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meat chicken return on investment

 
Jeremey Weeks
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One of the blogs that I follow posted an article that breaks down their costs for meat chickens.

blogpage

They state that they didn't include one-time costs like feeders, a coop, etc. They've been doing chickens for awhile, so they already have all the kit needed.

I was surprised that their cost was lower than the store.

good article, I hope you enjoy.

--JS
 
Adam Klaus
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Nice to see folks analyzing their actual costs on chickens.

The past two years, our system has gotten pretty efficient. The big key is eliminating dependence on bagged chicken chow. I feed a chicken grower mash for the first three weeks, when I am not confident that the birds will range adequately to balance their diet. After that time, we are feeding exclusively soaked fermented wheat, whole grain corn, and excess skim milk yogurt from the dairy. We make raw milk yogurt in 5 gallon buckets, letting nature do all the work for us. Combined with a truly diverse and lush pasture range, our birds are able to balance their diet and grow very efficiently. Of course, the benefit of the on-farm surplus dairy is enormous.

I figure that from a batch of 100 chicks, my costs and yields look something like this-
$100 for the chicks (although starting next year we will be able to hatch out all our chicks, saving that $100 as additional pure profit)
$60 for three 50 pound sacks of chick starter
$500 for 2000 pounds of local organic wheat and corn

I harvest 80 birds after losses (highly variable, from a low of 70 to a high of 93)
I average butchered carcass weights of 4.5 pounds, for heritage Jersey Giants

So I end up spending about $6.50 per bird in total costs. We butcher on-farm, so no expenses there.

Marketing then becomes the ticket to your success, we sell our organic, heritage birds for $30 each. Demand is strong, we sell out with a waiting list. The cost is high but the value is higher.

The quality of our chicken is miles beyond any other producers I know in my region. The combination of heritage breed genetics, organic whole grains, truly diverse pasture, raw milk, and kosher slaughter makes our product extraordinary. So many local small farmers are not doing enough to raise an exceptional product. Farmers 'free range' in a poor pasture, they feed soy-based chicken mash, they use hybrid genetics, they slaughter according to standard commercial protocol. We strive for excellence and uniqueness in every aspect of our production. We make a good profit based on quality.
 
John Polk
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If you need to buy your chicks, shop around.
Prices can vary between $37 and $200+ for 100 chicks.

See Cackle Hatchery.

Frypan Special.PNG
[Thumbnail for Frypan Special.PNG]
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Adam, I'm curious about feeding them the wheat and corn. Is that to bulk them up? I was wondering why you supplement the pasture.

I've fermented milo and fed it to chickens and pigs. I might end up drinking the results if I start fermenting wheat!

 
Adam Klaus
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Jeremey Weeks wrote:Adam, I'm curious about feeding them the wheat and corn. Is that to bulk them up? I was wondering why you supplement the pasture.


Yes, it is to produce good rates of weight gain. Pasture alone would not be adequate. Firstly, I would have to reduce my numbers from 100 to maybe 20, at most. Second, the birds would gain weight slower and would have tougher meat as a result. I do not see raising chickens with zero grain is a viable commercial option, at all.

I simply do not like feeding soy-based mash. So I feed the whole fermented grains, from local farmers I know. These grains are good enough quality that I would eat them myself, quite different from the mystery mix that comes in a bag of commercial organic chicken chow. Of course, as always, ymmv.
 
Burra Maluca
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I haven't watched it yet, but geoff lawton has just put out a new video on how to Feed Chickens Without Grain
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Burra, I think something that Permaculture lacks is an approach to commercial agriculture.

This is changing, with holistic management and Fukuoka style crops. But Permaculture hasn't developed for a lot of commercial applications, or if it has, you need a lot more land than traditional methods.

Adam, I'm working on a plan to decrease my paid feed costs for my pigs. I want to do the same for my chickens, but there's a point of diminishing returns. Thanks for sharing your experience--it saves me some pain.

--JS
 
J D Horn
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Unless you are just doing it for home use, you have to charge something for your time or you will never know whether what you are doing is profitable or not. Salatin and Doherty both use $20/hr as the labor measurement charge.
 
John Polk
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But Permaculture hasn't developed for a lot of commercial applications, or if it has, you need a lot more land than traditional methods.


A case in point, is that I have heard Joel Salatin say (numerous times) that his method will not work on less than about 50 acres.


 
Jeremey Weeks
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Agreed, John. I amended my statement because of Joel... "or if it has, you need a lot more land than traditional methods. "

Traditional would be a long shed with a zillion birds and purchased feed. Thousands of birds using less than an acre.

Middle of the road is what Adam is doing.

Other extreme is Joel.

I'd love to do it Joel's way. I can't afford another 40 acres tho.
 
John Polk
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I have seen satellite photos of Joel's operation, and it is impressive.
You can see the tractor's paths across the field, from the far end where they started, all the way up to where they end: right in front of the processing station. Their 'final meal' is only a few feet from where they meet the butchers.

He has fine tuned his system to its scale.
It could be scaled down for a small acreage, but some of the efficiency would be compromised.

I consider 50 birds as 'home scale'. Figuring about 1 bird per week for home consumption.
Double that to 100 birds, and hopefully the 50 extras will pay for your meat and your time.
Anything beyond that is 'gravy'. The time commitment for 200 birds is not that much difference than for 100 birds.





 
Jeremey Weeks
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I'm planning on starting 50 birds in the spring.

Frankly, I'm a little intimidated by the number.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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J D Horn, I could spend hours playing with numbers for return on investment and total cost of ownership.

I like the $20 an hour idea.

I'm still trying to figure out how much $$ my land needs to clear for me to give up the day job.

I'm sure I don't have enough land to do that right now, but it's nice to dream.
 
Adam Klaus
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Thinking about the labor cost of raising a batch is important, for sure. If I break it all down, then I would figure that I spend 20 minutes per day on the meat chickens. My batch of 100 birds goes for 20 weeks, so I would figure there are about 50 hours of labor to account for. Additionally, butchering will take two days, with a total man-hour cost of 20 hours. So total labor cost is 70 hours.

Rough numbers for a 100 bird batch would then be something like-
65 marketable birds (figuring some mortality, some uglies that dont get sold, etc) x $30 per bird = $1950 gross
minus $660 in expenses (chicks, feed, grain)

That leaves me with $1290 to pay the family for the 70 hours of labor. So about $18.50 per hour. I'll take that wage working on the farm with my family! Happily!

The other thing not accounted for is the fertilizer value of having 100 chickens manuring my fruit orchard, the value of the pest control in the orchard, the value of the chicken manure compost I collect from under their roosts, and the additional income bonus that is possible with a slightly lower mortality rate, and the ugly but tasty carcasses that I keep. All in all, I think Joel would approve.

 
Adam Klaus
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Jeremey Weeks wrote:I'm planning on starting 50 birds in the spring.

Frankly, I'm a little intimidated by the number.


Jeremy- I think 50 birds is the ideal batch size. Small enough to be managable, yet large enough to get some economy of scale going. The most challenging thing will be the butchering. I would do it in two days to make it easy and stress free. You'll do great. 50 is what I recommend to anyone that isnt a first timer or a pro. It's the sweet spot.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Thanks for the encouragement, Adam!
 
Adam Klaus
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Burra Maluca wrote:I haven't watched it yet, but Geoff Lawton has just put out a new video on how to Feed Chickens Without Grain


mmmmm... this is a good one! very interesting concept. I think more suited to hens than meat birds, but the gears in my mind are definitely churning away, trying to figure how this system could fit into my farm.

thanks for pointing me in such a good direction Burra!
 
Jeremey Weeks
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I've signed up to watch the video but I'm not a big fan of compost. Almost everything that we don't eat goes to chickens or pigs. All I have left that would compost is paper, and not much of that. I'd have to bring in stuff to compost and that's pretty counter-intuitive for me right now.

Geoff is awesome though, so I'll give the video a chance.
 
Wes Hunter
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Jeremey Weeks wrote:They state that they didn't include one-time costs like feeders, a coop, etc.


Which makes their "numbers" really misleading. They're burning propane for the scalder. That homemade plucker won't last forever. Neither will the brooder, or heat lamps, or feeders or waterers. And I'm assuming that they're putting the chickens in some kind of plastic bag for freezing? Last I checked, those aren't free. How are the birds housed? I'm certain the house will need repairs or replacement at some point. Electric fencing costs money.

I've no doubt that they're raising chickens economically, but the costs they show aren't even close to accurate. If anything, people need to realize that it often costs more to produce good food, not less.

For what it's worth, I raise heritage breed chickens for meat, and I put up a page on our blog/website about the costs of production here. Note that I'm raising less feed-efficient breeds than the Freedom Ranger, but there are still other costs associated.
 
Wes Hunter
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By way of comparison, let's say I bought 200 acres of pasture for $2000/acre. That's $400,000. Then I stocked it with 50 bred cows that I purchased for $1000 each. That's another $50,000. Let's not even worry about taxes, but that's money too. Then those cows calve, the calves are fattened, and they're taken to a processor. Say it costs about $300 for processing (kill, cut, wrap), that's $15,000. And say I get about 400 lb. of marketable meat from each beeve, that's 20,000.

So from the blog example that started this thread, my "costs" for producing 20,000 lb. of meat are $15,000. Wow, I just produced great grass-fed beef at $0.75/lb.! (I just happened to ignore the $450,000 that I spent two years prior... and the taxes, and transportation costs, and storage, and...)
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Wes, your blog is in my feedly now. That's an interesting post. I'm teetering toward picking up a Salatin book about making money with chickens.

I think I'm going to find value where labor, food and energy costs are shared with "stuff". For example, if I own a milk cow, I can negate feed costs (and the travel to get the feed) by using some of the milk from the cow. I'd argue that the cow is a cost I'm going to pay anyway, I'm just using some of the milk to feed the chickens, pigs etc.

Adam, hopefully you're still watching this thread. You get $30 a bird? What is that a pound (finished product, like $5 or $6?

 
Wes Hunter
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Adam, I'm having a hard time believing/accepting some of your numbers. Intentions can be hard to gauge on the Internet, so let me be clear in saying that in no way am I meaning to imply that you're lying, or embellishing the truth, or anything like that, but that your figures vary a good bit from what I've seen in my experience and I'd be very interested to have them clarified. If you don't respond here I'll send you a private message or something (assuming that's doable on this forum -- I'm new), but it seems to me this is as good a place as any to have this discussion.

For background: this spring and summer I raised 200 heritage breed broilers, approximately 25 each of 8 different breeds, as a grant project with funding help from SARE. The eight breeds were: Dominique, White Plymouth Rock, Naked Neck, Silver-Laced Wyandotte, Speckled Sussex, New Hampshire Red, Buff Orpington, and Delaware. The Buffs turned out to be all pullets (we ordered cockerels), so they didn't get included in any of my data. I kept close records of feed consumption, regular liveweight checks, and final carcass weights. Obviously the numbers varied breed to breed, but here are my averages:
- Live weight at 18 weeks, 4 days: 4.72 lb.
- Carcass weight: 3.16 lb.
- Carcass percentage: 66.9%
- Feed efficiency rate, live weight: 5.02:1
- Feed efficiency rate, carcass weight: 7.49:1
- Feed consumption per bird: 23.72 lb.

My questions/discussion topics for you:

1) A feed consumption per bird of 21.5 lb. seems incredible, especially over a 20 week period. Clearly they were supplemented quite well with pasture. What kind of pasture are you running them on? I would guess some sort of high-protein crop like clover or alfalfa, to get those kind of gains. Do you measure how much of your home-produced dairy is fed/consumed? I can only assume that goes a long way toward reducing grain inputs.

2) My understanding is that the Jersey Giants, though they grow large, grow slowly. I find it incredible (and, honestly, kind of hard to swallow) that you were able to get a 4.5 lb. carcass at 20 weeks, when my live weight at 18 weeks was barely better than that, and with birds that are purportedly faster growing to boot. Do you track/measure growth rates of your Jersey Giants? Is the 'slow-growing' designation just incorrect? Or maybe people apply it in comparison to the Cornish-Rock Cross, against which all standard-bred chickens are slow growing (though I'm pretty certain I've read that the Giants are slower compared to other standard-bred birds)?

3) Related, where are you getting your chicks? At $1.00 a piece I'd assume from a commercial hatchery, or in other words from stock that has not been selectively bred for its meat characteristics, which makes your 4.5 lb. carcass weights all the more impressive (and, again, hard to swallow for me). I think we (generally) could make great strides in the profitability of heritage breeds with even a few generations of selective breeding, but the simple fact is that that's just not happening at commercial hatcheries--those breeds are being selected for egg laying abilities or for show purposes, and the cockerels are seen as pretty much worthless. They might sell some here or there as a "fry pan special," but I figure they probably just view that as free money.

4) Your "no cost" on-farm processing I also find hard to swallow. The only way I'd truly believe that is if you were dry plucking by hand and selling the birds un-bagged (and not counting your labor costs--which I don't do either). But at 12 minutes per bird you're clearly not dry plucking, and I'd assume you're probably using a tub-style plucker. How are you doing so for free? If you've already purchased the equipment you may not have any direct per-bird costs in on-farm processing (as compared to paying a processor to do it for you), but you have still spent money for it. Are you burning wood instead of propane for your scalder? It took us at least $10 worth of propane to heat and maintain the scald water for 100 chickens. Are you selling your chickens unbagged? For us it was upwards of $0.40/bird for bags, clips, and labels. Are you really avoiding this cost, or just not accounting for it?

5) It looks like you're selling your birds at $6.50/lb. give or take. That's fantastic! What is your market? Who are the people buying your chickens? Slow Food folks? "Ethnic" populations?

6) I appreciate what you said about raising an exceptional product. At the end of our project we hosted an informal blind side-by-side tasting, which included a pasture-raised Cornish-Rock Cross (that none of the participants knew was included). It was hands down the least favorite--just bland. The others taste so much better (the Speckled Sussex was the consensus winner), and I agree that not enough farmers are focusing on producing really good food, but settle for producing better food than the confinement animal factories. A pretty low bar, really.
 
Adam Klaus
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Wes Hunter wrote:Adam, I'm having a hard time believing/accepting some of your numbers.

Get a bit glass of water, time to swallow hard Wes.

To address your specific concerns-
1) My birds run on a diverse clover-based pasture in a fruit orchard. They consume a lot of fermented skim milk. Maybe 5 gallons per day. I keep the butter for my family, the meat chickens get the rest fermented into yogurt. The yogurt is made with zero inputs in plastic buckets, using just ambient air temperature. Fermenting the grains is something I learned here on permies that adds some percentage of increased feed efficiency. Additionally, not all grain has the same nutrient levels. Buying sacks of whatever cheap grain from the feed store, you will find remarkably low numbers for protein. I purchase excellent quality grain, grown on mineral rich soils. I imagine that leveraging these two factors makes my 21 pounds of feed equivalent to closer to 25 or 30 pounds of standard bagged feed grains fed whole.

2) Another big drink, swallow hard. I dont weigh birds along the way, just at slaughter. The best carcasses are over 5 pounds, dressed. The smallest are 4 pounds. Average is 4.5 pounds. Hatchery descriptions are about as accurate as seed catalogs, largely just a bunch of worthless text. I have raised many breeds of heritage meat birds, including Barred Rocks, White Rocks, Dark Cornish, Speckled Sussex, Buff Orpington, Light Brahma, Black Australorp, Columbian Wyandotte, New Hampshire, and more than I am not thinking of at the moment. Jersey Giants, at 20 weeks, produce the largest and meatiest carcasses.

3) I get my chicks from Mt Healthy Hatchery in Ohio. This hatchery was recommended to me some years ago by Kelly Klober, I have always been impressed with their birds. Chicks cost me 70 cents each for 100 straight run. Plus shipping, ends up under $100 to my post office. I'll be honest here for a second- my operation is impressive. I'm pretty proud of what I do and the results I create.

4) You are right that there are fixed infrastructure investments that need to be amortized into the cost numbers. I own a plucker and scalder, that weren't cheap to buy. Based on a lifetime amortized cost, I should deduct about $1 per bird for paying off the equipment, buying my bags, and purchasing propane. Really this argument becomes a slippery slope from hell though, as maybe we should factor in my land costs, my irrigation water, my gloves, the salve I put on my hands, etc, etc. I think all this is pretty obvious for anyone operating a farm. I was just trying to give folks some specific numbers for the primary costs involved in raising my chickens. Subtract a dollar, two if it makes you sleep better, and my margins still look *okay*.

5) I sell my birds by the each, not by the pound. $30. I sell to anyone who wants to buy them. Mostly families and couples that are well educated about food and nutrition. A lot of folks that realize that 'local organic' is often more similar to commercial than not. Our product is wonderfully unique, nutritionally superior, and spiritually nourishing. The pricetag I put on that is $30. It works well for everyone.

6) My above post talks about all the ways that our chicken is nothing like any of the competition. Be the best! It's a great recipe for success.

There's a lot to swallow, I know. I didnt get here overnight. It has been a long process of learning and experimenting, and I am delighted to know that it strikes some folks as utterly unreasonable. That is a real mark of pushing the envelope and leading the cutting edge. You cant believe its true. Now we're moving forward!
 
Wes Hunter
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Adam,
Wow.

I am really taken aback at the dress weights on those Giants, because everything I've seen suggests that they just don't grow quickly enough to be reasonably profitable, even when compared to other heritage breeds. But if you can realize those kinds of yields from standard hatchery stock, I'm going to have to give them a shot next year.

And $0.70/chick is a great price, even for surplus cockerels. I've been buying my chicks from Cackle Hatchery in Lebanon, MO, but looks like their Giants are $1.05 each for 100 cockerels.

You have a fair point about other associated costs. I tend to write off things like gloves because they're used across so many 'enterprises' as to cost practically nothing to any one enterprise. Thankfully I can write off land as a cost, as we're paying the same for a house, outbuildings, and 25 acres as we'd pay for a small house in town, or rent for that matter. We've got to pay a set dollar amount for living anyway, so our land is practically free. But as far as things like pluckers and scalders, those are limited use items whose cost can't reasonably be spread out the way gloves can, for example. And to be honest, my response in that regard was fueled in large part by my own failure to accurately include the costs of those "little things," which in the end add up to more money than I'd like them to and as such reduce my profits to less than I think I'm getting. (If you read the link I posted a few posts above, you'll notice that I don't bother with things like electricity usage, water, or any of the little incidentals, but those things certainly add up and come back to bite me if I'm not careful.) I'm not rallying for full-fledged accounting principles to be used on small family farms. I guess my point here is that there are plenty of unseen associated costs with something such as chicken raising that are often overlooked because they're not paid for each and every bird but which should still be reasonably accounted for to give an accurate representation of total production costs. Which of those costs to include, I suppose, is a matter of opinion.

How cleanly do the Giants dress out? We didn't have any problems with our darker-feathered birds (namely the Speckled Sussex, and some of the Naked Necks), so I assume they'd be just as clean as a white-feathered bird (Cackle, at least, offers White Giants, if that was a problem). I'm looking seriously into investing in a UK-made dry plucker, as well as building some sort of air-chiller, as an added bit of market diversification. I really dislike scalding birds in dirty water--and that water gets dirty quick--and dropping them in cold chill water to then soak that stuff up. I can only assume part of the reason most chicken tastes so bland is the fact that it can contain up to 15% water by weight--and you know Tyson and the like are getting every bit of that 15% that they can. (I mean, selling water at $1.00/lb. or more? That's $8.00/gallon, easy.) But dry-plucked and air-chilled, that's a different story--and a totally different product.

I hope I didn't come across as confrontational or completely skeptical above. Like I said, intentions can be hard to gauge on the internet. But your figures are/were so very different from my own that I wanted a closer look. Thank you for following up. Looks like you have a great farm there.
 
Wes Hunter
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Jeremy,
A couple of considerations.

One, take Salatin's money-making stuff with a grain of salt. I love the guy, but he's an evangelist. The subtitle to Pastured Poultry Profits is, I believe, "Net $25,000 on 20 acres in 6 months," or something very close. But to net $25,000 is going to take a few thousand birds. Polyface Farm is of a scale somewhere between small family farm and large specialized farm. And he makes no bones about working efficiency into his operations, because cutting even 3 seconds off the processing of 12,000 chickens will 'save' 10 hours. By contrast, if you cut 3 seconds off processing your 50, you've saved two and a half minutes. Point being, with the size that he's talking about efficiency of scale considerations start to enter the picture, and that has pretty big implications regarding profitability. But of course, your mileage may vary.

Two, I'm sure the costs have changed, but I remember seeing that at some point he was figuring on paying $0.07/lb. for local non-GMO grains direct from area farmers. That's dirt cheap, and you're not likely to approach that now.

Three, 50 chickens really ought not be intimidating. You ought to be able to easily process them all over a two day period, as Adam suggested, or you might even consider just doing one or two a day for a few weeks. We left some in the pasture when we did our last batch and have just been processing them as needed. I dry pluck by hand, and total kill, pluck, and evisceration is probably 45 minutes per bird, and that's at an easy pace. Just know that if you spread the processing time out like that, the first and last birds you do will have considerably different characteristics and will need to be cooked differently (the first ones roasted or fried, the last ones will need to be braised or stewed). Though this isn't necessarily a bad thing--I look at it as a celebration of the inherent differences in raising animals for meat. Not all chicken should be the same.
 
Jeremey Weeks
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Adam, it's amazing to me that you can sell the birds for $30 a piece. I'm wondering if I can find that kind of market where I live.

Wes, I'm interested in seeing how Salatin markets and what his prices are. I understand that he stays away from farmer's markets, etc. I'm not sure that I'll get that out of his books, which is why I haven't purchased yet.

Seeing both of you discuss the business is very valuable to me.

That's the piece that missing from a lot of permaculture discussions.

Adam, I'm surprised you don't have lower prices, especially with so many birds. Do you think this is something that can be duplicated? Do you deliver or do your customers come to you?

Feel free to tell me to buzz off, it's literally your business.

I still identify with the blog post that started this thread. Here's why: I really really want to live on and manage acres of land. Right now I can afford the payments. It would sure be nice to off-set the payments with some income though. I don't want to count my land costs. Honestly, I'd have a similar rent payment if I lived in town anyway. So what's the real overhead? I admire the original blog post because they are taking a stab at figuring out the numbers. They're growing their own food and probably taking a few less drives to town to buy that food. That is awesome. Liberating!

It sounds like Adam is getting over six and a half bucks a pound. That really excites me. Normally I'm trying to shrink costs because I have a preconceived notion of what I can sell something for. $30 a bird is amazing--I was thinking maybe $4-$4.50 a lb. Maybe it's that way in my market, but I'm excited about the thought of a bigger number.

 
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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There is a guy here in one of the Seattle farmer's markets that charges $35 for a whole bird.
I doubt he could get that in a more rural environment.

Every market is different. Some people expect things to be cheaper from the farmer, while others appreciate getting wholesome, tasty food. If you are surrounded by BigAg, most people accept industrial food as 'normal'. Here on the west coast, many people are really interested in finding more natural foods, and willing to pay the higher prices for quality. In some other areas, people are primarily looking for the cheapest price.

 
Wes Hunter
Posts: 105
Location: Seymour, MO
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Jeremy,
I'd highly recommend getting your hands on any of Salatin's books (though I've yet to read his most recent ones), but Pastured Poultry Profits was written a while ago and Polyface's marketing scheme has changed a good bit since then. Maybe newer printings have updated appendices, though? Point being, if your reason for buying is to see how he markets, you're not going to get the full picture from that book. A bit of internet research will probably get you all the specifics you need. And while his way has worked for him, there are so many marketing strategies that in my opinion you'd be better off just reading as much as possible from different farmers. Just poking around websites will probably do you a lot of good in that regard.

Let me give you one example. This coming spring/summer I'm going to be offering a meat CSA share through a friend's veggie CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). CSA models vary widely, and there are some really cool options there, certainly worth investigating. My offering will be approximately 20 lb. of meat per month (one monthly pickup) for the 6-month "growing season" of May to October (corresponding with the veggie CSA), which will include roughly 10 lb. chicken and 5 lb. each beef and pork. Pricing will be by the pound, paid up front at the start of the season, which means I get working capital before accruing outgoing costs. If I were selling at a farmers market, the beef and pork would move quite easily, but there are a lot of potential customers who will scoff at paying $5.50/lb. for a chicken, no matter how food educated they consider themselves. But by bundling the different meats together I can essentially hide the cost of the chicken. The pricing isn't broken down, so customers only see that they're paying $5.50/lb. for meat in general.

This drives me nuts, as people in my neck of the woods will gladly pay $5-6/lb. for grassfed ground beef, and a good bit more for prime cuts, but consider that same price for (arguably the best available) chicken highway robbery. But that's a whole 'nother topic.

As far as selling into any local market, I've begun trying to operate on the idea that small farms require small (read: niche) markets. We have 25 acres, so rather than trying to get into the beef market (of which there is a lot around here), I'm working on marketing pastured-raised veal. The market is smaller, but so is my production ceiling. I could try to produce four beeves a year and be sold out in no time (in which case customers would have to wait months to buy from me again, and possibly forget about me in the mean time), or four veal calves a year and spread my sales over most of the 12 months. And there's certainly something to be said for getting higher prices for those niche items. The reason Adam can sell his birds for $30 a pop is because he's not producing the same modern hybrids that everybody else is. If there's nobody else in your neck of the woods raising heritage breeds, that could very well be the niche you step up to fill.
 
Adam Klaus
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Just wanted to elaborate on why I am able to sell birds for $30 each. I live in a rural area, with access to affluent resort areas. I sell well in both demographics.

Quality, quality, quality. Please understand that my poultry is raised in a system, and you cant use parts of it while claiming the whole. The key components, all of which are critical, are whole local organic grains (from other farmers folks know and trust) , raw milk (this is the biggest), excellent free range in a fruit orchard (free as in uncontained with total freedom), heritage breeds with large carcass weight, and kosher slaughter. I would suggest that if you start taking away these strengths, you lose $5 per infraction. It is not easy to produce along these guidelines.

Marketing and customer relations. I didnt start with my prices here. Four years ago I though $20 a bird would stress the customer. I have built a reputation, I invite people to come see the birds. Customers get to know me and the excellence of my products over the course of the summer milk season, and farmers market season. I bring an occasional live chicken with me to the farm market just to perk people's interest. Customers buy my eggs and comment that they are the bes they have ever eaten (for similar reasons, the hens eat a completely unique diet of quality whole grains, no soy, ample raw milk, quality foraging). When early fall comes, people have been asking about meat all season. They are ready to buy, and the price is not the reason why or why not.

It would be a complete fail to just name a number and hope people show up to pay. You have to build an understanding with people. Let they buy smaller items first, then they will have the confidence in you to purchase six chickens on pre-order in September. Knoweldge about food and nutrition is nowhere near as compelling to people as their personal experience as a consumer of your food. If your products dont seem superior, you're pricing wont be either. You need to produce products that enhance your reputation with every sale. Then bigger sales come easier, both price and quantity.

I deliver my birds if it is not out of my way, such as to the farmers market, or folks come out to the farm. They usually enjoy that opportunity to see the farm. My farm, Bella Farm, is a total bliss trip for people. They walk out of here starry-eyed and filled with joy. It is pretty awesome to watch. It's like I brought a dream to life for them. That is priceless.

 
Wes Hunter
Posts: 105
Location: Seymour, MO
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Adam,
I hope you'll allow me to continue to pry regarding how you raise your chickens. I'm deeply interested in just how you're doing it.

1) With charging a flat $30 per bird, have you encountered any problems with customers wanting/demanding the biggest bird(s) available, and/or any reluctance to pay the full $30 by those who might have missed out on the larger birds? It sounds like your customers are more than happy to pay the money for a premium product, but human nature can be a funny thing. Or maybe do you just give them the chicken(s) you give them, so they have no choice? I guess if the weight spread is small enough, it probably doesn't matter that much anyway, but we had some large spreads (the White Rocks, for example, ranged from 2.70 lb to 4.25 lb., which at $20 a bird would be from $7.40/lb. to $4.70/lb.--a big difference).

2) How, practically, do you go about getting grains from local farmers? Bagged? Bulk bins? There are a few farmers around here who grow organic oats and corn, maybe wheat too, but I put some feelers out this spring and I think they have a contract with a local buyer/wholesaler, and they seemed reluctant to sell even a relatively small amount to someone on the side. Have you encountered this?

3) You say your birds are "uncontained with total freedom"--do you have any aerial predator problems? I'd think a solid black bird would stand out about as much as a solid white bird and make fairly easy pickins. Then again, even having them contained with electronet isn't going to stop the hawks and such.

4) What is your slaughter protocol, and how does it differ from others in your area selling farm-processed chickens? Do you get inquiries from customers about the specifics of slaughter? That is, do they seem to have a concrete preference, other than the notion that the birds were slaughtered humanely?

5) Do you have any rough figures on the other breeds that you have raised in terms of carcass weights and grow-out time? My understanding is that the Brahmas also grow largely but slowly, but you've shattered that notion with the carcass weights of your Giants.
 
Adam Klaus
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Wes, no worries, happy to answer questions. It was the biggest complament that I have recieved in months that you couldnt even believe what I was claiming. That's doing something big. Doing the impossible!

1) I give the customer a bird. Nobody has ever quibbled about a few ounces. My harvest weights are pretty tight, so there is not a visible difference. If I have a runt or a giant, those go to the family. I would say that in a good system, with good birds, your slaughter weights shouldnt vary by more than a little bit. The huge variance you describe highlights something being off, IMHO.

2) The farmers I get grain from are folks I have had long standing farming relationships with. They arent commodity farmers. They grow grain for their own farm livestock, and have a bit extra to sell. I pickup grain in large feed sacks in the back of my pickup truck, and transfer it in 5 gallon buckets. FWIW, oats are not going to be at all useful for growing meat chickens. A wheat and corn mix is what you want.

3) I dont have aerial predator problems, I think because of the mature fruit orchard that is overhead. By the time the birds are brave enough to venture out into the open meadow, they are big enough to not be a problem. I have hawks and eagles around here, but (knock on wood), very minimal predation. I hate electronet and hope to never touch that torture device again. That's just me.

4) The key points in my slaughter protocol are cutting the jugulars and bleeding the chicken to death. Not cutting the windpipe or the spinal cord until fully dead. I dunk in cold water to clean and chill the carcass, and then air dry for two days to age. I salt all the carcasses, inside and out, with kosher salt when they get air dried. I vacume seal the bags that hold the birds. Honestly, my customers dont seem to care as much about the slaughter protocol as I do, they really dont want to talk about it. But I believe in what I do, and know that it impacts the meat quality favorably.

5) No numbers on other breeds, just can say that they all turned out smaller, and/or leggier than the Jerseys at harvest. The only breed that even comes close is the Dark Cornish (not Cornish Cross, but the Dark Cornish, the great great grandparents to the commercial crosses). But they arent as good of layers, or as cheaply available commercially. The Jerseys won over the Cornish because I can raise them as layers satisfactorily, and hatch out my own chicks. This coming year I expect to buy zero chicks and hatch all my own. Cornish are too poor of layers to justify their keep year round, and buying them as chicks is much more expensive. Jerseys have a better temperment too.

Any more questions feel free to ask! good luck!
 
Jeremey Weeks
Posts: 206
Location: Eastern Washington, 8 acres, h. zone 5b
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Here's a youtube video about pastured poultry. I think he's running 3k broilers and about to go to 8k.

He says that pasturing offsets his feed anywhere from 5-20%

Pastured Poultry Production
 
Wes Hunter
Posts: 105
Location: Seymour, MO
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If you're interested, you can read all about my SARE project here.

Regarding the carcass weight spread, I think you have a good point about something being off. Part of the problem, to be sure, is a lack of breeding for meat qualities, so birds that should be culled from a breeding flock because they're not of a meaty type are instead left to breed and pass on their subpar genetics. But I'm also getting a bit disillusioned with Cackle Hatchery. I've used them in the past because they're local, but I question some of their stock. I know they contract out with some of the local Amish farmers for hatching eggs, and there's either something wrong at some of the farms or something in the hatchery itself, but the results have too often been less than stellar. For example, this year we had a terrible die-off of the Delawares during brooding, while all the others did fine. A couple years ago it was the Sussex and the Wyandottes. Not breed specific, but certain batches of certain breeds seem to have major problems. I think I'm going to have to go further afield next year and pony up the money for shipping costs.

What is the problem with oats? I've read (and witnessed) that feeding too many gives chickens runny droppings, indicating some sort of gastrointestinal upset, but I've not researched it any further. Would you suggest no oats at all, or a cap to the percentage of oats in the feed? Any idea on sprouted oats?

I, too, hate electronet. It certainly has its upsides, but it has its downsides too. I've had chickens get caught up in it and die, and I've heard from sheep and goat farmers who use the sheep/goat stuff that they've had lambs and kids caught up and killed too. And it's all but impossible to use in tall grass and weeds. My current debate with myself goes something like this: I can let the chickens have the run of the place, and with time presumably breed in a 'resistance' to predation as well as general hardiness, and perhaps even develop a new breed suited to my own area (we need to be continually developing local breeds, in my opinion) that will forage well; but doing so will clearly subject them to heavier predation than otherwise, and while imitating nature is generally a good thing am I being unrealistic by taking a domestic creature and expecting it to survive and even thrive like a wild one while providing to me all the benefits of domesticity? The former side says let 'em loose, the latter says at least put 'em in electronet. Anyway...

Do you air dry/chill the birds in a fridge, or time your processing so it's cold enough to dry/chill them outside? I've experimented with hanging some of ours up in a north-facing shed recently, and it seems to work well, but if I tried selling those birds and the food police found out they'd have a heyday.

Why do you salt the carcasses?

I originally intended to include the Dark Cornish as one of my 8 breeds, but the hatchery said they'd have a hard time getting 25 cockerels from any one batch--a combination, I think, of small flock size and low hatching rate. But I'd still like to give them a shot at some point. Also on my radar are some of the other English breeds (the Dorking in particular) and the French ones (Creve Couer, La Fleche, Faverolle, Houdan)--everything I've read about them extolls their value in terms of meat quality. The Speckled Sussex (another English breed) tastes amazing. I'll be hatching some of those next year, with hopes of getting to a considerably more feed efficient, meaty bird in a few generations. Good luck in your own hatching endeavors.
 
Adam Klaus
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Hi Wes,
No oats for me because their energy to fiber ratio is not high enough. I want my birds to get their fiber from pasture, so any excess fiber they get from their grain works against their pasture consumption. The other issue is that if you are going to feed oats, you need good heavy oats, which are unfortunately uncommon in my experience. The lighter the oat, the higher the fiber ratio, so things just get worse from there. If you could get good heavy oats, they would be good if mixed in equal ratio with wheat and corn. I just keep it simpler and feed wheat and corn, with ample pasture. Sprouting oats would be good in its own right, but wouldnt really alter the fiber ratio.

I have heard bad about Cackle, and also Murray McMurray. Take that with a grain of salt, of course. I like Mt Healthy, and have also had okay results with Ideal Poultry out of Texas.

I agree 110% about the value of creating new farmstead breeds of chickens. Truth is, I am not *really* raising Jersey Giants. I have a homestead bread I have created, that I call Eldorados. The main parent is Jersey Giant, both Black and Blue. I have also crossed in Dark Cornish, and a little Buff Cochin for fun. I am now five or six generations into the breeding process. It's fun. Too early to say for sure, but I like the project and feel good that it will ultimately have excellent results. Until now, I have been hatching as many Eldorados as I can and selecting and eating them for my family. I buy a batch of Black Jersey Giants annually to raise as commercial meat birds. Next year, I hope, will be commercial Eldorados!

I always err on the side of letting nature run its course. It works when it works, but it can certainly be a disaster! It's really a fine line of a judgement call.

I air chill the birds in a chest fridge. I am too concerned that hanging them outside would attract predators. Or just my cat. Too much value there to risk.

Salting the carcasses, with kosher salt, draws out moisture and makes the meat more firm. The flavor is also improved. It also has the important benefit of killing surface bacteria, resulting in a more sanitary bird. Salting is a key part of koshering, hence the term 'kosher salt'. I will never go back to not salting, I love the way it improves the meat.

Good luck with the rarer breeds. I raised Dorkings once, nothing remarkable there IME. The biggest issue is availability. Sand Hill Preservation Center has an awesome selection of breeds, and I think that Glenn does a good job with his breeding. That was where my Blue Jersey Giant stock came from. Ordering from Sand Hill is a major PITA though, so you have to be really flexible if you want to work with them. If you know what you want, and plan to breed from the stock you receive, it is worth it I would say.

cheers to chicken!
adam

 
Johnny Niamert
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Just for comparison purposes, I buy whole organic chickens from the grocery for the time being. Most organic chicken is sold already pieced out, so finding whole organic birds at retail was a bit challenging for me, personally in my area. Making soup with boneless breasts and thighs is a bit challenging. So is finding organic meat cuts with the bones still attached.

The only whole, organic chicken sold that I can find is from Organic Prairie brand. I don't have a label in front of me, but a whole bird is always over $20 and sometimes gets near $25 (sold be weight). I would say they average 3.5 pounds.







I would gladly pay $5 more for one of Adam's birds than, for an all intensive purposes, a factory bird fed organic feed on the conveyor.



 
Wes Hunter
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Adam,
I don't think I've thanked you yet for all the great information, but you deserve a huge thanks. What you're doing is awesome enough. Sharing it is even better.

I have a few questions about your Eldorados. I'll start here, but it seems that it might be worth its own thread. Location-specific breeds seems pretty permaculture-ish to me, especially with all the focus on micro-climates and such, so it ought to make an interesting discussion in its own right. My first basic question is how you went about creating the breed. Did you have an end goal in mind that you worked towards? Or did you take what you had, breed them, and kind of see where they took/are taking you? Somewhere in between? Did you cross in certain breeds for their perceived effect on the offspring, or just try it to see how it worked?

I've got a handful of poultry rearing and breeding books on my Kindle that I have downloaded (free) from Google Books and other sources, though I've yet to read them. Did you 'consult' any resources in deciding how to breed your chickens? Research the breeding history of any other breeds to see if you could reverse engineer them? Those are two things on my creating-a-chicken-breed-to-do list, and I'm curious if anybody else has any insight there.

I've been thinking lately about what an "Ozarks" breed chicken would be like. They should be what one might consider a "homestead" breed meant to thrive on a hardscrabble Ozarks farm with little care (though not feral), and certainly no pampering. Production qualities would be secondary to thriftiness; a bird that matures slowly but forages for the majority of its feed would be preferred. Grow-out time is really not important, as the birds would not be viewed primarily or probably even secondarily from a commercial standpoint. They should be heavy foragers that can utilize our oak-hickory forests, which implies birds of a certain size to be able to consume acorns and such. And as dual-purpose birds, they need to be meaty enough to be worth butchering, but lay well enough to keep a family (or two, or three...) in eggs. Hens must go broody, and be able to hatch and raise chicks, since a sense of thrift won't allow purchasing chicks.

Many of those attributes probably apply--or ought to apply--to any new breed, at least on a homestead scale, though I imagine the path to get there will differ based on locale. I'm curious what features you have bred/are breeding into your Eldorados, and why? I'd be interested to see photos of your chickens along the way, if you have any. Like the progression from A to B to C, etc.
 
Adam Klaus
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To initially develop my Eldorados, I got a batch of 25 Dark Cornish Cockerels from Ideal Poultry Hatchery. I kept the best one as a breeder, he was my origional male.
I got a batch of 20 straight run Blue Jersey Giants from Sand Hill Preservation Center. I kept the five best hens, they were my original females.
Here is a pic of that F1 offspring, with the original rooster:
DSC00321.JPG
[Thumbnail for DSC00321.JPG]
 
Adam Klaus
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My objective in developing the Eldorado was to combine-
the large size, slow growth, good egg laying, and docile temperment of the Blue Jersey Giant with
the darker meat, compact comb, broader breast, and more compact frame of the Dark Cornish.

I dont have pictures step by step of the generations. The process has been slow and gradual. No dramatic results.
Each spring, I select from the birds from the previous year. I choose the best rooster and any hens that meet my conformation requirements. I set them in their own breeding pen, and hatch out their eggs.

I am a huge library geek, so I have all sorts of old poultry texts. Nothing newer than 1940s. In all honesty I havent really gained a whole lot from those books, but I read lots and I'm sure they influenced my thinking some. The biggest source of guidence I received came from some extended conversations I had with Kelly Klober at the Acres USA conference in 2007. He is incredibly knowledgable about poultry breeding, and was very enthusiastic about my Eldorado project. I was already a year or two into it when I met Kelly, he was very helpful.

The big key is culling any off types in the breeding program. The project would be over if there were no individuals that met my objectives. So far so good. I just keep selecting the best individuals each year, and moving the project forward as best as I can. The results are slow. The outcomes appear positive.

Hope that helps! good luck!
 
Wes Hunter
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One last question, I think.

Are you starting to see some homogeneity in your flock? If so, approximately how long into your breeding project did that take? If not, how many more generations would you estimate it'll take to get there?

I've had the pleasure of hearing Kelly speak a couple times at the Small Farm Today conference. He's not captivating by most standards, but I could listen to him talk all day.
 
Isabelle Gendron
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Location: Montmagny, Québec, Canada (zone 4b)
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Hi everyoone...

Nice subject here...

2 things.

1- I agree with JD, you need to take your working time in considerations BUT...if you decide to hatch your chicks, you will have cost associated with this such as electricity. Maybe not a lot, but, there will be some.

2- As for having pasture poultry. Last year I bought 30 Sasso broilers. We let them free range almost all summer. Even with that, they ate a lot of grains. They were waiting for their grains like if their lifes were in danger. And since I taught that the last stage gaining grains were a necessity, here their was only organic final grains for 25$ a bag...that raise my production cost a lost. My final cost was 3,25$/lbs each birds...that is a lot considering that for having a profit I have to sell it much higher...I don't know if I will do some next year. The meat is excellent, but for the family we already have our Chantecler that we can eat and the meat is amazing....we will see. But as for the breed, I would recommend it. I bought 30, grew 30, brought 30 to the butcher and he gave me 29 back plus 1 only the brest and tighs...but it took them 12 weeks to grow and it gave me birds aroud 5 pounds...

Isabelle
 
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