The True Cost of (Meat) Sustainability

5 years ago
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Let me get this out of the way: It is not cheaper to raise chickens for meat than it is to buy them in the grocery store.

However, that is assuming you are buying regular-grade (as opposed to organic) meat, or that you are buying whole chickens and cutting them up. If you just buy parts (boneless, skinless breasts, for example), then you would probably save money by raising your own. Or like I said, if you pay a premium price for buying organic, or buying local farm-raised chicken, you will definitely see a cost savings.

Image: normanack via Flickr

So, here's how the costs broke down for me:

12 cornish-rock peeps @1.97 (I'll call it $2) apiece..........$24

3 - 50lb bags of Start-n-Grow feed @$5 a bag..................$45

Processing costs @ 1.50 per bird x 9 birds.........................$13.50

6 cockarels (company sent for free as "fillers").......................0

1 extra bag of feed to take cockarels to maturity..................$15

Processing costs @$2 a bird x 6 birds (over 9 is cheaper)....$12
_______________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                                                                                            $109.50

$109.50 divided by 15 birds = $7.30 per bird, which comes out roughly to about $1.80 per pound (based on a rough estimate of 4 lbs a bird).

Now, here's how costs could be less:

*Ordering more peeps (I plan on ordering 50 next summer), will reduce the cost per bird.

*Having them all processed at the same time will reduce the processing cost per bird.

*Raising them in the summer, with time on pasture, will reduce feed costs, as they will get a portion of their nutrition from grass, weeds, and bugs.

*Better "management" for reduced loss. I lost three birds: one died a couple days after shipment (which is pretty normal), one was (I think) taken by a rat or something. I don't know, it just disappeared. One drowned in a bucket during a hurricane. If I hadn't lost any, that figure would change to about $6.30 a bird.

Before I raised my own, I had bought farm-raised chicken a few times in an effort to steer clear of the factory-farm stuff.  I believe it was $3.00 a pound, for a whole chicken, so raising my own was definitely cheaper than that.

Oh, and I didn't include "facility" costs, such as heat lamps and pens,and the like, b/c I'll be using them for future batches of chickens, as well.

Cost of Time

Obviously, there was way more work involved with raising my own vs buying from a grocery store.  But really it wasn't all that bad. Basically, it's a twice-a-day committment, of between 5 mins and 1/2 hour at a time. Mornings (when they were little) I would let them out of their pen, and refill feed and water as needed, and then put them back in again in the evening.  Bedding needs to be refreshed now and then.  Waterers need to be scrubbed out from time to time.  That being said, I always spent more time out there than was needed, b/c they're so darn cute!  And entertaining.  And relaxing.

Cost to the Heart

Some asked if I had a hard time taking them to slaughter.  Given my history with animals, a valid question. However, I have to say, I really didn't have a problem with it.

All it took was me watching a couple of those videos of factory farm practices to realize that if I cared at all about animals, I either needed to become a vegetarian, or pay for the pricier stuff raised locally, or humanely raise my own animals for meat.  I chose the latter.  Well, at least for chicken (and eggs).  I will likely venture out to pork and beef in the near future, but baby steps, right?

So when I dropped them off, I didn't feel bad about sending them to their death, I felt good about giving them a good life.  If I'm not going to change the fact that a chicken is being killed for me to eat, I can at least change how that chicken lived and died.  Make sense?

Fortunately, almost the whole family felt the same way, and ate the very first meal I made with the chicken: chicken spaghetti(thanks, Ree Drummond!).  We had only one that didn't feel comfortable eating it, and that was OK by me.  There were no forced feedings under this roof.







So bottom line, I was able to get chickens for about what I would pay in the grocery store, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I am feeding my family with food that has been raised humanely, and was not filled with antibiotics and steroids and nasty chicken "food", which more often than not includes: same species meat; feathers, hair, skin, hooves, and blood; manure and other animal waste; plastics; drugs and chemicals*.

I spent a lot of my time in the care of my chickens, but in my book it was enjoyable time.  Grounding.

My family and I (with the exception of one child) were able to get behind the concept of raising something for slaughter.  We have been able to move on with our lives and no one will be hitting the shrink couch because of it.  For other things, perhaps, but not for eating food we raised.

More questions?  Send 'em my way and I'll do my best.

~Anne Kimball

Life on the Funny Farm

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