Thursday, November 21, 2013

Chickens: Final Stats

On Sunday, we put our fall batch of chickens in the freezer, and now that we've had a chance to crunch the numbers and see how we came out in terms of yields and costs, we wanted to get the data out there for peer review.  First, a few general comments.  It was definitely worth it, for the meat, the experience, and the fertilizer that will go on the garden next year.  We raised almost 90 lbs of chicken in ten weeks, 60 of which went in the chicken tote Sunday morning.  That means Katie is even stronger than we thought!  The red ranger broilers had a 100% survival rate (at our elevation of 5600 feet), other than an incident with the new neighbor dog last Tuesday.*  We might try a batch of Cornish crosses in the spring, side by side with the red rangers for a direct comparison.  Wood chips worked well as a bedding, which, considering we can get them for free, and shavings are $6.99/bag, is good to know.  The chips are dustier, don't look quite as clean as the shavings, and won't break down in the compost as fast, but in our opinion, still come out ahead (chickens are inherently dusty anyway).  We just have to watch out for chips that might have cedar in them, since cedar can cause respiratory problems for the chickens.  Katie says she doesn't like that they're also harder to spread than the shavings.

We had the eight-week weigh in a couple weeks back, which was a good comparison for how we were doing at the ten-week mark.  Next time, we'll track their weights through the whole cycle.

Comparison of each chicken's weight at eight weeks, ten weeks, and dressed.
The graph shows a lot of interesting (to us, at least) info.  The first is that the chickens gained 15-20% of their final weight in the last two weeks.  The gimpy one, at the far left, gained almost 30%.  That is to say, it did much better once we were able to put it back with the rest of the flock.  If we could have let them go another week or maybe two weeks, they might have done even better.  For meat breeds other than Cornish crosses, a ten week butcher is pretty early.  Still, a number of the roosters were over the 6-lb mark, and the dressed weight came out to 66% of the final live weight, which is a pretty good yield ratio.  All of the birds made it into the traditional chicken weight classes, with the gray one and the gimpy one in the 'squab broiler' class, the rest of the hens as fryers, and the roosters as roasters.  And, we can say from our initial impressions of the roasted meat and rendered stock, the flavor is awesome.

We had about a quarter bag left of our seventh 40-lb bag of feed, which means these 17 chickens consumed about 270 lbs of feed in total.  That works out to a feed conversion ratio of 3.09 for feed-to-final-live-weight and 4.67 for feed-to-dressed-weight.  Not Cornish cross-type numbers, but decent. 

The price per pound worked out to $7.05. (!!)  Kind of spendy compared to commercial-scale organic whole chickens, but again, these aren't Cornish crosses.  Plus, we get complimentary garden fertilizer in the deal.  The pie chart below shows that by far the biggest expense is the (organic) feed, which at $34 per 40 lb bag adds up quickly.  Heck, that's almost as expensive as the organic oats we eat for breakfast, and that's people food!  Next round we'll experiment with buying feed in bulk or mixing, maybe even growing, our own grains.  In any case, if you want to know why organic meat is so expensive, there you have it!

Expenses associated with raising our fall chickens.  Electricity is from the heat lamp we ran while the chicks were very young and on cold nights.
Fresh in the cooler!
Ooh, that looks good.   Katie says, "No drooling on the camera!"

*We discovered the hard way that the fence around our yard was not completely dog-proof, and lost six chickens in the melee, including the little gray one.  Since the chickens were so close to butcher, we decided to see how badly damaged the meat was, and we were pleased to see that it was no more mangled than the meat we bring home on hunting trips.  So, we decided to put the birds in the freezer.  The warnings against eating the dog-killed meat are generally that 1. The dog's mouth might have bacteria or dirt or something that would contaminate the meat and 2. The chickens weren't properly killed and bled out, so the meat won't be as high-quality as it would have been.  However, our take is that we'll be cleaning the carcass well and cooking it to well-done anyway, so bacteria and dirt don't worry us too much.  Also, to return to the hunting analogy, game animals are rarely killed in the way that chickens are butchered (but rather much more like the dog-killed chickens, with puncture wounds and laying in the dirt), and we consider game meat to be of sufficiently high quality to earn freezer space.  Plus, we met the dog and it seems healthy, other than an obsession with killing feathered things.  So, we're comfortable putting those birds in the freezer and not wasting 35% of our chickens.  If we were selling them, it would be a different story.

Have you raised red rangers before?  How did your numbers compare to ours?  How did you cut down on feed costs?  Let us know in the comments section below!


  1. I didn't weigh our rangers as methodically as you did, but we did (I think) end up with quite a gap between male and female dressed weights. We put a lot of 4.5-5lb birds, and a lot of 3-3.5lb birds in the freezer, nothing much in the 4lb range, which is what we normally shoot for.
    Feed is going to be tough to cut costs on if you stick with organic. Organic feed around here (MN) is outrageously expensive if you can even find it, and bulk feed is usually sold in a 1-ton minimum.
    If it helps, I have learned that 1 ton of feed will fit into exactly six 55-gallon drums.

    1. Good to know about the volume of one ton of feed! I don't know if we'll be scaling up quite that much for a while, but at some point, we hope to be buying (or growing) feed by the ton.

      We calculated that if we could get organic feed for what my parents do, it would have dropped the price to $5.05/lb. Still pretty expensive, but closer to acceptable.