Is it profitable to raise a few meat birds at a time? One backyard's cost-by-cost breakdown

A few years ago I raised a flock of meat birds. I accompanied these birds from brooder to butcher and along the way, I shared with readers how I made a collapsable chicken tractor, how I got a broody hen to adopt all my hatchery chicks so I didn’t have to use artificial heat lamps and other tips. What I realized, recently, is that I never shared the cost breakdown of this adventure. I kept a detailed spreadsheet recording the costs associated with raising my own Cornish cross chickens on my small farm and below report on the cost, profit, and savings of raising a small scale flock of chickens for meat.

The Numbers:

expenses price quantity total price
coolers and ice 7
shavings 5.9
9 bags of feed 13.15 9 118.35
6 chicks 1.75 6 10.5
30 chicks 39.06
butchering 2.5 31 77.5
freezer bags 0.3 31 9.3
cost 267.61
 31 birds to butcher  cost per bird: 8.632580645
 Avg dressed weight: 4.62
A little less plump, and a little more red (due to their freedom to move) than grocery store chicken, my dressed out birds had a rich flavor.

I found raising the birds to be an interesting experience. Although I never repeated the process of raising Cornish cross checks to butcher weight, I learned a lot in the process. Modern life makes it easy to not think about the context that our food comes from, but the experience of raising chicks and having them butchered was helpful for me in understanding the amount of work that goes into raising and butchering chickens.

A broody hen made keeping my young chicks warm easier and cheaper
A broody hen made keeping my young chicks warm easier and cheaper

When you plan on raising chicks to butcher,  you might only calculate initially for the cost of chicks and feed. I discovered in the process of raising the birds that I also had a lot of incidental fees – like ice for transporting the processed meat, bags for storing processed meat, and the cost associated with building a tractor to raise my meat birds.

IMPORTANT – my cost breakdown includes having my birds professionally butchered. Although I butchered chickens in the past, it’s very time-consuming if you are not experienced. Because butchering 31 chickens was not how I wanted to spend a hot summer day, I chose instead to have them processed at a cost of $2.50 per bird (a service offered by some local Amish women)

In the end, including all of my expenses (Including professional butchering) my costs came out to $8.63 per chicken, with an average dressed weight of 4 pounds, 10 ounces.

Getting 31 chickens butchered with an average dress-out weight of 4 lbs. 10 oz. meant that my cost per pound was $1.87 – certainly not bad for mostly–organic and very much pasture raised chicken.

In addition to this dressed weight, my processor also gave me the option of taking home the chicken feet. Although I’d had chicken feet prepared in restaurants, they aren’t something I would normally prepare at home. Despite this, the feet were useful-  mostly as raw meat dog treats and a few for making a rich flavored chicken broth.

 

Chicken feet make safe raw-food treats for dogs, if you don't use them for culinary purposes
Chicken feet make safe raw-food treats for dogs, if you don’t use them for culinary purposes

If I had opted to process these birds myself. The cost per bird would be $6.13 assuming I was not able to butcher them quite as efficiently and ended up with a dressed weight of 4 lbs. 8 oz., my cost per pound could have been much lower-  $1.36 per lb (NOT accounting for the fact that butchering 31 birds would have taken me at least 4 hours- and probably bloodshed!)

Although I have not opted to raise meat birds again, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if I had a good set up and more help with the hard work of raising, feeding, catching, and butchering the birds. If you are considering raising meat birds I recommend giving it a try. Even on a small scale, it’s possible to save money by raising your own meat birds and grow a better understanding of how food is produced.

 

Is it profitable to raise a few meat birds at a time? One backyard's cost-by-cost breakdown

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