When entering into homesteading most people are intrigued by the idea of growing your own food. Raising and butchering animals can seem intimidating at first so most new homesteaders usually look to start small, i.e raising meat chickens. Raising meat chickens is a great way to add protein to your homestead diet without getting over your head in costs that may be associated with larger animals like cows and pigs.
Here's a list of the essentials you will need to raise your first batch of chickens, remember most of these things can be used for multiple years so did get sticker shock from the initial investment
So, what does this really mean regarding value-added to your homestead?
Let me tell you what's working for us. We raise two types of chickens, Rangers and Cornish X's. Rangers are a selectively bred meat bird that is closer to the older style chickens your grandparents were accustomed to eating. They take 9-12 weeks to mature and have a nice ratio of light to dark meat. They also grow proportionally meaning that if you wanted to raise them up to breed more rangers for your homestead you could. We currently have two ranger hens as part of our egg-laying flock. Cornish X's, on the other hand, are quite different from the Rangers. The Cornish grow very quickly and are primarily a white meat bird. They take 6-8 weeks to mature and need to be butchered around that time as their body will quickly deteriorate if given the option to just keep growing. These birds more closely resemble the type of birds that are mass-produced for grocery stores.
Now that we've gone over the types of chickens we raise, let's get into the numbers.
Rangers Cost for 25 Chickens: $263.03
Chicks: $35.00 (we get a super discounted rate by partnering with another farm and ordering in large batches)
Pine Shavings (when in brooder): $10
Deaths: 1 chicken
Shrink Bags + Labels: $16.80
We sold our Rangers for $2.75lb and the average weight per bird was 6.66lbs. We raised these birds a bit longer than usual taking them to 13 weeks but we think the extra meat (about 1lb higher per bird) was worth it.
The total value of our Rangers was $439.73 but when we subtracted out our costs we profited $176.70.
Cornish X Cost for 50 Chickens was $235.43
Pine Shaving/Straw: $34
Shrink Bags+ Labels: $34.30
We also sold our CornishX's for 2.75lb but the average weight per bird was quite low at 3.14lbs as we decided to butcher than right at 6 weeks.
The total value of our CornishX's was $397.43 but when we subtracted out our costs we profited $162.01.
Okay, there's a lot to go over here.
First of all, we aren't selling all of these birds because we obviously want some for ourselves so that "profit" may or may not exist depending on how many we keep. Also, the "value" figure is a little low because we priced our birds $0.25 below the market value for our area to attract some new customers. We also utilized a poultry tractor we had built in the spring but did not figure in its costs into these numbers as we plan to use it for many years. So all and all we did make some money but it took 13 weeks of hard work, and two brutal days of chicken butchering (in the rain might I add) to profit less than $200. Also, I should bring up that we butchered these birds ourselves and there is always the option to take your birds to a processing facility and paying them to do it.
So why do we do it?
Well, to put it simply, we like knowing where our food comes from. We only have 2 acres of land so when it came to producing our own meat we are limited to just poultry for now. Chickens also allow you to invest a short period of time in order to fill your freezer for the rest of the year. This example was just one of our batches as we usually raise a total of about 100 chickens per summer. For a couple, like us, we could probably get away with raising 40-50 birds if we weren't selling any but the point of selling some chickens was to help cover costs, which it did. Apart from hunting, there aren't many options to fill your freezers with "free" meat that only cost you.