Monday, March 2, 2009

Chicken economics - cornish cross

Cornish cross chickens are the standard meat chicken for the American market. Joe Salatin uses them exclusively in his pastured poultry operation, and most of the small farmers use them as well. All of the pictures for this entry are chicks that are IDENTICAL in age, and they're used to illustrate the amazing growth of these chicks. The chick on the left is a heritage breed chicken, the buff orpington. The one on the right is the cornish cross.
The cornish cross goes from hatch to slaughter weight in 6 to 8 weeks. From a farmers point of view that's a very quick crop. Because the grow-out time is so short, the labor costs are less, as well.

Here's the breakdown for 100 cornish cross:
equipment for 100 chicks:
4 30 gallon rubbermaid tubs and metal shelving (to keep the chicks in the tubs)
4 heat lamps,
$52. 4 heat bulbs,
$32 4 feeders,
4 1 gallon waterers, $35

This equipment lasts for at least 2 years, and during the year will be used to raise 6 batches of chicks. Notice -- more batches of chicks per year. So I'll assign 1/12th the cost of the equipment to this particular batch, or $16.10. If you were to raise fewer batches you'd be assigning a higher fraction.

Labor I calculate the labor as if I were paying someone minimum wage + all of the associated overhead taxes (medicare, social security, unemployment insurance, bookeeping, which adds about 40% to the base wage). I can't imagine getting someone to work for me for less than an hour a day, so figure labor at $7/day, or $50 a week. Over the course of the 8 weeks to brood out this batch, that's $400. More labor for cornish cross because they require more bin cleaning because of the large food intake.

Mortality Figure 15% mortality. That's pessimistic, but pessimists are only pleasantly surprised. Consumables :
Purchase price of chicks + shipping: $1.57/each
300lbs chick starter, 2100bs lbs of chick grower, $330. Yes, they will eat more than a ton of food.
(calculated as 100 chickens * 6lbs per chicken * 4lbs of feed per pound of chicken produced)

Wood chips/sawdust, $70 - we use free chips from tree service companies, but if we had to buy sawdust or chips, that's what it would cost in bulk.

Total cost to produce 85 chicks: $957, or $11.25 a chicken.

That's cost -- with any business you need to make a profit for when you lose a batch of chickens to a weasel, or your shelter blows away, or any of a number of other bad things.

So if you retail these chickens at $4/lb dressed, and they dress out at 4.5lbs, this gives you a gross sale amount of $18.00. Out of the $6.75 gross profit you'll subtract whatever you need to for processing costs. I figure that one person at minimum wage will clean 5 chickens an hour, and that adds up to a processing cost of $3 per bird, giving you a net profit of $3/bird. So a batch of 85 birds will net you $240 every other month. I've ignored marketing costs and the cost of whatever processing equipment you'll need.

I think that $4/lb is a little low. $4.50 a pound would give you a net of $5.25, which seems more reasonable. The problem is that many folks out there are selling birds for less than that. Usually these folks last a year or two, but there's always enough of them that you'll have lower-than-your-cost every year. $5/lb gives you a little more cushion. Maybe you give your minimum wage guy a $1/hour pay raise.

Buff orpington and cornish cross at 10 days of age

You'll find a similar breakdown of the costs of raising heritage birds here.


Unknown said...

Excellent analysis. You're totally correct about newcomers hitting the market, thinking they can put out a few chicken tractors and raise chickens more cheaply. In a way it's good that there's that much interest. But their model isn't sustainable. Those who are committed to the model know what their costs are, and what the commitment is, and will price accordingly. I'd rather sell fewer chickens at a nice profit than lots at a loss...unless the government is planning on bailing me out, but that's another story :)

Nature's Harmony Farm

Bruce King said...

I love your turkey processing video, by the way. Very well done.

You're selling chickens for $4/lb csa -- do uou charge more for walkup, or just don't do that market? How're the feed costs on your side of the country? It's relatively expensive here because most of the grains (soybean, corn, barley, etc) have to be trucked over from eastern washingon.

Unknown said...


We're selling Cornish X for $3.25 a pound and can do ok with that. For Poulet Rouge, we have to charge at least $4.75 a pound as they grow much more slowly and don't convert as efficiently.

I'm trying to get my own mixer/grinder on farm now so we can lower feed costs. We started processing on farm last year which helped on that side. Feed is definitely the biggest issue. If we can get it on farm then we can do $3.25 easy...but I don't see how other/smaller farmers could. Oh well, that's a lesson for them to learn!

Bruce King said...

I've been thinking about buying the bulk of my feed direct from the producers. I haven't figured out how much cheaper it would be. The least expensive way to move the quantities of grain I'd need (4-6 tons a month) seems to be by rail but I'd need to locate a rail head that would unload it for me. I've got a dump truck, but grain or corn isn't very heavy for the bulk, so I could only take 7 tons per
truckload, and it's a 250 mil roundtrip = 50 gallons of diesel at $2.50 a gallon = $125, plus labor. Figure $200 a truckload in transportation costs.

To to it right I'd probably need a couple of silos, a grain auger/bin that I could dump the dumptruck into so I could auger it into the silos, and some kind of grinder to crush it up to make it more digestable. The turkeys can actually use the whole grains directly, which is good. The pigs and chickens would do better if it's milled a bit.
Have you noticed that most of the feed recipies out there have some odd sea-based ingredients? Fish meal, seaweed extract, etc?

Anonymous said...

My goodness, those are great comparison photos! Seeing them side by side, it really accentuates how unnatural the Cornish looks. Sort of cartoonish, like the Incredible Hulk or Baby Huey or something! :-}

Anonymous said...

I like your side-by-side photos of the chicks. Do you think that in it's shorter life, the Cornish-X eats less or more than a heritage breed does it it longer life? In other words, might time be the only advantage to the Cornish-X or does it also consume less feed to grow to market weight?

Anonymous said...

Great Post! Looks kind of like what I did before we bought 5 turkeys to raise for ourselves this year! Only that a coyote got one, and we kept the last 4 alive till about a week before T day as we have limited freezer space. Probably would have been cheaper to rent a freezer than pay the feed bill!

Anonymous said...

The ratio on cornish x for us is 2 to 2.5 lbs per lbs of dressed weight. For the industrial houses it's 1.5. They are way more sustainable than heritage breeds.

Tim said...

Whoever "Anonymous" is, I have to take issue with your view that Cornish X are "way more sustainable" than heritage breeds. I think you mean they convert feed more efficiently. That doesn't make them more sustainable at all, and in fact requires someone to be there to feed them. Heritage breeds are MUCH better foragers and perform much better without mankind's assistance in the sense of finding food on their own. How is that not more sustainable?

Anonymous said...

1) Because heritage breeds still use more chicken feed per pound of meat produced. They're not even close to replacing grain with forage, if they were I'd like to see the science to back it up. Heritage chickens are about 4 to 1, my cornish rocks get 2 to 2.5 to 1.

So Cornish crosses, as industrial white turkeys as cited in this sare study produce more meat per pound of grain used, meaning less land area to produce the grain.

2) Heritage breeds, for everybody who is not Frank Reese and has the true strains of heritage meat birds and not just male egg layers, take 16-20 weeks to grow out to a 3 pound carcass if you're lucky, therefore if you're doing them on pasture that means between 2 and 3 times the space, if you're not going to overload your pasture with manure.

Therefore, more land area to produce the heritage breeds and more land area used to grow the grains to feed them.

I would love a bird that converts pasture to meat, even at 50%. But that doesn't exist yet. Otherwise Tyson would own have the arable land in this country.

Anonymous said...

Also if you're not going to tend to your birds every day I would suggest not raising them. Feeding them takes 10 minutes at most per batch of 225 birds. That's 2.66 seconds per chicken. Chicken feed is the best thing for them. Eating their veggies makes them healthy as well and there's nothing better than a bird on pasture, but the feed companies don't make feed to make them unhealthy.

Anonymous said...

I free range my cornish cross at 3-4 weeks of age. I switch them over to scratch grain at that time and they flourish! But I only feed them enough to get them to go in the house at night. So for the bulk of their feeding they are on their own. They eat grass, weeds, insects and the occasional mouse! They are happy, healthy and a joy to have. They are personable and are not lazy they run around like crazy! It is great to see an 8 pound chicken chase a mouse! :)

Doug Brassine said...

Due to an overstock at a local farm store, on March 18, 2010 I purchased 10 Cornish chicks for $1.39 each. The sales lady doubled that to 20 then included 3 additional chicks in appreciation for taking them off their hands... final price 60 cents each. I just started on my 2nd 40 lb bag of starter and will switch to the 20% protein grower when this runs out. In about 3-4 weeks I'm looking forward to tasting a REAL slow roasted fast grown chicken. These little cluckers already have big clown feet and just lay around the feeders pecking food... kinda reminds me of my some people I know. :-]<

Unknown said...

FYI to anonymous...Something cannot be considered "sustainable" when it cannot breed on its own. The Cornish Cross do not reproduce naturally, therefore they are not (at all) sustainable.

Mark Sleger said...

I agree with anonymous. I have been raising birds on pasture for over 20 years. Sustainable is in the eye of the perspective. If you have the breeding stock, cornish cross are just as sustainable as your mongrel free range laying flock. A rooster jumps a hen and you get fertile eggs. Nothing too tricky about that.