To understand why our chicken cost more than the chicken you find in your grocery store you have to understand how both our chickens and their chickens are raised. Before I begin I want you to understand I am not here to bash the commercial farming industry. I am simply detailing the equipment and processes they use which allows them to raise their chickens at a lower cost and at an increase production rate.
Most commercial chicken farmers utilize chicken houses. This technique allows the farmers to house approximately 20,000 – 25,000 chickens in a small area. Many of the farmers also have multiple chicken houses. With this many chickens being produced these companies can reduce the profit per chicken due to the increase of production. These chicken houses also have integrated systems such as feeding and watering systems as well as temperature control. This helps reduce the labor required.
Our chickens are raised in a mobile “chicken tractor.” These chicken tractors are designed to be light and simply protect our chickens from predators. They house approximately 50 chickens in each tractor. These tractors are also routinely moved to provide fresh grass as well as evenly distribute the chickens waste over our property. These tractors allow our chickens to demonstrate the natural behaviors as the can forage for bugs and grass. This system allows us to monitor our chickens very closely since there are only 50 in each tractor and operating a limited number of tractors at a time.
The breed of chicken we chose to raise is also different than most commercial chicken farmers. The Cornish Cross is the typical chicken we find in our grocery stores and raised by many farmers. This breed of chicken grows extremely fast and is ready for processing in six to eight weeks. Due to the rapid growth rate of these birds there are some inherent health issues with this breed. Due to these issues we chose the Freedom Ranger as our broiler breed. The Freedom Ranger grows slower than the Cornish Cross. It typically takes 10 to 12 weeks to reach its processing weight. This breed is also more active in its foraging behaviors which makes it a great breed for our system of raising chickens. These extra weeks require more feed as well as the additional labor.
There are also other factors which increase the cost of us producing our pastured chickens. Many chicken companies work through a contract system. The chicken companies contract or own each part of the chicken raising process including the feeding, breeding, raising, and processing allowing them to operate on closed system.
As a small-scale chicken farmer we need to outsource for a number of these steps. Some areas we outsource are for chicks and feed. We do no have the ability to breed our own meat chickens so we must order our chicks. We also love that our chickens are raised with the ability to forage for grasses and bugs but they also do require some additional feed which must be purchased. These additional expenses raise how much it costs our farm to produce a quality broiler for you.
While both our farm and commercial farms produce chicken, in the end they are completely different and we know if you try our chicken you will see and taste the difference. Take a minute and check out the image below developed by the NC Farm School. It is a great illustration of what all goes into pasture raised chicken and the costs associated with it.