Monday, August 5, 2013

Backyard broilers -- Was it worth it?

I'm finally done with the broilers.  So the question is, "Was it worth it?"

First, let's look at the numbers.  I've created two tables.  The first one lists my costs and income for this venture.  I didn't include costs for items that I consider to be infrastructure.  I'm referring to things that can and will likely be used again, the tractor, feeders, and waterers.  I only included things used to raise and process the birds. 
Item Date Income Expense
Chick Grit and Starter feed. May 12 0.00 ~20.00
Hatchery order for 25 chicks May 17 0.00 67.50
Gave away 4 chicks to a neighbor May 17 0.00 0.00
Sold 6 chicks ? 15.00 0.00
Sold 5 chicks ? 20.00 0.00
50 lb. 20% feed May 22 0.00 20.82
40 lb. 18% feed June 14 0.00 14.98
40 lb. 18% feed June 25 0.00 14.98
50 lb. 20% feed July 5 0.00 18.59
Heat shrink bags July 14 0.00 15.00
50 lb. 16% feed July 15 0.00 13.74
Total: 35.00 185.61

Total cost: $150.61

The second table lists the processed weight of each bird.  I also included how much that bird would have cost at a farmers market price of $6.50/lb.  Note: I didn't do the calculations.  I let Google do it.  If you type "3 lbs 6 oz * 6.50/lb" into Google, it'll give you the answer.  I did the same thing for computing the total weight.
Bird Date Weight Price at $6.50/lb.
Bird 1 July 7 3 lbs 6 oz 21.94
Bird 2 July 13 3 lbs 8.3 oz 22.87
Bird 3 July 13 3 lbs 7.5 oz 22.55
Bird 4 July 13 3 lbs 7.9 oz 22.71
Bird 5 July 20 4 lbs 8.8 oz 29.58
Bird 6 July 27 3 lbs 11.4 oz 24.13
Bird 7 August 2 5 lbs 0.1 oz 32.54
Bird 8 August 2 4 lbs 1.3 oz 26.53
Bird 9 August 3 4 lbs. 6.0 oz 28.44
Bird 10 August 3 4 lbs. 6.3 oz 28.56
Bird 11 August 3 3 lb. 11.4 oz 24.13
Totals: 43.6875 pounds 283.98

My cost:  $150.61
Total pounds:  43.6875
My cost / pound = $3.45

I ended up with 44 lb. of chicken for $150.  That means I saved $133 from what I would have spent at the farmers market. 
So was it worth it?

That's still a hard question to answer.  The local grocery store had chicken on sale the other day for $0.99/lb.  The 44 lbs. I ended up with would have cost ~$44.  So based on cost alone it was not worth it.  (I haven't even factored in my time.)

I happen to think there is a lot more to this question than cost.  To answer this I have to evaluate my original motivations.  

They were:
  • Nutritional
  • Economical
  • Moral/Ethical
  • Educational
I don't remember exactly when I first read about arsenic in chicken feed, but I do remember being surprised by the news.  Now, I know that arsenic occurs naturally.  It's probably in my garden soil.  I'm probably eating it in my tomatoes.  I get that.  But I see no reason to intentionally add it to chicken feed.  I thought it had been taken out in 2011, but this article from July 2013 says that it's still being used.

I've only mentioned arsenic so far.  Who knows what else is in industrial chicken feed?  It's loaded with antibiotics as well.  Obviously if you want to avoid this stuff you need to source your chicken from a non-industrial farmer.  That's why I had to seek out a pasture-raised bird at the farmers market (where I spent $6.50/lb on one).  This leads me to my next point.

Spending $6.50/lb. on a chicken seems like a lot to me.  It's not hard for my family to finish a 4 lb. chicken in a single meal.  As much as I like supporting farmers and farmers markets, I couldn't, and didn't want to, spend that kind of money for chicken.  I already had layers in my back yard, so I figured, why not give raising broilers a try?

I'm not PETA activist and obviously I have no problem with eating meat.  However, I feel that if we are going to eat meat that we should give the animal the best life we can.  The way modern industrial chicken farming is done is cruel.  The birds go from shell to slaughter in 6 weeks.  They spend their short lives in the dark, wallowing in their own waste.  They're cramped into as little as 130 square inches.  That's less than a square foot!  The birds can grow so fast that their legs break under their own weight.  I don't think I need to elaborate on this any more.  There's plenty of info about this out there.  There's a 12 minute documentary on youtube or this article from January 2013 if you prefer to read.

I think this point is closely related to the nutritional point above.  If you care about how the birds are raised, what they eat, and how they are slaughtered, then you need to avoid industrial-farmed chicken.

My broilers spent the first 3 weeks of their lives in the garage.  Once they had feathers and were big enough they went outside.  Sure, they were kept in tractors, but they had fresh air and sunshine.  They were able to do what chickens do and eat bugs and grass.  The last 6 of my birds were fortunate enough to leave the tractors and were able to roam the yard for two weeks.  That's a far better life than any industrial bird has.

Actually, this wasn't one of my original motivations.  It became one a few weeks into the project when I discovered I was learning so much by raising my own birds.  The first time I realized that was on the way back from buying feed.  I was in the car and an ad came on the radio.  The local grocery store was selling chicken for $0.99/lb.  I was stunned.  How are they able to sell chicken at that price?  I already knew early in the process that it it was going to cost me more than that.  What corners are they cutting to sell chicken that low?  This again goes back to the previous points.  To get chicken to cost so little you have to use the industrial farming model:  cram chickens into a small space and feed them grain laced with antibiotics and arsenic. 

I also learned how to process a chicken in a humane manner.  I didn't know how to do that before.  I got to see their progression from chick to full sized bird.  I got a full understanding of what it takes to get a bird from the shell to the freezer.  This point alone made this whole project worth the effort.

So it was worth it.  How does it taste?

The first bird I processed went from the yard, to the garage, to the grill, to the dinner table.  To be honest, had I been blindfolded I don't know that I could have told the difference between it and a store bought chicken.  It was good, but it tasted like chicken.

The second chicken we had was awesome!  It was one that had been frozen.  My wife thawed it out in the fridge for 3 days or so.  Then she brined it and cooked it on the grill.  It was amazing.  I can't explain why a frozen and thawed bird was that much better, but it was.   

Are you going to do this again?

Not any time soon.  I might think about trying this again next spring.  There's a lot of labor involved.  During the first few weeks I was cleaning the cage several times a day.  Once they were outside I had to move the tractors multiple times a day.  And then there was the time needed to process the birds.  It's a lot of work.  I need a break from it for a few months.  I'll re-evaluate the idea in the spring and decide then.


  1. knowing how to do that may prove to come in handy, Particularly if things keep headed downhill...

  2. Fascinating blog. I have not considered doing broilers. I only have pullets. Something to think about!