Chicken, Pasture to Table

What is involved

This year I decided to raise 700 Pasture Raised Cornish Cross chickens. Yikes.   Really, that is not a lot in comparison to other poultry farmers.    I have raised meat chickens on and off for over twenty years, for our family.   This year I raised 300 for my friend to sell in her Roadside Farm Market.   Additionally, I had several people inquire about purchasing pasture raised poultry from me, so........ I decided to raise more.  What was I thinking?!!     

We only raised 300 at a time in various stages of growth.   As chicks they were in one building and fed chick starter until they reached  two weeks old.   Then we moved them to another building to feather out and switched their feed to chick grower.    At four weeks they were moved to the pasture and fed finisher.    At eight-nine weeks they are harvested.  We continued to rotate chickens throughout the summer from area to area. 

What is required?
  • Water- lots and lots of water
  • Feed- lots and lots of feed
  • Heat
  • Fans
  • Equipment- shelters, electric net fencing, feeders, waterers.
  • Money, money, money
  • Time.....
Water, lots of water:    It is absolutely unbelievable how much water poultry require.   As chicks not so much, but as they grow and develop they consume more and more water.   For example,  at four weeks of age and weighing less than a pound each, 100 chicks will drink over 25 gallons of water in one day.  During hot weather they will consume far more.    Once we put our chickens out to pasture they get their water from an automatic system.    I really have absolutely no idea how much water they consume daily from then on.   (I would guess over 50 gallons a day)

Feed, lots of feed:   The amount of food a Cornish Cross chicken will eat is amazing. As with their water consumption, as they grow and develop they require more and more food.   Cornish Cross are eating machines!    I believe they are the piranhas of the chicken world.  At four weeks of age 100 chicks will eat 40 pounds of food a day.  By the time those same chickens are ready for harvest they will eat over 50 pounds a day.  We limit them to 50 pounds of feed a day to encourage them to search for pasture food, instead of sitting around the feeder all day. 

Heat:  As a chick, heat is vital for survival.   Heat lamps, and many of them, are very important to keep chicks from piling on top of each other to keep warm.   As chickens feather out, grow, and develop heat quickly becomes a foe.

Fans:  Even in a pasture with housing to provide shade was not enough to keep chickens cool.   When the chickens are 4 weeks and older they can not tolerate heat.   We have to provide them with fans on each pasture structure to keep them cool. 
Money, Money:  Not only does it require a lot of equipment, and time, it requires a lot of
money. The cost of 100 chicks is 1.20 each with shipping x 100 = $120.00. The cost of feeding 100 chickens for eight weeks cost $908.  The cost to have the chicken processed at a USDA inspected facility is $5.00 per bird X 100 = $500.00.  This does not include electricity required to keep the chicken warm or cool during inclement weather.   Since our water is supplied through a well we do not have  to pay for our water up front.  However, there is cost involved in keeping the well pump maintained.  There is also the cost of gas to haul the chickens 120 miles for harvesting.
Time:  Raising poultry does not seem like it would be a time consuming operation, however, there are always pens to clean, and pasture fences and structures to move. The chickens are moved to new pens, and feed and watered are hauled.  A lot of feed and water.  We have our chickens harvested two hours from the farm in Colorado.   This requires a day away from the farm. 

I know a lot of people are surprised by the cost of pasture raised chicken.   I am sure they wonder why it is more expensive than commercially raised chicken.  For us to raise 100  pasture chicken it cost us a little over $15 dollars per bird.   The weight of the birds raised are between 4-6 pounds.  We charge $4 a pound with 5 pounds being an average weight per chicken.  This leaves us with an average of $5 per chicken to cover food, electricity, water, fuel and our time.  We look at our poultry business as more of a community service.  It is nice to offer a healthy alternative to the commercially raised poultry that is available.  All of our poultry customers have been very excited about the flavor and quality of our chickens.   At the end of the day having satisfied customers is all the payment we need. 

Please visit our ranch website for more information about commercially raised poultry vs. pasture raised poultry.


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