Monday, 9 January 2017

Why raise meat birds?

I've seen quite a lot of discussion on social media recently about whether raising one's own meat birds is worth it, so I thought I'd share my somewhat limited experience.

From the point of view of knowing that what I'm eating is good quality meat that comes from birds raised in a free range situation (except during lockdown of course), that have been able to express their natural behaviour and been fed only organic food, then yes, it's absolutely worth it.

It is worth it financially?

If I had a fast growing breed of bird that raced to it's maximum weight, then I guess the following calculations would be very different, but I don't like the idea of birds growing so fast that their bones can't keep up with the weight of the muscle on them. I prefer to have slower growing birds that have time to gently develop their muscle, so I dispatch chickens from around sixteen to eighteen weeks onwards and I'm still trying to work out the optimum age for dispatch for each breed. But for the purpose of these calculations I'm going to assume dispatch at twenty weeks old.

A bag of organic feed costs us £15 and lasts about a week. We're feeding around thirty birds, so that means it costs us 50p a week per bird. I also give them organic mixed corn which I estimate costs 17p per week per bird. As I grow vegetables to supplement their diet, there are no other feeding costs apart from the apple cider vinegar that I add to the water on a regular basis, so I'm going to call that 3p per week. Total input cost is 70p per week x 20 weeks = £14.00. The bird that was dispatched this week weighed 1.965Kg (approximately 4lbs 8ozs), plus the giblets which I use to make stock and then feed the heart and liver to the cats (who are very appreciative of our minimal waste policy). 

To allow a reasonably fair comparison of prices, my chicken cost £7.00/Kg.

Today I checked online for organic chicken prices.
Tesco £6.50/Kg
Riverford 2Kg = £7.73/Kg
Combe Farm Organic = £8.79/Kg
Planet Organic = £10.24/Kg
Marks and Spencer = £6.30/Kg
Eversfield = £8.65/Kg

There may also be a delivery charge for the organic chicken purchased online.

So at a quick glance it seems that raising my own chickens is probably costing me no more than it would to purchase one online and if I add the delivery charge in too, then it is financially worth raising our own meat birds.

We have commercial breed Aylesbury ducks, bred to grow fairly quickly to a decent size in just a couple of months or so. Ducks can be dispatched at eight weeks, but for our first season we waited until they were fifteen and twenty weeks old. In the future I will dispatch at twelve and a half weeks as this is plenty large enough a bird for our needs.

Feeding costs of our ducks is similar to that of the chickens, but they reach a good size in slightly less time, so each duck will cost around £8.75 to raise.

The value of a home-raised organic duck is even better, especially as we now don't need to purchase eggs to hatch as we have three layers to fill our incubator with eggs. Our fifteen week old ducks weighed in at a little over 2Kg each, so I assume at twelve and a half weeks they will weigh around 1.8Kg. This would give a cost of £4.87/Kg.

These are the prices that I found online today.
Graig Farm = £13.60/kg
Rother Valley Organics = £6.70/Kg
Beech Ridge Farm= £6.60/Kg

So from a purely financial viewpoint, it is definitely worth raising ducks for meat.

Obviously I haven't included the cost of their housing, bedding or runs, but we would have those costs whether we raised meat birds or pets.

But, finances are not really the reason that we raise our own meat birds, it's about the taste, the knowledge of where are food has come from, what it's been fed (and not fed), food miles and food security.

We enjoy their company and we would keep ducks and chickens even if we decided not to have them as meat birds. We find a huge amount of pleasure in hatching our own eggs and watching the young birds grow into healthy adults.

When not in lockdown, the birds help to tackle the pest population in the garden, till and prepare the soil, fertilise the ground and do a superb job at turning the compost heaps (although they are kept out of the ones with kitchen scraps in them). They are an integral part of our gardening system.

On top of their gardening skills, the birds provide us with eggs. Not only do we have a good supply of fresh eggs for the kitchen and to give to our family and friends, but also we plan to soon start selling some of them as hatching eggs. The small income from the sales will help to pay for the birds' feed, making them even better value.

All these calculations have left me thirsty and in need of revitalising, which means it must be time for a cuppa!

Please note that my photos were taken prior to the Avian Flu Prevention Zone order and our birds are now kept inside as required by law. 
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  1. We've raised chickens, geese and pigs and I agree 100% that home-raised meat tastes better than anything you can buy. We hang (or have hung) all our meat (including the poultry) for some time, which must be part of the difference. I was amazed by your Graig Farm price—OH & I visited there on our honeymoon. They were one of *very* few organic outlets in those days, so at the time we fully expected to pay a premium. I would have thought their prices would have been affected by market forces by now. What a shock!

    1. I was surprised at the variation in prices. The Graig Farm duck looked delicious -
      I clean the birds and rest them in the fridge for 24 - 48 hours before cooking. I haven't got the hang of hanging yet, but as I'm not keen on a gamey taste in any meat, I don't know whether we need to hang. Please let me know what you do & what difference it makes.
      Kindest, Liz


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