One of the best things about keeping chickens for meat is that you can feel confident that the end product was ethically produced. There is also no doubt that homegrown birds taste better. Raising your meat chickens may seem like a no-brainer if you have the space, but is the result worth the effort and financial outlay?
The cost of raising chickens for meat must include all aspects of the process. Producing broilers from chicks to processing takes 6 to 8 weeks. Include the cost of chicks, cost to run the brooder, food, equipment required, and processing. Variables, like the season, also impact the final price.
Raising meat chickens is a straightforward and fast project. However, before you jump in and order a batch of day-old broilers, it makes sense to do a detailed cost analysis to determine if you will save in the long run.
Cost Of Raising Chickens For Meat
Raising chickens for meat should not only be viewed in terms of financial terms. The satisfaction and peace of mind of knowing that you are serving healthy, free-range, farm-raised birds you produced can take your homesteading experience to a whole new level.
Before embarking on this journey to greater self-sustainability, it is essential to plan carefully. The great thing about raising meat birds is that the whole project, from start to finish, takes less than two months. If you time it right from the outset, you can keep your freezer stocked by just producing a couple of batches each year.
This cost exercise is primarily applicable to broilers, not dual-purpose breeds. Broilers are the only birds that can produce a good, competitively priced yield meat. Dual breeds, like Jersey Giants, are great as good all-rounders or an occasional Sunday roast when you need to cull birds, but they are slow-growing and do not have the most efficient food-to-meat ratio.
The remarkable characteristic of broilers is that they go from newly hatched to fully grown at record speed. However, producing your own meat isn’t only about growing the birds out. Considerations must include the initial outlay, as well as various aspects related to the final processing of the chickens.
How Much Does It Cost To Raise Chickens For Meat?
Calculating the exact cost of raising chickens for meat depends on many variables. There are, however, some standard outlays, which include:
- Buying the broiler chicks
- Extra electricity and heating equipment to run the brooder for at least 2 weeks.
- Processing equipment
It is possible to work out the project’s cost by personalizing the table below.
|Item||Cost per item||Tips|
|Purchase broiler chicks. A Cornish cross is a solid choice as it is fast growing and yields 6 lbs in less than 8 weeks.||The price depends on where you get them. Broiler chicks are readily available at various suppliers. Usually available at tractor supply stores. Ordering a large batch of day-old chicks from a supplier is cheaper.||Tip: It pays to buy as many straight-run chicks as you have space for.|
|Maintenance Equipment: Water bowls, Food dishes, Heating equipment, Fencing/ chicken tractor, etc., to keep the birds in.||This is usually a once-off outlay, as you can reuse the equipment again with consecutive batches.||Tip: If you only plan to keep meat birds a couple of times each year, you may not need to invest in expensive feeders and poultry water bowls. It is possible to use recycled items you already have to cut down on costs.|
|Consumables – Broiler feed Broiler high protein starter (first 2weeks) Lower protein grower Broiler finisher||The cost will depend on how many chickens you have. Buying feed in bulk is often cheaper than purchasing small bags for a few chickens.||Tip: Each bird will eat about 10 pounds of feed during the first 6 weeks. After 6 weeks, they will consume 3-4 pounds of feed each per week.|
|Processing Equipment Slaughtering and processing equipment, e.g., kill cones, chicken plucker, etc.||Will you be processing the birds yourself? If not, find out and add the cost per bird to the calculation.||Tip: If you plan to butcher the birds yourself, ensure you have all the necessary equipment ready from the onset. Keeping the birds beyond 8 to 10 weeks pushes production costs up unnecessarily.|
|Distribution||Will you be keeping all the birds for your own family or selling some to cover some of the costs of the next batch?|
What Is The Best Season To Raise Meat Chickens?
Broilers are uncomplicated, calm, fast-growing big eaters and are generally considered easy doers in the chicken world. However, because of their heavy bodies, they are sensitive to heat and can quickly die from heat or inadequate ventilation.
Many homesteaders who raise meat chickens time their batches of broilers to coincide with the most favorable weather conditions in their area.
- Too hot – broilers can die from heat stroke. They are also less likely to eat as much while battling to regulate their temperature, so it will take longer to reach optimal weight.
- Too cold – chickens will eat more than usual and use energy from the food to stay warm. You may even need to provide heating. This will push up production costs.
Raising meat birds during milder seasons ensures that the birds eat and grow optimally. If you are only doing one batch, Fall is the preferred time as the weather is most stable and
How Much Space Do Meat Chickens Need?
Providing your broilers with a good, healthy quality of life is deeply satisfying. Even though they are destined for the freezer, enjoying the final product just feels better if you know the birds were comfortable and content during their short lives.
In addition to providing a clean environment with ad-lib good quality broiler feed, each bird should have enough space to move around freely. The number of broiler chicks you decide to purchase should depend on how much space you have per bird when they are fully grown.
From 4 weeks to processing, it is recommended that each chicken has at least 4 square feet of space if they are kept confined. Free-range chickens can have 5 to 10 square feet of outdoor space, but keep your broilers separate from the rest of your backyard poultry. They are easily stressed, and it will ensure no disease transmission between the groups.
How Long Does It Take To Raise Chickens For Meat?
Cornish cross broilers can be ready to process in 6 to 8 weeks. This can vary according to the breed you choose, but chick suppliers will be able to provide pretty accurate timelines regarding when the birds will reach optimal weight to process.
A pitfall of many novice meat producers is to let the planned processing date go by. Unless your birds are underweight, always stick to the schedule. Keeping meat birds for longer than necessary not only pushes up the overall production cost, but they can also become prone to leg issues.
Is It Cheaper To Raise Your Own Chickens For Meat?
There is no doubt that raising a few batches of broilers for meat can work out less expensive than buying neatly packaged process chickens from the supermarket. Of course, that is if you already have the space and equipment required to rear the birds to maturity.
Although each situation is different in terms of setup cost, feed costs, and processing, the basic equation to keep in mind is as follows:
TOTAL COST ÷ Total pounds of meat produced = Your cost per pound
The price of processed chicken varies per pound. If you choose standard, mass-produced birds, it can be challenging to come in under the supermarket price, especially at first when you may need to buy a lot of extra setup equipment.
However, when comparing the price of chicken, one cannot compare apples with oranges. Producing healthy homegrown, free-range meat chickens gives you complete control over the entire process and provides you peace of mind about what you are eating.
The more batches of meat birds you produce, the less you will need to outlay for equipment. Raising broilers is a short-term project. Once you get the hang of it, learn to avoid unnecessary expenses, and find the optimal number of chickens required to break even, raising your own chickens for meat can be cheaper.
Is It Cost-Effective To Raise Meat Chickens?
Raising chickens for meat can be cost-effective if you are prepared to dig in and do everything yourself. It can be disheartening with the first batch to find you need additional equipment, but fortunately, everything you buy can be reused many times.
To rear meat chickens cost-effectively requires strategic planning long before the project starts. You know the birds must be processed at 8 to 10 weeks, making it an excellent, neat, short-term endeavor.
To be most cost-effective, there are a few things that should get some special attention:
- Buy as many straight-run broiler chicks as you have space for. Unsexed chicks are cheaper, and the price decreases the more you buy.
- Raise meat birds in the optimal season. Too hot or cold will push your production costs up or could even result in chicken mortality.
- Do not try to cut corners with feeding your meat chickens. Less is not more when it comes to raising these fast-growing birds. Feed them enough of the recommended feed for each stage. Mixing and matching various chicken feeds will impact growth. They will take longer to reach optimal processing weight, which will invariably push up production costs.
- Processing the birds is costly unless you do it yourself. Decide if you are prepared to butcher your own birds yourself or factor in that cost ahead of time. Finding yourself stuck with a batch of meat birds after 10 weeks because you don’t want to butcher them or realizing that plucking multiple chickens by hand is a little more than you had expected can make the project cost much more than needed.
If you have the proper setup and do everything yourself, from rearing to butchering and processing, it is cost-effective to raise chickens for meat. Once you get the hang of producing your own meat chickens, you may never need to buy chicken from a supermarket again!
Raising chickens for meat is a short-term project that can be very rewarding. With proper planning and disciplined timelines for rearing and processing each batch, your freezer can always be full of tasty homegrown chickens at a fraction of the cost of store-bought birds.