Getting away from the feed bag

July 21, 2013

Wednesday, a cool summer day, we butchered the last of our Freedom Ranger meat chickens. Of course this part is not nearly so fun as getting the chicks in the mail. Still, it feels good to carry out our responsibility as eaters and farmers and end their short but happy lives as cleanly and calmly as we can. They did well by us, and we by them.

As planned, the birds weighed in at between 4 and 4.5 pounds, with a few five pounders and a couple small birds. This was a pleasing affirmation of our feed quality and feed regime.

Back in the winter we drew up a budget for our meat chicken enterprise as part of our Farm Beginnings business planning class.  We had raised meat chickens the year before at Hungry Turtle farm in Amery, so we had a good idea of what our expenses would be. We set up the budget and put the feed cost as a variable to see how it would affect our profit. Feed accounts for the majority of the budget.

We shifted the cost of feed in the spreadsheet until the profit margin started to look like a worthwhile enterprise. Somewhere around $0.30/lb. Bagged organic chicken feed from Cashton, Westby, or Mt Tabor at the time ranged from $0.55 – 0.60/lb (it’s dropped a few cents since).

By purchasing bulk grain from a nearby farmer and supplementing with some minerals and the feed mills, we were able to feed our birds for an average of $0.35/lb. We fed Cashton Organic chicken starter for three weeks and then transitioned to a mixture of Organic cracked corn, whole sprouted transitional-Organic oats, Cashton organic alfalfa pellets, kelp meal, minerals, and salt.IMG_3474

We switched over to the new grain mix too soon and too quickly. The feed that we mixed was much lower protein, although since the birds were on pasture eating lots of bugs, it’s hard to say exactly how much protein they are getting. In any case, their growth slowed and we started to worry. In an attempt to up the protein content we fed more sprouted outs. They love the oats and gobble them right up. But our little chickens crops were barely equipped to digest the fibrous oats, and ballooned up until they looked lopsided. There’s a part to every learning experience called the pit of despair. This was it. We reintroduced the bagged feed to their diet, and slowly weaned them off of it again, this time over the course of three weeks.

From there on, we fed only our own mix, and in the last two weeks fed nearly half sprouted outs, with clear weight gains.

There’s One hundred twenty-five baby chicks out in the yard–here we go again. It will be interesting to see how this batch works out, as we try to get away from the feed bag.

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