We just sent out our first e-mail, offering to raise chickens with soy and corn and even GMO’s, only because we are not finding many customers who are willing to pay the price point for our chicken. It feels like we’re going against our own standards–buying a conventional type of feed, with soy and corn, and whatever else they fill it with. We understand, though, that there’s IDEAL and then there’s REALITY when it comes to people’s ability to spend money on food. Many people look at our chalkboard at the farmer’s market like “Really?! $5.50 per pound for chicken?” Yes people, that’s the cost of our chicken. For those of you who are curious, I want to break down the cost of raising such a bird.
Please note that I don’t write posts like this because I’m asking for the “well, you’re a stupid farmer” comments. There is truly a hostility out there, aimed at small farmers who are just trying to make a living, raising good food. I’m not sure if the negative comments I keep getting are from people who work in conventional agriculture, where feed is subsidized by the government and their whole chickens only cost $1 per pound at the grocery store? Am I, the wife of a farmer, who produces less than 1,000 birds per year, a threat to these people? Really? Or maybe the negative comments are from people who really believe that a chicken should only cost $1 per pound to raise? I want to let the world know (hopefully through these posts) that $1 per pound chicken is fake. To get a $1 per pound chicken, your tax dollars cover part of the feed, the chicken eats foods (and garbage) that would normally be waste, they raise thousands of birds in a big stinky building that’s riddled with disease, they keep chickens on antibiotics their entire life, creating antibiotic-resistant super bugs in humans, the chicken farmers are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for the structures they have built, and they make hardly anything for their labor, and they regularly employ illegal immigrants to do the work…..Do you want to keep supporting that system?
I know that it’s not simply a matter of choice for many people–they can’t afford good meat. (If you’re buying designer handbags and driving a fancy sports car, you can afford good meat and you, voting with your dollars, can stop the monster “agricultural” system we’ve got going on in this country….and I’m begging you, please do it! Vote with your dollars!). I wonder, though, if the government stopped subsidizing soy and corn and food costs went up–WAY UP–to REAL costs, what people would do? What if you couldn’t get cheap soda and chips and Taco Bell any more? What would you do? Who might start growing a garden? Raising chickens in their backyard? Taking on a hog for 6 months? I wonder….Do you ever consider, like I do, that the cheap, fake, government-subsidized food system is crippling the industrial nature of the people in our country? Who, among you, is industrious? Who, among your friends and family, could and would grow all of their own food if they needed to? And who would sit in their recliner watching satellite TV, complaining that nobody’s giving them the cheap food that they deserve?
Anyways, I’ll get to the point….You all want to know how much it costs us to raise broilers without soy, corn or GMO’s, right? Here’s the scoop….
First of all, birds that are raised without soy or corn take about 3 weeks longer to raise, which means they eat more feed. We raised our birds for 12 weeks, and each bird ate about 17.52 lbs of feed. Our feed costs .55 per pound when we buy it by the ton. We raise our chickens on pasture, where they also get to consume grass and bugs. We’ve had many comments from people who assume that chickens can only be grass fed, and they can’t. Chickens need feed.
Here are our costs, per chicken:
- Chick $1.88
- Feed $9.63
- Processing $3.48
- Mileage to Processing Facility .60
- Mortality coverage (to cover the cost of birds that die & the feed they consume) .40
- Equipment ($600, divided by 5 years, divided by 200 birds per year) .60
- Total, not including any labor or overhead cost= $16.59
If we wanted to raise chickens for ourselves and no customers, it would cost us approximately $16.59 per chicken (which end up weighing 3.5 to 4 lbs each). Our cost is $4.15 to $4.74 per pound, depending on the size of the bird. We had about 6 chickens that ended up weighing 5 lbs, and those chickens would be $3.32 per pound, cost. Unfortunately, when we raise birds without soy or corn, they don’t fatten up as quickly or as predictably.
Then there are the labor costs….
My husband spends about 10 minutes per day moving the portable chicken tractor over a 12 week period. That’s 14 hours total, for 80 birds. That’s approximately 10.5 minutes per bird over it’s 12 week lifetime.
The median household income in Oregon equals about $24 per hour. At that wage, our chickens would need to cost: $20.79 each ($5.19 to $5.94 per pound).
If we wanted to make: we would need to charge:
$30 per hour $21.84 per bird ($5.46 to $6.24 per pound)
$40 per hour $23.59 per bird ($5.89 to $6.74 per pound)
$50 per hour $25.34 per bird ($6.33 to $7.24 per pound)
And then there are the overhead costs…..
There’s the mortgage, because we have to pay for our land. If we didn’t buy our land, we’d have to rent it. There are always land costs, unless someone was fortunate enough to inherit a large farm. A farmer, typically, doesn’t get to start farming without overhead. In fact, the overhead costs are typically quite high.
There are property taxes. (I’ve had people argue that I didn’t calculate the fact that we get a farm deferral into the cost of our products. I hope you’ll see by the costs above and these items we also pay for, that the farm deferral is minor in comparison to everything we pay for. While we are grateful for the farm deferral, it does not make it possible for us to charge $1, $2, $3 or even $4 per pound for our chicken).
There’s electricity. The chickens have to stay warm in the brooder until they get their feathers, and this requires heat lamps.
There’s insurance. You’ve gotta have insurance on a farm.
I have not calculated all of this. We would need to divide these figures between all of the products that we raise and sell.
The only thing we would change next time (And we are changing, with our chickens that are currently out on pasture)? We would give them more feed (about 25 lbs per bird) with the hope of ending up with 5 lb chickens. Our cost of raising these chickens will be approximately $20.71. With a wage of $24 per hour, the chicken would cost $24.91 to raise (plus overhead), making the chicken approximately $4.98 per pound.
We charge $5.50 per pound for our chicken, which most people think is outrageous. As you can see, with our expenses, we can’t charge any less. If we charged less for our chicken, we would be laboring for free or paying people to take our chickens. I’ve mentioned this before, but we are not “hobby farmers”. We do this farming thing to make a living. I write posts like this to:
a. Show the consumer how much it really costs to raise good food, so that maybe they won’t be so hesitant to pay the real cost of real food.
b. Show the world that it this industrial agriculture system we’ve got going on is not healthy for anyone and that purchasing store-bought meats that are raised in conventional, stinky buildings, are driving small farmers out of business.
And for the record, I’m not whining or even ranting when I write posts like this. I’m simply stating the facts–the true cost of raising clean, healthy meat on our small farm in Oregon. Most people (the people buying the $1 per pound chicken at the grocery store) have no clue how much meat really costs to raise. I simply want to share the reality. That’s all.
Is soy-free, corn-free, non GMO chicken important to you? What about pastured chicken?