As you know, I go to what I call “school” at night. That is where I spend time reading and listening to the educational podcasts or videos. One of my favorites is Joel Salatin a Protestant Christian who is a “back to the basics” market rancher. He raises five different meat products on his Polyface Farm. We are going to experiment with his pastured poultry method here in the upper Inland North West.
Right now we are building out a chicken tractor, I will have more photos in the future, but here are a few. Now that the Salatin chicken tractor is almost done, I can order our first flock of birds. First point. We are not interested in “making a living” on this pastured poultry thing, at least not at this time. We will be putting the first group of chickens into our freezer. Right now we are beta testing and prototyping our way forward. However even though we are prototyping, I want to think about what the costs and potential income from this, if we were to primarily sell these chickens.
A chicken tractor is a upside down rectangle box, made of wood and chicken wire mesh. I found a wonderful PDF and Visio drawing of the tractor Joel Salatin uses at the Well Feed Homestead blog. It is used to keep the chicken safe when on pasture, but give them access to fresh grass, sunshine and bugs. The chicken tractor is moved to fresh grass daily. My chicken tractor is smaller than Joel Salatin’s. According to numerous YouTube videos and speeches, Joel Salatin runs a 10’ x 12’ tractor full of 75 Jumbo Cornish Cross chickens.
I accept that this may be the most efficient way of moving many birds. The big difference for me is that I have a lot less space than Joel. I am operating on 5 acres. Also, my “helper” on the farm is my ten-year-old son. He cannot move a 10’ x 12’ by himself. We believe he can move an 8’ x 6’ chicken tractor. My son will be moving the chicken tractor when I am not here. Thus 8’ x 6’ is about the largest we are going to deal with for now.
Thus for an 8’ x 6’ tractor, this provides (8 * 6 = 48) 48 square feet of living space for the chickens. To maintain what Joel Salatin uses per chicken of 75 birds in a 10’ x 12’ or 1.6 feet per bird, we can put 30 birds into this size tractor. I will start with 3 extra birds as I expect 10% mortality rates in this breed. For our first test unit, we will be using the man-made Cornish Cross. The Cornish Cross is a hybrid and commercially created chicken, but it is what the vast majority of people use.They have primarily Cornish and Plymouth Rock genetics. It is controlled by a private company that has breed chickens for so long they have chickens that are not available to the general public. To create the Cornish Cross they apparently take these private breeds and breed them, child to grandparent or something. The point is that they have been created to grow rapidly and create massive chicken breast the public wants. One core reason this breed is so popular is it is “double breasted” with very heavy and large breast meat that families like. The other is it reaches slaughter weight in only eight weeks, and thus cuts down on feed cost. Feed cost is one of, if not the largest cost of raising chickens.
The average broiler chicken eats an estimated ¼ pound of feed per chicken per day or 1.5 pounds of feed per chicken per week. Thus a Cornish Cross will eat approximately 12 pounds of feed in 8 weeks of its life (1.5 x 8). I need to buy all of the feed for this flock, now so I can give you a good recent price we pay. However, if we estimate.30 cents per pound of locally grown non-medicated, genetically modified organism-free (GMO-Free) chicken feed that would suggest $3.60 per chicken in feed over eight weeks of the life span of the Jumbo Cornish Cross. Again, more on these costs when I order chicken feed for the next several months.
Right now I can say that ordering 33 chicks from McMurry Hatchery (I expect 10% mortality in these birds) for our new chicken tractor cost an estimated $4 a chick. That cost includes:
1. $2.49 per Jumbo Cornish Cross chick
2. Coccidiosis vaccination 0.20
3. Marek’s disease vaccinations 0.20
4. 0.96 per bird shipping costs
McMurry Hatchery is a pretty good hatchery and has provided additional information on where it gets its vaccination from (which I have lost, but when I find it I will share it). Before we perform our real live prototyping test for the first 30 chickens on the El Hacienda Norte we can estimate:
$3.60 per bird in feed cost
$4 per bird shipped
$7.60 per bird.
Each bird will dress out around 4 pounds. You can find chicken from $1.97 per pound in L.A. California up to $4.99 a pound in Chicago. According to the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) the average cost for pastured raised, no hormone or antibiotics chicken was $4 a pound ($3.99) in 2014 which seems like a lot for chicken to some people when Wal-Mart sells it for $2.00 a pound. Thus each chicken will gross $16 per bird for dressed weight. $16 gross sale to $7.60 for cost suggest an estimated difference without labor, water or land of $2.10. Thus for these 30 birds we may be able to look forward to $63.00 per 6’ x 8’ chicken tractor for two months of moving the tractor around, watering and feeding chickens. As I said, how to loose money with chickens.