So I’ve had some people ask about the cost of raising and butchering chickens for meat. It’s a complicated answer, but I’ll try to break it down best I can. If you have never raised chickens or butchered before there can be a lot of costs that are involved to get started.
Every person is going to have a unique situation and a different set of expenses in getting set up. I’m just going to give a run-down of the supplies it took us to get started and try to give you the prices we paid. (I’m attaching Amazon links for the closest thing I found to what we purchase so the prices in the links are not what I have listed below…we bought our supplies at varying farm stores.) First is a list of our initial cost of raising the chickens (minus the feed):
- Brooder box (a large wooden shipping crate Scott picked up from work): Free
- 2 feeders: $6 (Jar one was $2, trough one was $4)
- 2 waterers: $15/ea
- Heat lamp: Free (a friend gave us one they no longer needed)
- Bulb: $1 (We used a standard 100w light-bulb)
- Extension cord: Already owned (cost would be entirely dependent on your electrical set up for the location of your brooder
- Bedding: Free (we used hay that was left here when we moved in)
- Chicks: $1.47/ea. (we bought 30 for a total of $44.10)
The chicks lived in the brooder box for 3 weeks before we moved them. They briefly lived in the main coop because they needed more space until the chicken tractor could be completed. There were problems with a rat and we had to strengthen coop security. They were in the chicken tractor for a few weeks, and if we had kept them separate, we could have tracked feed more closely, but we moved them back to the main coop where they shared feed with our other flock. What follows is my best estimate of expenses.
- Chicken tractor: Free (I built it myself, and we had all of the materials on hand from different areas of the property, and all of it was “inherited” in one way or another.)
- Mesh fencing: $60 (This was reinforcement for the coop when we only had the chicks in the coop after loosing our laying flock to raccoons and then some of the meat birds to a rat.)
- Mid-sized waterer: $10
- Large waterer: $20
- Feed:$96 (this is approximate, I will break it down below so you can get a better idea of why this is our number)
Then there’s the butchering. Again, your cost would be entirely dependent on you and how you choose to go about this. If you know somebody who butchers their own chickens, you may be able to borrow their supplies and keep your cost to almost nothing. We opted to purchase a plucker, but it’s certainly not something that you need to have in order to butcher.
- Extra large pot for scalding the chickens: Free (we know a guy who knew a guy who had a big pot to get rid of…)
- Burner for said XL pot: $85 (It was a 3-burner stove, with the burners forming a triangle for a large cooking surface)
- Thermometer: Free
- Pruning Sheers: We already owned one…it’s a large tree sheers
- Liquid soap: Free (we had a brand-new bottle of Dr. Bronner’s that came with the house that we are using just for cleaning animal related items.)
- Heavy Duty rubber gloves: $8
- Poker: Free (it was a giant metal rod that we happened to have)
- Restraining cones: $10 /ea.
- 5 gal. pails: Free (we have a large collection of them that came from varying sources)
- Large plastic bin: Free (we got it from a friend)
- Splitter for the hose: $4
- Spray nozzle for the hose: $10 (we wouldn’t have had to buy one, but we have kids…)
- Chicken plucker: $250…BUT we split the cost with a friend, the cost was just under $500, and then there was tax.
- Large cutting board: $25
- Boning knife: $8
- Tables for butchering: Free (we have a lot of tables around here!)
- Vacuum sealer:$100 (I bought this knowing that it would be used for more than just bagging chickens, so the cost of that is not solely spent because of chickens.)
- Vacuum sealer bags (rolls): $12 (two pack large rolls for the Walmart brand, I actually used 3 rolls, but one came free with the vacuum sealer)
- Sharpie: Free? We own a bunch for lots of purposes…
- Food Scale: Already owned one. (We didn’t actually buy this for butchering, it was my Christmas gift last year. I think it was $35 at the time, but the price has gone up.)
I also used another knife I already owned, along with a cutting board, vinyl table cloth, and cooler for transporting the butchered chickens from outdoors into thee refrigerator. We have 2 refrigerators and 2 standing freezers. One freezer was full to the brim, one fridge was half-full, and the other fridge and freezer were empty. We had no concept of how much space these chickens would fill up. 15 chickens ( we ate one right away) and 15 bags of necks and feet used 2 shelves of refrigerator space. It’s worth noting that if you butcher a bunch of chickens, you need to be able to store them safely (in a freezer), and that does cost some money as well.
If you have never raised chickens before, or never butchered before and want to get into it, there are definitely investment costs to be made. If we looked at how much money we spent total this year (about $790) and divided that cost up per chicken(16), we spent a whopping $50/chicken which is crazy. I have to stress: you don’t need all of these supplies to butcher a chicken! You really only need a knife and a large pot of water to butcher a chicken. We purchased a lot of items because they are things that we knew we would be using frequently enough as homesteaders and because we plan to butcher larger quantities of chicken in the future. These purchases were an investment for us, and nearly all of them were one-time investments.
But I’m guessing most people would like to know the real cost per chicken, if we didn’t need to invest in all of the supplies, and you just want to know how much it cost per bird. The 4 factors that should be considered are: the bill from the chicks (how much it costs to purchase them initially), the amount of feed they ate (we weren’t able to track, but after doing some research the estimate is that they eat 4 lbs. of feed for every lb. of bird after field dressing…we spent roughly $4.70/bird on feed), the electricity it cost for running the heat lamp for 3 weeks + electricity used on butchering day (less than $10…we used a standard 60 watt light bulb, not an LED), and the cost of 3 rolls for the vacuum sealer ($18). That changes the price of the birds to a much more realistic $9.6/ 5 lb. chicken, or $1.92/lb of meat. This is factoring in the expense of purchasing and feeding the 14 birds that died prior to butchering. If you don’t factor those birds in, it brings us closer to $6/chicken.
If you are wondering why I calculated the chickens that we lost prior to butchering into our cost per bird, here’s the deal… You can calculate the costs it took to raise each bird that died prematurely and factor that as a loss, or you factor it in to the end cost of the birds that were butchered…but either way, you spent that money to end up with the chickens that end up in your freezer.
We did not seek to buy organic feed this time. The price will very likely be different for you depending on how much your chicks cost, what kind of feed you use, how much feed your birds actually go through, as well as variations in electrical prices, how many birds you lose, and other factors…
To break it down a little better for you, just so you can get a feel of what areas we spent money, here it is:
Housing and feeding set up (not the feed itself)= $127
Butchering supplies= $510
Birds (+feed)= $147.30
This is how I did the math for calculating how much feed we went through, based on what we have read is the average feed consumption of this kind of chicken:
16 birds at ave. 5 lb. ea. x 4 lb. feed for every 1 lb. of bird= 320 lbs. feed.
2 birds at ave. 3 lb. ea x 4 lb. feed for every 1 lb. of bird= 24 lbs. feed
12 birds at .75 lb. ea. x 4 lb. feed for every 1 lb. of bird= 36 lb.
Total= 380 lb. of feed @ $12/50 lb. bag. (7.6 bags) $91.20 in feed costs (8 bags is $96 feed)
Again, our butchering costs were higher because we opted to buy a plucker and we bought a vacuum sealer. We didn’t buy all of our butchering supplies at once, but spread it out over a couple of months. We saved up for the plucker, going in on the cost with a good friend who has had experience with these and knew it would be worth purchasing. We had from June until October to make our purchases and save up money, and we have chicken feed as part of our monthly budget already.
I don’t regret making any of these purchases or our decisions to raise meat birds. This year was definitely a year of investments for us. Since our decision to homestead, we have weighed all purchases carefully…Will it be something that can be used again? Will it help feed the family? Will it save us money in the long run? Next summer we *hope* to be able to take most of the money we spent on equipment this year and put it towards saving up for things like more insulation for the house and a wood stove.
Once more, I want to stress that it does NOT have to cost you this much to raise and butcher chickens your first year. There are multiple things we purchased that could have been saved for another year or could have been borrowed or bought used. There are plenty of other ideas out there for doing this in a more cost-efficient manner for your first year. If you are looking for ideas or alternatives, feel free to ask and I’d be happy to give you my best solutions.
I am sure there are ways we can reduce the cost of raising the chickens for meat, but that might be a ways down the road for us. As we continue to do research and make changes, we will be sure to keep you updated. We are considering raising two batches of chickens next year: one in spring, ready in summer, and another in summer, ready in fall.
What are your thoughts, questions, and/or comments? If you’ve raised meat chickens before, do you keep track of your feed costs, ect.? How has your experience compared to ours?