The obvious benefit of raising your own meat chickens is that you know exactly what’s going into your birds. You get to choose how they’re fed, raised, and even processed. And while having healthy chickens is an amazing benefit, of course, we also want to know whether or not it was cost effective! In this post, we’ll analyze the cost of three different batches of our meat birds – a batch of Freedom Rangers and two batches of Cornish Cross chickens – to find out whether the cost of raising meat chickens is really worth it.
Is It Worth it to Raise Chickens for Meat?
Before we dive into all of the ins and outs of the cost of raising meat chickens, let’s jump to the final cost per bird. In the three batches we analyzed, the average cost per chicken came to $11.47. However, our most cost-effective batch to date was just $9.25 per bird! We’ll jump more into how we broke down this cost in a minute.
While the first batch had smaller birds (around 5-7 pounds each), one of these batches gave us some 10-pound birds!
There are a bunch of factors that go into finding out the total cost of raising your own chickens for meat. For example, whether or not you factor in one-time costs, like a chicken coop/chicken tractor, feeders, and waterers, etc., makes a big difference. Feed costs, which can vary week by week at a local feed store, are obviously uncontrollable on our end. Whether or not you choose organic feed is another big factor. And whether you process your own birds or take them to a USDA processor can also have a significant impact on the final cost.
While the cost of living continues to go up, if you’re smart about it, raising your own chickens can be a cost-effective way to provide meat for your family. Of course, it provides lots of other benefits, too!
Benefits of Raising Your Own Meat Chickens
What are the benefits of raising your own meat chickens? Here are some of the reasons why we love raising and processing our own chicken for the freezer.
1. You’ll know exactly what’s in your meat
The best way to know exactly what’s in the meat that you’re eating is to raise it yourself! We love knowing that our chickens are basically “free range” – they’ve have had the opportunity to grow on grass, eating bugs and insects. When you grow your own food, you know exactly what they’ve been fed and that they haven’t been pumped with hormones or antibiotics.
2. Quick turnaround
Raising chickens is a great way to get a bunch of meat in the freezer quickly. Unlike larger livestock, they don’t take a long time to feed out.
Meat chickens only take about 6-12 weeks to grow before they’re ready for processing. (With some breeds, like Cornish Cross, taking closer to 6 weeks, and others, like Freedom Rangers, taking more time.) You can start with day-old chicks, and in just 2-3 months, have a whole batch of chickens in the freezer and ready for dinner.
3. Low startup cost
Again, unlike cows, sheep, or pigs, meat chickens are easy to raise because they don’t require a lot of infrastructure, especially if you’re just raising a small flock of chickens. When it comes to the initial cost, all you need is some sort of coop or shelter, a way to feed and water your birds, and probably a heat lamp. (You may also need some basic processing equipment if you plan to process your birds yourself.) We’ll expound more on what these costs might look like later in this post.
Of course, the first time will have a high cost compared to subsequent batches of birds the next year and years after. But even so, the initial investment is minimal in comparison to other animals. And in the long run, those initial startup costs definitely pay off, even for small scale chicken farmers!
4. Low commitment
Not only is the initial cost of raising chickens fairly low, but the commitment is pretty low, too, especially compared with other animals (even laying hens). Because meat chickens only need 2-3 months to grow, you only have to commit to a few short weeks of feeding and caring for them.
If you don’t like it, sell your chicken tractor, recoup your costs, and enjoy your freezer full of meat!
5. Builds skills and knowledge
Raising animals has so many benefits beyond even providing meat for your family. Especially if you have kids, raising chickens is an excellent way to instill skills and values, like responsibility, patience, problem solving, and consistency. It’s also a great way to teach kids where their food comes from.
People always ask us if our kids are sad about the chickens. They are not! Our kids know from day one that these chickens are going in the freezer. They help us care for them and watch us process them without batting an eye. And they have no problem eating chicken for dinner! I grew up doing the same things, and I think it’s really just a matter of being honest with them about the process and our intentions for the animals so there are no surprises. They, like us, are thankful that God has given us animals to feed and nourish us!
6. Food security
Lastly, it’s a great feeling to know that you have a whole bunch of chicken stored up in your freezer and that you don’t have to depend on the grocery store for meat. Plus, backyard chickens raised in a more holistic environment just taste so much better than store-bought chicken!
Costs of Raising Meat Chickens
We already went over the overall cost of a home-raised chicken above – ours were $11.47 per bird on average from our last three batches.
But what costs go into raising these birds?
Here are the main costs of raising chickens that you’ll need to consider:
- Shelter and supplies
- Processing expenses
Shelter and supplies
If it’s your first year raising chickens, you’ll probably need to invest in some shelter and supplies.
We’ve chosen to raise our chickens in a portable, Suscovich-style chicken tractor. We move them every 1-3 days (when they’re smaller, they can stay in one spot for a few days, but as they grow, they need to be moved more often). Our chicken tractor fits about 25 birds. (You’ll need about 2 square feet per bird for raising meat chickens.)
The benefits of a portable tractor is that the chickens get new grass to forage on every day or so, we never have to clean the coop, and the manure is AMAZING for fertilizing the grass! We found a great deal on Facebook Marketplace, but you can also build your own chicken tractor or buy one new.
Until they’re about 3 weeks old, the baby chicks will need to be kept in some sort of brooder with a heat lamp (depending on your climate). This is because they don’t have their feathers yet (and are so small!) and are unable to regulate their own body temperature effectively. We use a large stock tank, but you could also use a large plastic tote, clean cardboard box, small swimming pool, etc.
Layer your box with pine shavings and keep it in a safe place away from predators. (We keep ours inside our chicken tractor). You can read more about how to set up your breeder in this article.
Besides your chicken tractor or coop, other start-up costs include:
- Heat lamp (for keeping them warm the first couple of weeks) – ~$15
- Feeder – ~$15
- Waterer – ~$25
- Shavings – ~$7
- Brooder box (stock tank, plastic tote, swimming pool, cardboard box, etc.)
(The sizes of feeder and waterer you’ll need will depend on how many chickens you have at a time and how often you want to feed and water them. We ended up building our own DIY chicken watering system and gravity feeder to help simplify chicken chores.)
You can order your chicks online or buy them at your local feed store. We’ve purchased birds from Freedom Ranger Hatchery as well as from Tractor Supply. If Tractor Supply doesn’t have what you want, you can also order them online through TSC and pick them up at the post office.
The cost of the chick does make a significant difference in the overall cost of your finished birds. Our last few batches have cost between $1.80-$3.00 per chick.
A few tips for ordering your birds:
- If you’re planning to order online, do it early in the year, because they do sell out quickly.
- For our Freedom Rangers, we found it helpful to get males only. For straight-run Freedom Rangers, we found that the females grew significantly slower and therefore needed a couple more weeks to grow when the males were ready for processing. For Cornish Cross, straight run seemed to be fine, since they all ended up around the same weight.
- There is usually a price break for larger orders, so consider ordering with a friend if you can! As the number of birds increases, the cost decreases.
The cost of feed is one of the biggest expenses (if not the biggest expense) when it comes to raising meat chickens. Our most recent batch of 20 birds went through 350 lbs of feed in 8 weeks, for an average of 14 pounds of feed total per bird over its lifetime. Or, to think about it another way, we bought a 50 lb bag of feed almost every week (7 bags in 8 weeks).
We feed our chickens a 20% protein broiler feed. For the first 3 weeks, they can have as much feed as they like. Around 3 weeks, Cornish Cross birds need to transition to a 12-hour on, 12-hour off feed schedule. These birds can easily overeat, and if they grow too fast, it can lead to a number of health problems. Heart and leg problems are among the most common.
The cost of feed can vary even week by week, but in 2023, we paid approximately $15 per 50# bag of feed. Our total feed cost for 20 birds was $105.
(You can also feed your chickens kitchen scraps, but don’t overdo it or they won’t be hungry for the high-protein feed that they really need to grow.)
The last cost area you’ll need to consider is processing expenses. Before you even order your chicks, you’ll need decide whether you want to process them yourself or send them to a processor.
The benefit of sending them to a USDA processor is that you can then sell the processed birds if you’d like (if you’re using them for your own consumption, this doesn’t matter, of course!). However, processing can add a lot to the overall cost. Our local processor charges $6.75 per bird, with additional charges if you want the bird cut or if you want to keep any pieces like the liver, feet, etc. (which are so good for you!). Still, this is an easy option if you prefer to just stick your birds in a cage and bring them home shrink wrapped.
If you do decide to go to a processor, call them as soon as you order your birds (or even beforehand) to find out about their schedules. Many processors are full months or even a year in advance.
The other option is to process your birds yourself at home. This is our preferred method! Check out this basic guide to processing chickens at home to learn more about what chicken butchering day looks like! It takes some practice to get used to the “gutting” process, but you’ll get faster each time. We honestly enjoy getting together with friends and family to process birds together for the day!
Although. you can do almost the entire process with tools you probably already have (and we’ve done this many times!), we now rent a few pieces of equipment from a local farm. This includes a chicken plucker, metal kill cones, and a scalding pot.
Which Breed Should You Choose?
The breed of meat chicks you choose will have a significant impact on how fast your birds grow, how many weeks you’ll need to raise them, their health, and even the taste of the meat.
There are three main groupings of chickens – layers, broilers (or meat chickens), and dual-purpose birds, with many different breeds falling into each category. As you can imagine, layers are best for egg production (and are usually leaner and lighter), broiler chickens are best for meat production (and grow quickly), and dual-purpose breeds can be used for both.
If you’re hoping to harvest a lot of meat, chickens that are bred specifically for meat production are going to be your best bet. Freedom Rangers and Cornish Cross are the most popular options. We’ve raised both, but prefer Cornish Cross chicks. Here are some pros and cons of each option.
Pros and cons of Cornish Cross
Cornish Cross meat chickens grow incredibly quickly. They weigh an average of 6-8 pounds by 6-8 weeks of age (although we had some whose butcher weight was 10 pounds!). So not only do you get more meat, but you also save on feed and don’t have to take care of them for as many weeks.
The downside of Cornish Cross is that they’re prone to health issues, especially heart attack and leg problems. This is because they grow so quickly that their bodies simply can’t keep up in some cases. For this reason, they require a little more care. We put ours on a 12-hour on, 12-hour off schedule with their feed and make sure they don’t grow past 8-9 weeks. But, we’ve still had a couple die for no apparent reason.
Pros and cons of Freedom Rangers
Freedom Ranger meat chickens take closer to 11 weeks to grow out – they don’t bulk up as quickly as Cornish Cross. Their average weight is 5-6 pounds. These birds are quite active and aren’t prone to health issues like Cornish Cross are. They also have more dark meat, so many people say they prefer the taste of the meat (personally, we haven’t noticed a difference).
The main downside is that they take longer to raise and produce less meat.
Our Cost Breakdown
Now for the fun part! Here’s the breakdown of our own costs for our most recent batch of 20 Cornish Cross broiler chickens.
For this cost analysis, we only calculated the ongoing costs – or the costs for this specific batch of birds – rather than our one-time costs. These include the cost of chicks, chicken feed, and the processing equipment that we rent (again, not necessary, but we feel that the time it saves us is worth it).
We’ve used our chicken tractor, feeder, waterer, heat lamp, and watering trough enough times now that we no longer factor it into the cost of each bath.
As you can see, the total cost per bird came out to $9.25. This was our least expensive batch of birds to date! We raised them for 8 weeks, and the processed birds weight about 7-8 lbs each.
For $9.25 per bird, we’re able to enjoy our own, pasture-raised chickens, and know exactly what went into them. No hormones or antibiotics!
Tips for Cutting Your Costs
While we love the quality meat we’re getting from our chickens, of course, we want to be as cost-effective as possible, too. Here are some ways that we’ve been able to cut our costs.
- Order larger batches of chicks. See if you can order your chicks with a friend in order to get better pricing. (More chicks = lower cost per bird.)
- Look for supplies at garage sales and auctions. We’ve found lots of feeders, waterers, and heat lamp used at these places or on Facebook Marketplace. Here are some tips for finding great deals on Facebook Marketplace.
- Do your research to find the best deal on a chicken tractor or coop. Sometimes building your own coop or tractor is less expensive. But in other cases, you might be able to find a better deal on one that’s already built.
- Prevent feed waste. We created a DIY hanging chicken feeder using a 5-gallon bucket and a kit from Amazon. This prevented the chickens from scratching at the feed and wasting it all over the ground.
You Can Raise Your Own Meat!
Whether you live on a family farm or just have a small bit of land near the city, broilers are quick and fairly easy to raise and don’t take up a lot of space. Keeping small flocks of meat birds at a time is an excellent way to put some of your own meat in the freezer and be a little more self-sufficient. Enjoy!