What’s In Your Chicken…?

While reading a blog post by Lisa Held, which can be found here, I came across some really interesting information. In the post, she quotes a book, Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird by Emelyn Rude.  According to the information found in Tastes Like Chicken, Held writes, “Americans today eat 160 million servings of cheap, convenient chicken every day, and as of 2015, the global industry sold more than 59.2 million tons of chicken meat “conservatively worth hundreds of billions of dollars.” By 2023, in fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts chicken will overtake pork as the world’s most consumed meat.”

I know that, in our house, we eat a LOT of chicken. It can be very lean protein, as long as you trim the fat and remove the skin. The problem with eating so much chicken, of course, is that you have to actually buy the chicken. That can get spendy, especially when you are feeding two growing kids. Scarier even than the price of chicken is what you read on most labels. Many of the products you now find in the stores have been “enhanced” with water, salt, and/or other additives to supposedly help them stay juicier and more flavorful. You have no idea what the solutions are that are being injected into the chickens, as the meat processors are not required to tell you. If you couple the high cost of the meat with the fact that the companies are “plumping” the chicken, you have to wonder just what exactly you are paying for. If you buy a package of boneless chicken breasts at the supermarket for $5.00/lb. and if they’re “enhanced with 15% chicken broth” (as many are) then you’re getting about $4.25 worth of chicken, and $0.75 of water and fillers. In fact, according to the Truthful Labeling Coalition, “the US government estimates that consumers spend $2 billion per year buying salt water at chicken prices.”

The information above, coupled with our desire to be more sustainable and self-sufficient, are some of the reasons we have started raising Cornish Cross meat chickens. Even more important that the cost savings is the fact that we know exactly what we feed them. We know they have not been given antibiotics or medications. We let them free range, to a degree, and forage in addition to the feed we give them. We can be assured that we are providing the healthiest option to our family.

So let’s break it down, start to finish:

We purchased our chicks at Wilco during their annual meat chicken event. If you buy a bag of Purina Poultry feed you get five free chicks, and each chick after that is only $1.09 per chick. We bought two bags of feed for ten free chicks and an additional forty chicks. The Purina feed is $17.99 per 50lb. bag. After those bags we bought Albers at $15.99 per 50lb. bag.

Feed – Purina Broiler Starter x 2 (50lb) $36.00
Cornish Cross chicks x 10 $0.00
Cornish Cross chicks x 40 $43.60
Feed – Albers Grower/Finisher x 12 (50lb) $191.88
Processing x 43 $0.00
Total Cost $271.48
Cost per Bird $6.31

The following table provides an estimate of peak rates of feed consumption and weight gain. The data was obtained from White Cornish Crosses under conventional management (without additional forage).

Broiler Feed Consumption

We looked at raising organic birds, but the cost was prohibitive for us. If you took the same information from above and substituted organic feed for the non-organic we fed you would have the following:

Feed – Purina Organic Broiler Starter x 2 (40lb) $97.84
Cornish Cross chicks x 10 $0.00
Cornish Cross chicks x 40 $43.60
Feed – CHS Organic Broiler Starter/Finisher x 16 (40lb) $782.72
Processing x 43 $0.00
Total Cost $924.16
Cost per Bird $21.49

 

We are only processing 43 (so far) of the original 50 birds. There is to be some loss expected. We wanted 40 finished birds, and were not sure what kind of loss to expect, so we planned for 20%. We are at week five of nine right now, so that number could diminish some more before we are done. Our winter here has been very rough and it hasn’t really wanted to let go. It has been stormy and windy and rainy so moderating the temperature has been difficult at best in the carport canopy we use for our brooder. We lost three the first night; could have been shock form the move. We lost another two a week later. They are not the smartest birds on the planet, for sure. When they sleep they pile on top of each other and the two we lost were on the bottom of the pile. We lost another two the same way last week in week four. When all is said and done, if we don’t lose anymore and we process a total of 43, it will have cost us a total of $6.31 per bird. That’s not too shabby. If we lose a few more and process 40, it will have cost us $7.01 a bird. Still okay in my book.

Although I would love to feed my family organic birds, that’s just not going to be a possibility for some time. I am confident that our home raised flock of birds will still be more healthy and tasty than any I could buy in the store at a much more reasonable price, too. I hope this information helps you in some way. If you were on the fence about raising your own meat chickens, check back in about five weeks to see how the remainder of the adventure went. We will have finished raising and processing them by then.

Here’s to yummy, home-grown chicken!

Robin crayon

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