I am often asked if I actually come out ahead by raising our own chickens for meat. This was the third year we've done these Cornish Cross meat birds and it was certainly the best year I've had to date as I have figured out a few things along the way and streamlined my management practices significantly.
There are still a few things I'd like to improve. Buying my feed in bulk from the local grain mill instead of Tractor Supply is one of them. I kept meticulous records with this batch and now I know exactly how much feed it takes to raise them to harvesting weight.
We processed the second half of our Cornish Cross meat birds on the Saturday before last and I spent part of last week cutting up chicken and packing it for the freezer. My freezer is full! I don't know if I can get anything else in there for awhile.
I didn't take live weights on the birds as I raised them, although those numbers would have been useful. I'll have to buy a proper scale if I plan to do that in the future.
I did carefully record the dressed weight. After tinkering around in MS Excel, the numbers are in -- I do save a lot of money by raising my own chicken AND I get a high quality, pasture-raised meat, free of medications, processed cleanly and humanely.
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You hear a lot about high bird losses with Cornish Cross; that they are prone to leg problems, heart problems and necrosis in the breast meat from the heavy weight of the birds. I have experienced very little health problems with mine, other than random deaths when they are under two weeks old. I have had a "gimpy" or two in each flock, but those seem to have been from injuries rather than overfeeding and all but two have recovered and gone on to make good weights.
I believe a 12 hours on/12 hours off feeding schedule is the best thing you can do to prevent health problems. They also require a thick, soft layer of bedding as chicks and a very high protein ration to help them build strong legs.
I start mine out on 24% turkey chick feed and finish them off their last two weeks on regular 20% chick feed. I had to buy a few bags of 16% layer crumbles this time around when TSC was out of the chick starter, but it worked out well.
My shipment of 40 chicks came on February 28th this year and this worked out much better than raising them to harvest weight in the hot days of May. The heat is very hard on them. They much prefer the cooler spring weather (although the incessant rain was not a plus.) Less heat stress on the bird equals better feed conversion. This also helped to get them done and out of the way before things get too busy in the garden!
One thing I've noted about Cornish Cross is that they are not likely to eat treats or forage unless they are really hungry. This is another benefit of feeding them 12 hours on/12 hours off. They'll usually pick around at the clover, grass, bugs, etc. as they wait for their feeders to be returned to them.
I turned my birds out into their tractor at about 4 weeks of age. The design of my PVC chicken tractor is something else I hope to improve next year. The current tractor is too cumbersome for me to move by myself. I also learned the hard way not to secure the tarp too tightly across the top.
I meant to get a picture of my husband plucking chickens. He has really got it down to a science now. I timed him and he can pluck a chicken in 3.5 minutes. That has to be some kind of record! :D We had considered building a whiz-bang chicken plucker, but now I don't think that will be necessary. It would probably take us longer to get one built than it would to just pluck the chickens in the first place. Ha.
My husband does the "deed", scalds, plucks and removes the feet for me. I do the evisceration and clean them up and pack them into the chill tank. Between the both of us, assembly line style, we can process one bird every 13 minutes. Well, that is if we are focused and getting down to business. I've found that talking slows us down considerably.
This has been the first year that my daughter has really been aware of what was going on. She took it very well and even ate chicken livers that same night! She was interested in these Cornish Cross when they were chicks, but they became increasingly less appealing to her as they got bigger.
So...my bottom line after plugging in all the numbers -- I put up 171 pounds of chicken and I got my meat at $1.77 a pound. I forgot to check at the grocery store last night to see what whole cut-up chicken was going for there.
Some folks we know from church sell pastured Cornish Cross chickens at the farmer's market. The numbers I compared mine with was their pricing from last year. I will be interested to see what their price is this year, as the cost of feed continues to climb. I remember buying my chicken feed for about $8 for a 50# bag three years ago.
I still have chicken stock to can and I didn't price the organ meats. We like the livers and the dog gets the rest for treats. I didn't factor the price of bedding into the cost of my meat because I get added value out of all the manure they produce for my garden.
All in all, it was a good year. I have a year's supply of the tastiest chicken in my freezer and now I can move on to other things.
This post is part of the Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead.
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