I had lived in Calgary for several years prior to moving to our farm, and I spent a lot of those years planning. I was curious about what to plant and how much to put into the garden? How many animals should we raise?
One of my experiments then, was to figure out how much food a family of four would need to put away in the fall to make it last for the year. (or at least until the fresh produce was ready again in the spring) We eat at home with the exception of a few special occasion suppers, so the lions share of our food would be prepared from scratch. I allowed for a few dinner parties, and having extra family members at meals sometimes, too.
I purchased 1/4 of a cow, cut into roasts, steaks, or ground, 1/2 of a pig made into sausage links, bacon, hams, roasts and chops, 15 roasting chickens and 10 stewing chickens. (these were basically an older layer breed chicken, or smaller rooster, without much meat on its bones, but had excellent flavour and was great for soup stocks). In Calgary, as you can imagine, this cost a pretty penny! The 1/4 cow was $460 and yielded about 60lbs of beef. The half pig was $8.00/lb and the chickens averaged at $25 each for a 4 or 5lb bird (except for the stewing birds and those were $10 each)
At the time, I thought this was outrageously expensive, but it was non-certified organic and I knew the farmers who produced these products. For me, that counted for a whole lot.
At the end of that year, we were completely out of beef, had one package of pork chops left and 4 whole chickens. The stewing hens went quickly as did the bacon and sausage. We could have used more of those. The hams took longer to go, and I expect we could have done without a few of those. All in all, though, we were pretty close to what a family of four would eat, meat-wise.
The rest of our diet would either be grown in the garden, fished from the river, eggs from our chickens, or grain, bought from the Speerville Flour Mill (an organic grain mill here, in New Brunswick)
I bake bread with their flour every second week and fill the freezer with whole grain loaves. We have oatmeal for breakfast 3-4 times per week and I make pasta, granola and polenta from their products. They also sell organic brown rice and bulgar that is delicious.
This year we started with 40 heritage breed chicks from a hatchery in Ontario, flown in via Air Canada and picked up the same day in Fredericton. And 40 cornish cross chickens from the local Co-op. All birds sent to travel as soon as possible after they hatch since they do not require food or water for the first 48 hours.
I purchased each of these birds for roughly $5 each. (they ranged in price from $3.95 - $5.95). The heritage breeds will be our laying flock and the cornish cross are meat birds.
I will find that roughly half of all chickens are roosters, and will have to be 'dispatched'. I'll keep one rooster from each breed that we would like to continue breeding, so that we can have baby chicks to sell to other farms. The rest will become stewing birds, which will have to go to the abattoir if I want to sell them. In New Brunswick, it is legal to sell meat you have raised provided it has been slaughtered and processed in a provincially inspected abattoir. (Federally inspected if your meat is to cross provincial lines)
They charge approximately $6 to process a bird that isn't a "meat king" (a commercially bred chicken that was bred for docility and rapid weight gain so it would achieve butcher weight in about 10-12 weeks) or $5 if it is a "meat king". The difference in price is owing to the fact that heritage breed chickens grow at a more natural rate, making their carcass a little smaller, and therefore a little harder to eviscerate.
When I look at the price of those stewing birds I bought last year, I wonder how they could afford to buy a chick, feed it for 16 weeks, pay for the provincially inspected abattoir and sell it for $10. With my math, it cost them at least ($5 per chick, approximately $5 for conventional feed, and $5 butcher costs =) $15 per bird(for the tiny ones)! Organic feed is twice the price (depending where you are, it can be 3x), so it doesn't make sense for anyone to sell chicken at this price.
Now, it's true that they may have hatched all their chickens on their farm, saving the $5/bird cost, initially. It also is possible that they obtained a temporary abattoir license to have their chickens butchered at their farm, saving them a little more. Either way, it is safe to say that the farmer that provided our family with 15 delicious chickens would have had to sell a whole lot of them to make a living selling chicken.
Which brings me back to our birds.
The heritage breeds are for laying, and the cornish cross birds are a meat variety that have compact bodies that are supposed to be good for roasting. I was a little concerned when we first started with these chicks because they were very docile, not as curious as the heritage breed birds, and seemed to camp out in front of the food, if allowed, until their crops were bulging. This behaviour was disturbing to me, so I monitored their food intake, and offered smaller amounts of food more often, in different areas of the farm so they would have to walk to find it. This method of feeding forced exercise into their lives, and I noticed them becoming more curious of their environment. They roam like all the others now, and although they do grow a little quicker, aren't the "frankenchicken" I've noticed in factory farms. They are friendly, curious birds that have become a welcome part of the landscape here at our farm.
So, harvest day approaches. I can't say I'm looking forward to it. While it is wonderful that we will be able to eat our own chickens, that we raised so thoughtfully and carefully, it will be a hard day.
We are reverent. We thank these creatures for their lives and make darn sure we are careful and considerate right to the end.
Our chickens will arrive at the butcher at their pre-arranged time of 6:30am. They will be processed immediately, quickly, efficiently, and frozen for me to pick up the next day, and transfer to our freezer until they are sold to you, our customer, at $5.00/lb. Free roaming in green pastures, organically fed, happy chicken.