound for a total of $760.
Year one verdict
Our per pound cost was about the same as we’d pay for farm fresh pastured poultry, and we obviously had to work much harder to produce our own chickens instead of simply ordering them from someone else.
…BUT some of our big expenses were one-time costs that can technically be extrapolated over many years of chicken production.
…AND $6 per pound is the going rate for whole birds. We also parted some chickens for boneless, skinless meat, and we ended up with lots of chicken feet to add amazing gelatin content to homemade bone broth. Plus we used organs and entrails for dog food and for compost.
When we factor in our one-time costs, on top of the hidden savings on pricier cuts of meat (and feet), our per pound cost was definitely lower than what we’d pay to get the same quality from local farms.
We also learned SO much that we can apply to future rounds of pastured poultry. Growing your own food from start to finish is an amazing family adventure!
Our boys are right there in the middle of it all, helping and learning and gaining real life skills. Chicken processing sure takes home school biology lessons to a whole new level!
All in all, we were satisfied with our first year of pastured poultry production. The real cost of raising meat birds was totally worth it for our family.
We’re officially addicted to raising our own food!
PS–I’d planned to report on the cost of raising meat birds for the second year, but have decided to save that for a separate post since this first post got so long! Stay tuned for The Real Cost of Raising Meat Birds: Year Two.
What do you think: is it worth it to raise pastured poultry? Would you rather do the work and grow food yourself, or do you prefer to support local farmers with your food dollars?
Kathleen Henderson is the Yankee behind the Homestead, where she keeps up with Mr. Native Texan, three busy boys, a large dog, an assortment of chickens and an organic garden on three beautiful acres in Northern Virginia. Yankee Homestead is where she organizes her tips, tricks and resources for a healthy life. Favorite topics include real food recipes, gluten-free living, essential oils and home remedies, all things natural and nontoxic, plus mommy musings and homeschooling resources. Find out more on the About page