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Saturday, November 12, 2011

The *high* cost of raising pastured poultry - are customers willing to pay more?

There is a cost to everything.  *sigh*.  I want to raise pastured meat chickens and turkeys next year as well as getting our laying hens onto pasture (grass & clover).  It's good for them, they love it, and it makes the meat and eggs super healthy and delicious.

My oldest son and I have been building a prototype movable coop.  It's heavy, and too small.  I'll be working out the design this winter.  However, cost is an issue.....

the lumber, the pvc pipes, the metal fencing for the top, the tarp to provide shade, and electrified poultry netting (it's a movable electric fencing).  Now we're talking hundreds of dollars.

I don't know if people will be willing to pay more for the pastured poultry for me to recoup my costs (and I'm not even talking about my labor, just the actual costs).  Seems most people compare my prices to what's available in the grocery store.  Of course I can't compete with the grocery store  - those products are produced by giant corporation who are raising the animals in inhumane conditions (stuffed into cages inside buildings), feeding them cheap food (you don't want to know), and the big producers can spread their costs over thousands of animals.

Me?  I have to pay the same % of taxes, pay more for my feed as it's smaller amounts, buy the higher quality feed, build special houses so the animals can be outside, pay the same amount as the big guys for my licenses (did you know I have to pay for annual USDA licenses?  Yep, one for egg sales and one for meat sales... and yes I do pay for them and follow the law :-).  Plus, the big producers own their own hatcheries and have on-location slaughterhouses.  Etc, etc, etc.  So, my costs cannot be spread over millions of chickens, but rather a hundred.  It's expensive for me to raise pastured poultry. 

And, in case you're saying "well if they're on pasture you won't have to feed them any chicken feed or grain" - not so... chickens can only eat about 5-20% of their diet from pasture - the rest still has to be purchased feed / grain.  And to give you a cost comparison - I recently bought a bag of local, organic feed from a grain milling company down the road.  The feed is gorgeous, beautiful, the best I've ever seen.... but it costs $16 per 45 pound bag, as opposed to $10 for a 50 pound sack of the regular farm store feed (though still unmedicated).  Many people balk at $3 per dozen on my extra-large brown eggs.  Wow..... the thing is that I'm making very little profit on that dozen. 

So can I justify the added expense of putting those poultry on pasture?  I just don't know.  (There is a farm about an hour away from me who does this, and the chicken costs $3.90 per pound, which I believe is a realistic price for this type of product.  Are you willing to pay that?  I did, but we certainly cut back on our meat consumption when paying this much - it all balances out.  And I use every bit of that chicken, including making a huge batch of stock/broth for future soups.)  I will say, this pastured meat was The Best Chicken I have ever tasted, and I had no guilt while eating it.  Perhaps people should simply cut back on their meat consumption so they can afford the higher-quality meat when they do eat it.

Are people willing to pay more for their healthy meat?  I don't know....  and right now I'm not prepared to drive it 100 miles into Chicago, where there is a larger market for this type of healthy delicious meat. 
What to do, what to do, what to do...

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