Animals,  Farms

The Cost of Raising Broilers without Soy, Corn or GMO’s.

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?


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  • KaptCaveman

    Once you taste a true pasture-raised organic chicken you cannot go back. I live near Chicago and we pay closer to $7/lb at our farmers market. We don’t get it every time but when I can afford it I do.

  • Danielle

    We pay a similar price for pastured chicken at our Roseburg farmer’s market. Just wondering though, what part of Oregon you are in and do you raise chickens year round? It’s bone dry in the Williamette valley this time of year – I assume the bulk of your growing season is when it’s greener? Totally just curious. 🙂

    You and your family are providing such a valuable service to your community! Thank you for being a source of good food for those of us who don’t have the land/talent to raise our own!

  • Jenna Marie

    This is such a difficult topic and sometimes, when having to choose between ideals and reality, there is no perfectly right answer. Real food is expensive – and it should be. With our meat, we have to make sacrifices in other areas to be able to afford it. But it is so worth it! Good luck with your future chickens, no matter how you raise/sell them.

  • Catherine Wood

    I’m sorry it has come to that for you and your farm. I know it’s more expensive to buy from local farms but I also know how much it’s worth it! Keep on keepin’ on…people will realize sooner or later.

  • Rachel Asalittlechild

    Don’t stop doing it without cruelty and the GMO’s please! We have just recently (in the last month) been introduced to what they really mean for health and the economy… don’t give up on the people who are hesitating at the price. We now purchase non GMO food whenever possible but a year ago I would not have understood… I am a city girl who is just beginning to learn and to teach my children what it is to farm the land in a way that preserves everything and everyone for future generations. From myself and my family… Thank you, Thank You, Thank YOU! for all that you are doing! (and please don’t give up… you are on the front lines… I kind of am starting to dream of being on the front lines with you one of these days 🙂

    And thank you so much for the very important post… I needed and wanted to hear all of this!

  • raisingcropsandbabies

    Have you contacted nice restaurants in your area? I know the chickens need to be butchered at certain facilities to sell to them, but they might be okay paying those prices… and you’d have a guarantee buyer. If you haven’t, I’d call around to the hip ones and the fancy ones to see if they are interested in buying locally.

    We raise and sell pastured chickens, but we give them corn. We do our own mix and move them twice a day and all that! I honestly do not think I’d be able to sell them at the price you listed (no offense). Most pastured chicken farm places around here sell them for about $15 a bird (weight around 5 lbs). We went a little less this year and did not include labor into the chicken price, honestly. We found if we raise 30 for ourselves and then sell 30, the profit from the sold pays for the cost of raising our own. We are doing one more batch to make a little bit more of a profit. There is just not that much to be made with meat chickens… They are high maintenance and I don’t get much joy out of them.

    If I were you, I’d think about doing non-gmo corn to cut your cost and thus buyer’s cost and maybe just do the corn/soy free on your own chickens that you will eat. It’s no use raising the that kind if no one can or will buy them… maybe someday, but I think a fair compromise would be the non-gmo feed and call it a day.

    Do you have the land for grassfed cattle? Much better return on your work. Even with pork, I think you get a better return.

    I read once where people 70 or so years ago spent a much bigger ratio of their earnings on food then people do today (government subsidies started around the Dust Bowl time so it’s not been in effect for too long), and so I definitely see your frustration. People then also spent a lot less of a ratio on their housing, but their houses tended to be a lot more conservative as well. I can get a bit annoyed when people balk at prices of real food and think about the above. Just keep putting yourself out there… But remember you need to run a business and so if no one is buying your product, you might need to make adjustments somewhat.

  • CA Girl

    I pay about $25 for a 3-3.5 lb pasture raised chicken at my local farmer’s market in California. I don’t blink an eye or make disparaging comments about the cost. I know that what I’m eating is a chicken that hasn’t had a bunch of hormones and antibiotics pumped in it, and it has been raised ethically and in a healthy way. I raise my own chickens and have fed them soy/corn/GMO free food since I got them. I do so because I want to know that the eggs I eat are the healthiest I can get. Keep up the education, and don’t back down on your values and morals because big farma has mis-educated the public, and the FDA encourages it.

  • barb

    Keep doing what you are doing…raising healthy chickens. It’s one of those things ‘until you walk in a persons shoes, you don’t know what they are up against’. If you want pay the price for it. Better to pay high end for food..then to pay for medical treatments later.

  • Ima

    Pastured chicken around these parts (SE CT ) is far and above what you are charging! The local co op sells birds between 8-10 bucks a lb. We also did our own batch of 50 last year… And the cost was outrageous. However, for us it is more about identifying with our food and knowing where it comes from. Even birds fed a more conventional feed that are allowed a life full of sunlight, clean water, room to grow and yummy bugs are far superior to their factory farmed counter parts. Keep keepin on mama!!

  • URaLzYSoB

    I pay that much for my chickens when I buy them. I buy them in “bulk” and freeze them. I want my chickens, pastured, no soy, no corn, no gmo. I do not want crap in my meat. My philosophy is that “you are what you eat” makes sense does it not? I have seen Organic, no antibiotic, no hormones, gmo, etc free chickens cost more and I live in the Heartland. Now we have our own chickens that we raise and we do the same way because ours are egg layers. We have a few dual birds that are layers and broilers. However, I refuse to buy poison to put in my body. Keep on, you’ll find someone who will buy them.

      • URaLzYSoB

        Unfortunately most people want cheap, because they are on a budget, well we live on a budget too, we fill our freezers when we do our taxes, 1/2 cow grass fed no abt no hormones, whole pig the same and chickens and a few turkeys. Then we subsist on hunting, deer, elk, caribou, rabbit and of course fish. People need to understand that the poison in those gmo’s are terrible.

        • LibertyL

          That’s a really good idea; to use your tax refund to fill your freezers, instead of blowing it like most people do. (I prepare taxes at a large tax office during the season and I can say I’ve seen it all!)
          Nice to read that there are people out there such as yourself that live on a budget and still make sure they eat only healthy food. And yes, the majority of the sheeple want cheap, crappy gmo-laden food. How very sad that they don’t realize the true cost of that so-called cheap food.

          • URaLzYSoB

            I was at Wal-Mart picking up some items for making my homemade laundry detergent after tax return time and I seen a lot of wasteful spending. While it is nice to have a nice television really 1300 dollars for one? I can find one on sale for a less than 300 and because it was the “floor” model you buy it without the box. I am ok with that. Of course I don’t have to have the jumbo tron either lol. Yet I think I still live in the stone age because I still go to the library and so do my kids lol.

          • LibertyL

            Yes, it is amazing what people will waste their money on…1300 for a tv…yikes!
            I guess we live in the stone age here too because we go to the library;it’s great we can rent current movies and documentaries there instead of spending 120 or more a month on cable. And that is awesome you make your own laundry soap! I just started doing that as well as making my own cleaners and I can’t get over how much money it has saved us!
            Have a good day 🙂

      • URaLzYSoB

        We go to Farm and Home and get their Veggie Non-Gmo feed. I had to ask to have them order it. I also go to our Nature’s Pantry which is an all Organic foods store and I get organic sunflower seeds and oatmeal and yogurt. They eat it and I also give my Ladies Kale, broccoli and tomatoes they love it. So it is a mix of our own and your local farm and home store should have a non gmo feed for them. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I guess I don’t get your desire to earn $20-40 an hour. Ok, I do get it…. who doesn’t want to earn lots of money. But you say your in the farm business to provide a quality product, but are you deducting the products you get from your desired hourly wage? Most farmers never got rich farming. In hard times farmers had no cash, but they had food. So while the rest of us are being forced to pay exorbitant prices for grass fed beef, pastured eggs and gmo/soy you have all that on your farm, you are truly blessed. Many people dont make $20-40 an hour. My husband supports our family of 5 on $9.50 an hour. We are one of the families that are trying to eat healthier but can’t afford $5.00 a lb for a soy/gmo free chicken… so we don’t buy chicken. Thats right, we don’t even buy the cheap $1 a lb chicken, we just don’t buy chicken anymore. We also can’t afford the $6 a dozen gmo/soy free eggs that local farmers sell. So we go without eggs. Sometimes I buy costco organic eggs for baking, but since I lost my source of $3 a dozen gmo/soy free eggs a year ago I’ve stopped buying eggs. I pray all the time that God will help us find a source for healthy products we can afford. I would even help work on a farm if the opportunity arose. I am not trying to bash you, but maybe you need to try to rethink the profit you are reaching for. If people can’t afford your prices they won’t buy. If they don’t buy, your out of business. Not everyone is rich enough to afford $5.00 a lb for a good quality chicken even if they want to. Thats why we go without chicken. I wish it wasn’t so hard for the local farmer like yourself to make ends meet. I know its hard work and horribly expensive to run a farm. It might just be one of those things that is impossible unless you don’t have a mortgage. I wish you the best.

    • jesse

      I think you missed the point. She is comparing it to Oregon’s median household income. Also, she doesn’t just “have it all on her farm”…They had to pay for those chickens, pay for the feed, etc.
      It’s NOT exorbitant prices they are charging, it’s REAL COST. WHY is it so hard for people to understand that, even when it’s broken down right in front of them?!

      Your taxes subsidize cheap grocery store prices.

    • Sarah Murphy

      seriously? $20-40 an hour is not exactly “Lots of money”. The pre tax range on that is $40-$80K. Land suitable for farming is not inexpensive, although I will give you that farms pay a reduced property tax here – and several agricultural inspection and certification fees that I, as a usual homeowner, do not pay. A lot of farm equipment runs on diesel fuel, which is higher than gasoline, and maintenance of a farm and equipment takes significantly more cash than maintenance of my 3 bedroom, 1 bath cape on a about 1/3 of an acre. To qualify for the mortgage on my tiny house, in an urban area, in its current condition (which is “needs updating and some repairs”, you’d need to have a provable income exceeding $70K. The mean income in my city is something like $42K. A lot of people here own homes worth what mine is worth or more – that means a lot of people are living on a lot less than $42K, somehow.

      A farmer who says he or she would like to make a living wage, and calls that $20, or even $40 an hour, is being far more reasonable, to my way of thinking, than another overblown CEO looking to make a “living wage”, and naming a figure in the very high six figures, and more likely the mid sevens. (that’s millions, by the way).

      Of all the things I could do to be paid between $20 and $40 an hour, shoveling up poop, disposing of dead animals, birthing, raising and killing livestock is not even on my list of things I’d consider for that money.

      Paying $5 a pound for Perdue or Tyson just irks me, since I know those workers in Mo, AR, OK, etc, are probably being paid somewhere near minimum wage, and their overheads must be lower, given the volume at which they produce.

      If you have a taste of a farm raised backyard type bird, and compare it to the big guys chicken, most people can tell the difference. And, by the way, your big guys do have a disclaimer that their meat *can be infused with up to 18% hydrating solution. That’s water – maybe water with salt and sugar, if you are lucky. And $1.99/lb chicken, with 18% added water, costs $2.35/lb, and cooks down to .82 lb, if you lose nothing but the water, raising the price even further. (about $2.80/lb for $1.99 chicken.)

      Maybe the overall cost of living is less where you live. Oregon is about equal to Connecticut, as far as I can tell. $20 is poverty level. $4o an hour is a bit better, if you want to live in a relatively undesirable urban area and drive used cars. No vacations unless you learn to love camping.

    • Cassidy

      Wow, this comment really irritates me. I run a small farm, too. And I have a mortgage to pay. It’s offensive to think farmer’s don’t deserve a decent wage. We get NO days off. We get NO downtime. We work longer hours than anyone else I know.

      I work a job off the farm. I have an engineering degree and an MBA. I make decent money and pay my mortgage that way. But my farm suffers. I’m not home to close up the greenhouse when a 100mph wind gust kicks up.I’m not home to ensure that the birds get to dry ground when a sudden deluge hits midday and soaks their wings, so they can’t fly. I make sacrifices.

      It also keeps my prices low, because I don’t add my labor costs to my prices. And I well should. Yeah, everyone deserves to earn a living wage. And if those of us producing food don’t, then we stop producing food.

      • Sam Trevino

        I wouldn’t worry about it Cassidy. There is a huge flaw in reasoning and logic with the original poster’s comment. At a wage of $9.50 per hour for a family of 5 this person is not the target market or even a customer of this product; she admits such when she states she doesn’t buy chicken at all. I’m confused as to why she even posted unless she’s irrationally angry about her financial plight, and thinks a passive aggressive swipe at a chicken farmer somehow makes sense.

        As for the farmer I do think there is a market for Non-GMO / Organic chicken at $25 to $30 ($5 to $6 / lb) or even higher. It just takes some effort sourcing customers and having all of your flock bought before you raise them. I’m sure the farmer (I think her name is Brenda) has made such consideration and drawn conclusions from her own experiences in her local market.

        Here’s an idea for getting such a product to those who typically could not afford it: Subsidize the product via a donation campaign. Run a donation campaign that supports both the farmer and a customer base that typically could not enjoy this product due to cost. People could donate to buy these premium chickens at full price from the farmer. The chickens would then be donated to either a family in financial need, or a local food pantry. This helps get a healthier product that’s cost prohibitive to lower income people, thus potentially creating a customer where none existed before; win-win solution.

  • Tanya Augsburger

    We live on a small rural homestead in Ohio and decided to try raising our own meat chickens a couple years ago. Before doing this, I balked at the price of a chicken raised locally in pasture with supplemental feed (usually around $13-18/bird).

    We raised ours from purchased chicks that we kept inside until they were big enough to go out to the chicken tractor where they would be able to get fresh grass/weeds/bugs.

    After we tallied up all of our costs and had our chickens in the freezer? I balk no more. The prices they were charging were more than fair! And our birds were not organically raised(like you, organic feed is just not available here and is cost-prohibitive to have it shipped in). It might be hard to put down that amount of money for a bird, but I justify it from time to time because I can make at least 3 nutritious meals from that bird to get the most out of it as possible–there is more nutrition and less junk in a more naturally raised bird. (Bone broth, anyone?)

  • UgaVic

    We, overall as a society, have lost touch with our farmers and the true cost of food production. Keep up the good work and education. Disregard the nasty comments, they just show how little they know of the system and true hard work and costs.

  • Justine Lewis

    Have you considered restricting their feed, soaking their feed (or fermenting) and raising them free range? This has reduced my cost of raising broilers astronomically. If I fed dry feed (organic or conventional) that ends up being roughly 20 lbs of feed per bird up to butcher. My first batch of Cornish X are at 6 weeks old and each has consumed 4.2 lbs of feed. .7 lbs of feed a week each bird. No I do not increase the amount they eat. They have unlimited forage. They are a good size bird. Boys weighing 6 lbs already at least.

    I am so sorry to hear people are saying these things about your costs. This comment was not made to downplay your costs. It is a lot of work and expense doing what we do. I wouldn’t blink to spend that much on a bird when we run out of our own and need meat. I buy local, pasture raised, Non-GMO chicken. Unfortunately we have organic feed (3 times the price of conventional) or conventional. There is no non-GMO feed that we can afford at the moment unfortunately. This is the majority of the reason we restrict feed. Their diet is 75% foraged and only 25% supplemented.

    Despite what you may believe. Cornish X CAN be free ranged successfully. They run around just like any chicken, except they go further.. Because they are motivated for food…

  • Ashley

    Do you make your own feed? I’d love to know what you feed your chickens. We will be raising chickens soon for our own family and I’m having a terrible time trying to figure out what to feed them other than letting them out to pasture and giving them organic feed from the feed store. I would really like to do no soy/corn!

  • Maggie

    I don’t think the value you’ve assigned to your labor is particularly reasonable. You used the median household income for your state, but how did you go about calculating the hourly wage from that? Did you just assume one worker and a 40 hour workweek, and divide? That wouldn’t account for two-income households, salaried workers who routinely work more than 40 hours in a week, overtime pay for hourly workers, etc. Is there any breakdown in the raw data you gathered of the total hours worked per household to bring in that income? And you do realize that the median is affected by a number of high wage earners who have specialized skills, extensive education and training, or receive a higher pay due to work of a hazardous nature? Is moving a chicken tractor from one location to another once a day really worth $24/hour? The median wage of a firefighter- who places his health and life at risk- is only about $21/hr. You could calculate a much more accurate and fair value for your labor by finding the median hourly wage for workers performing the same KIND of work, or by figuring out how what wage you would have to pay to get an employee who would perform the same tasks.

  • Angela

    Thank you for doing the math for me! I never consider the cost of labor since it is just for our family but if I ever start selling I will be sure to add it in!

  • Jacquie

    It is INCREDIBLY SAD how far removed “people” are from our roots in living off the land for survival. Modern conveniences have destroyed our society. Most importantly they have deteriorated our health. I am sorry for the mis-informed commenters on your blog. You are simply providing a service for those that “get it” and those who are not interested should move on.

  • Yankee Hill

    You are amazing! Your analysis is DEAD ON. As a small farmer’s wife (in Maine), we raised our own chickens this year. Although I didn’t keep up all the details as you have, the cost for us to raise our chickens was just about the same as yours. Of course, I could have cut that cost by buying cheaper chicks (with a higher mortality rate and who knows what hiding in their genetic makeup). I do think that is the only way we could have cut our cost. And honestly, we used broiler pellets for them. We raised the Freedom Rangers as inexpensively as we could, allowing them to freerange. Only a few were near the 5 pound mark. We processed our own chickens. Next year, we’ll have chicken tractors for them.

    I do have one ‘negative’ comment about your writings…quoting you “creating antibiotic-resistant super bugs in humans” I am an RN, and thus not an averagely educated individual. I administer antibiotics on a daily basis to my patients. Antibiotic resistance develops when and antibiotic is not taken in full (leaving a bacteria which is still alive, but now has the chance to mutate since it was exposed to the antibiotic). Most antibiotics clear the system within 48 hours. I feel your statement doesn’t fully explain antibiotic resistance. The threat of antibiotic resistance is far higher when an antibiotic is not used properly (be it over used, a full dose not taken, or the wrong antibiotic used on the wrong bacteria). The threat of antibiotic resistance by consuming an animal which was treated with an antibiotic at one time is minimal, since that antibiotic is shed from the system or destroyed by the cooking process.

  • :-)

    As I was reading your article, I didn’t really believe that people were as critical as you were describing. And then I read some of the comments below….! (So many people just miss the point…! Sure, you can raise cheaper chickens if you compromised, but way-to-go on at least giving this a try!!) To expect a $20-$40/hr income is INCREDIBLY sacrificial on your part. NPR did a report this past year on farmers in the midwest… and let’s just say they aren’t starving. Even if their crop does.

    I’ll admit that I often wonder when organic products are priced high because of elitism and fancy marketing and easy mark-ups. I think the key is *education*, like this type of article. If I received a pamphlet with my $8/dozen eggs that described to me how the costs break down and the care the farmer takes to be humane and healthy, I wouldn’t even blink. But as it is, I don’t know who I can and can’t trust a lot of times. At the farmers markets here in Los Angeles, a lot of farms don’t put up banners with their farm name and many don’t have websites or pamphlets describing their practices. Sure, I can just “grill” the farmer at the stand on their practices, but often times its just a farmhand working the table, and it can feel uncomfortable to start up that kind of conversation. (I’ve found that in other cities I’ve lived, the vendors at the markets are better “vetted” by the community and easier to trust.)

  • AnimalScientist

    You have a LOT of inaccuracies about US Poultry Production. Todays birds are not raised the way you describe, but I see how propagating that image, would benefit you. Todays large poultry systems have done more to save family farms, and preserve food safety than any smaller farmer ever could. They raise safe, wholesome food, some without antibiotics at all. By the way, most chicken meat in the US is free of anything, since FDA and USDA guidelines prohibit use of antibiotics close to harvest, so whether the bird is fed antibiotics or not does not really matter… and there is NO scientific link between antibiotic resistance and antibiotics use, AND the antibiotics used in food animal production are not the ones used in human medicine. Beyond that, your entire premise that chickens are raised in stinky buildings and would rather be outside is laughable. Science has shown that cortisol etc is lower, therefore birds are less stressed using environmentally controlled buildings. Stop pitting one form of agriculture against another. They all have a place. Get educated on science based animal science, or stop lying about animal production to raise your profit, or cover your inadequacy.

  • Kelly H

    Thank you SO much for this post; I’ve been wondering how the pastured chicken we buy from our local farmer here in North Carolina can possibly cost so much, and you’ve answered the question eloquently and factually. I always thought that you pretty much just bought the chicks (or had your chickens hatch them) and let them run around the pasture or in moveable coops and then took them to processing. I didn’t realize you had to feed them, too. Thanks again, it’s important to understand these issues.

  • Ben

    I appreciate the details you give in explaining what goes into to producing healthy meat in a healthy environment. You’re right-we are so used to cheap goods/fake pricing systems that we have totally lost touch with reality, and know nothing about the hidden costs of this disgusting agri-megabusiness way of doing things. I would rather eat less food that is higher quality. That is why we have such a weight problem in this country-we’ve been conditioned from birth to consume, consume, consume-we’re like robots. I’ve been looking for where I can buy meat from humanely treated animals. I have a very limited, fixed income, but I can buy less good meat that is better for me than making myself sick buying more cheap meat and eating it. I’m not an PETA member, a vegetarian or even a pet owner, but God wants us to respect all life and avoid causing suffering to any living thing. Raising animals in a way that is humane puts everything else in perspective; cheap meat causes suffering for all concerned.

  • tokies

    i know you won’t like what im gonna put here. but.. 1.i think chickens and pigs should be part of the waste stream that was there role on a farm. converted field waste, and human didnt want to eat waste back into something we can eat. 2. corn isnt bad. soy probably bad because it takes a bunch of processing but corn isnt bad it can be part of a diet and be fine. if your under 1000 birds why dont you grow your own it’s not hard and you can pasture crop it. if you have enough room on your land 3. i wouldnt raise chicken’s unless i raised a milking animal. it’s not profitable or a wise way to farm unless you give them waste streams. chickens and pigs make no sense in the first place. look into mobile milking calf, lamb, goat. it’s where the kid or lamb or calf get’s raised with their moms and you only milk once a day it requires less input and you just sell the milk as PET milk. if you find a market , home cheesemakers like it as well 4. i would never BUY birds. it’s a bad idea it seems like a great idea but it’s not in the long run. a bird that eats and is breed on your system you can always cross with another more productive bird but one you only bring in that comes from a system where it gets massive amounts of grain doesnt have the genetics to thrive never will cos it wasnt breed to. 4. 2% ground pasture clippings for chicks. black soldier flies, so forth. this whole mc farmer concept is hard to pull off in practices for farm raised .. – gmo what it takes is a lot of thinking outside and looking inside boxes. .. personally if i where you id look what i was throwing away. get some guinea pigs , goats, ducks, (possibly sheep) cows.. and think about a “system” of farming. instead of a “part” IE. i know if i grow pasture corn I can hand harvest it if i wanted to or i can use a harvester. (cost about 5000) for it i get enough food plus some extra for the year i save my own seed. i grow out of season corn either too late in the season or too early (using seed starts) to avoid GMO. i dont feed soy cos it doesnt pasture crop well. i harvest the corn using a harvester .. after i do that i let the sheep graze the area with the ducks and turkey because they are all (grass eaters) . turkey and ducks are both grain and grass eaters. i can only pasture crop a field once every 5 years . in the pasture there is also fallen peas. because it grows up them and waste from the harvester it’s about a grazing day and a half for the herd. we make sure the amount of “feed” that’s corn they get is low as can be. it’s also indian corn oddly enough we picked up from mexico. it takes years of breeding to pull off a profitable pasture base chick, duck, geese or turkey.. because our breeds are so messed up. right now we hover between 3-4. some years we have gone lower. in “sales” for CSA members only. around $2. i think the biggest thing id say is the PET market is really good right now.. the ethnic markets are VERY good right now. for example skinning a duck for the Pet market you can charge about the same amount they dont care if the duck had skin or not. a Balut duck egg, or chicken egg.. goose has been an unexpect treat. mainly because of how much gooses eat grass. they and turkey’s have become a import part of our pasture crop system. Alpacas, llama………… meat, in the ethnic and pet food market has been out of this world unexpected for us. so has the cuy . Cuy is more profitable for us then chickens. it’s crazy. pigeons. make sure you find a buying for your waste stream. (most customers dont want hearts and livers) but if you have a low corn, soy input bird.. PET owners love you. so livers and hearts in the rihgt market can be sold in “blocks” you cut it up to them frozen then cut up. so they can give them to there dogs and defrost them. you may never get a dime of government money growing food this way but the most important thing about raising low input .. again is breeding. and understand breeding i cant say enough it’s the difference between a crappy farm and a good one. it’s the reason why it takes years to get a low cost bird. you gotta put in the time for it. it doesnt come out of a catalogue what makes any business profitable is the “system” of it. the biggest mind set in america we have to break is this “heartland” farming practices. we need to look into new markets, new idea’s and new ways of farming. while bringing in some old practices. for example if i live in maine id grow ducks, swans, and feed them off wild rice paddies. one of the few places you can pull that off. plus you can get seed for it pretty easy. you dont have to feed them corn or soy. chickens eat it too id also look into black soldier fly larvae.

  • tokies

    also one of the biggest things we have done. is mobile slaughter we went into a group of 120 other area small farmers and bought one together co-owned. hire a guy to run it for us. and he drive around and does the slaughter co-owned. bought free and clear for the most part except what we have to pay the guy who runs it

  • Ada Reg Tucker

    I feed mine out on sprouts mixed with fishmeal and free ranging of course way cheaper and healthier its almost a vegan chicken! lol

    • typewriterjournalist

      Fishmeal is not vegan. And dont stop using it. chickens are not vegetarians. They need animal protiens. Fishmeal is a very good one

  • hunnybee

    Here Here!!!! Thank you for this wonderful post! Its about time I heard a reasonable explanation for farming in reality. I am looking to raise my own birds in pretty much the same manner. My reasoning is for the health of my own family and to spread the Non Gmo word and to encourage people to support small farmers, and in all reality I saw birds going for 25$ butchered so I think your prices are pretty reasonable myself and where about the same as I figured mine would go for. Thank you so much for this post.

  • Peter

    I just wanted to say, that your justification behind such high prices is flawed. A producer makes their money in volume in sale. If you raise 80 birds at the fair market price you are only going to make $630.00 per flock……Here is the math involved. 80 birds x 4.5 lbs of meat x 1.75 per pound of meat = $630.00 Now subtract your taxes -.15% = 94.50. So $630.00-$94.50 = 535.50. Not sure how you calculate your feed, if you can manage to purchase your supplies at whole sale market you will lower your operating costs. Example: Feed, 1 bushel (55 lbs) of corn = $3.87 last time I checked. Im not sure but I do not think 80 chickens can consume that much corn in 6 weeks. Now to offset the cost of the feed you need to increase your flock. maybe 1000 birds will go through that. Not sure, Im just guestimating. But now you just paid $21.00 for food for 1000 birds. Those 1000 birds should bring you…..$7875.00 in six weeks before taxes….(1000x 4.5 (pound per bird) x 1.75 (price per pound) = $7875.00 now multiply that by 8 because thats how many times 6 weeks comes around in one year and you made yourself. $63000.00 before taxes..Not too shabby if you ask me…….Now where are you going to sell that many birds? Go to your local grocery store and ask to speak to the store buyer and get yourself a forward contract for them to buy your chicken…………………..You have the drive but no direction for what you are wanting too do. Dont expect to be the producer and the wholesaler and the retailer, because you dont have the volume in sales needed to create the desired income you are striving for. Dont expect people to pay you to run your business. Thats the message I get when I see how you come up with the price for your chicken. So what if they are “back yard raised” its all the same meat someone else buys in the grocery store. You are not helping yourself by justifying such high prices with your labor and where the bird was raised. If you stop worrying about the hours you work and how you are not compensated for it as you want to be, you will make more money. You are running the business, if it makes money, you make money and your are not going to make money by asking consumers to pay you for your labor. Producers get paid for their product not their labor. I hope that this helps you improve your business.

    • Brenda

      @Peter, thank you for your comment. Broilers cannot be raised on corn alone, they need protein. We were buying $1,000-$2,000 worth of feed at a time and were not able to get a discount at that rate. Our chickens DID eat that much feed (they are broilers, they eat A LOT). We purchased organic, soy-free, corn-free feed. Our chicken was not the same as grocery-store chicken–it didn’t contain excess estrogen in the meat (as soy-fed meat does), so it didn’t feed cancer. We had cancer patients come buy our chicken purposely so that their cancer would not grow. Our chickens didn’t have heart disease right before butchering because we weren’t fattening them too quickly (and unhealthily with a food that chickens would never eat in the wild) with corn. We could not sell to grocery stores because of state regulations that make it nearly impossible for a small farm to “make it.” One of my points in this post was that farmers OUGHT to be paid a fair wage per hour, just like the majority of laborers.
      We are no longer running our chicken business, unfortunately. We raised good meat. 😉 I am proud to say that we “paved the way” for soy-free, corn-free meat in our area, as many feed stores are now offering a soy-free, corn-free option. I believe people will be healthier because of this…

      • Nicole

        Brenda, you are an unbelievably gracious host to thank Peter for his rude and inexperienced comment. His lack of understanding is so great that, in my opinion, it warrants his “guestimating” entirely unhelpful.

        • typewriterjournalist

          Peter is living in a dellusional world. Chickens are not widgets, you cant simply up and down the production of them. Corn is not good for chickens, even mega farms avoid it. Brenda is doing a great job. I raise chickens for meat and charge $5-$6 per pound. Its the cost of producing quality chickens. The quality limits the scale, otherwise you are just producing the junk that the grocery stores sell in bulk. The proof is in the taste

  • Erica

    Thank You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am an small egg farmer, and I come up with the exact same figures. It costs me about 20 dollars in food to raise a chicken to 6 months to start laying. Plus I have to buy the chicks. I had 3000 dollars in my 150 chickens and been raising them for 6 months with no income. Then, they started to lay and recouped my money in 3 months time, and had to start the cycle again, with another 150 birds. I have now made 7 thousand in the last 8 months since they have started to lay but all has been spent on the latest batch of chickens. Finally, I hope after a year and 7 grand invested, I can make a thousand a month for at least a year. Which will yield me maybe 6 grand a year if I pay myself for last year. Like you said, this does not include land, taxes, electric, equipment, my huge wooden building for the chickens, fencing, predator loss etc…. I mean, I know people want good food, and they are willing to buy my eggs for 5 dollars a dozen, but….. the reality is, its expensive!

  • Erica

    Oh, and one more thing, It cost me a grand just to build a small packing kitchen in my basement with running water to get licensed. I mean, really. It is tough for a small farmer. I am thinking about getting out of the business just because I can never go anywhere! I am tied to my chickens like a milking cow!

  • Nicole

    So glad I found this post! As a farmer’s wife in New York, I agree that your analysis is pretty much spot on. I’m sorry you weren’t able to continue producing meat as a business. In our (limited) experience (this is our first year), we have found that there are people who “get it” and the rest who don’t. It is great and necessary to educate those who don’t know the basics of production behind the food they consume, but unless you can find enough customers who have already shifted their paradigm, you will spend more time and energy evangelizing than actually producing food. Thanks again for your transparency!

  • Jerry berry

    This is the tru cost of food. Well said, you are correct. The problem is that we have been spoiled into buying crap from the store wrapped in pretty paper that’s worth less, and we are oblivious to this.

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