Thursday, February 18, 2010

The details of the chicken experiment

I'm going to be tracking how much feed and other inputs it takes to raise a batch of heritage roosters and a batch of cornish cross, straight run.

Determine the cost of raising heritage roosters and compare that cost to raising cornish cross. I want to know exactly what the cost basis is for each type of bird, to be able to price them appropriately for retail sale.

Here's what I'm going to do:

1) all the chicks will be handled identically at all points in their life. Same food, same bedding, same setup, same lights, same temperature.

2) chicks are selected randomly 3 days after arrival. This allows chicks that have some problem (birth defect or travel stress) to die before I start tracking their food. So the first three days of food for both sets of chicks isn't counted, but I'm going to guess it's an ounce or so of food per chick.

3) I purchased these chicks at retail from a major hatchery, anonymously. They didn't know I'd be doing this, and I have no connection to the hatchery.

4) out of an order of 200 heritage roosters and 100 cornish cross I'll be raising 40 of each type. the other 220 chicks will be brooded seperately, but I won't be tracking their feed input. They will act as a control. I'll compare those birds to the ones in the study to make sure that the results there are similar to the studied birds.

5) The roosters are presumed all male, but there may be females due to hatchery mis-sexing. The cornish cross are straight-run, with a random number of male and female. Males of either breed will tend to be larger than females.

6) the roosters are a random selection of breeds, purchased from the hatchery as "all heavy", . I'll include several different varieties in the study so I can compare rhode island red vs cornish, or buff orpington vs cornish.

7) All food given to each batch of chickens will be weighed at each feeding and tracked. I'm feeding a non-medicated organic chick starter, "nature smart", 20% protein crumble, free-choice. I'll weigh the feed put into the brooder. Some of that feed is wasted by the chicks. That's just part of the feed consumption, so I'm not going to try to track feed waste vs utilization in this study.

8) I'll post results once a week for the next 8 weeks, and then every month thereafter for the heritage bird batch.


Rich said...

Are you planning on comparing how the resulting meat tastes at the end of the test?

Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce,

Sounds like a neat experiment, and I'd be curious to see your results. Couldn't help but chuckle at your comment of having purchased the chicks "anonymously". Wouldn't want for "McMurray" to be screwing with your results. (joke)

"They will act as a control. I'll compare those birds to the ones in the study to make sure that the results there are similar to the studied birds."

Just to clarify, I take it you don't really expect for the results of your control and those being tested to be "similar". Right?



Across The Creek Farm said...

let me know if you'd like some help crunching the data - graphs, calculating significance and all that dork stuff...

Bruce King said...

Hadn't planned on a taste test, but that's a good idea.

I don't expect to see any difference between the control and the test chickens, but I will be handling them differently.

The test chickens are on douglas fir shavings, which dont have any nuttritional value.

The regular chickens will be on tree-service chips, which contain tree leaves, bark and other goodies like bugs, and they'll be going out on pasture at about 6 weeks of age, when they're feathered out. The test chickens will be mostly in a coop so that I can track feed consumption and weight gain, and protect them from predators.

It may be that some practice that I'm doing with one or the other test group will affect their growth, and I'd like to know if it does.

regarding anonymity: Vendors can and do hand-pick products if they know that they're going to be reviewed. I'd like a fair representation and I'm just being clear about my connection to the hatchery - none.

I'm going to repeat this experiement on pasture later this year to compare feed consumption of pastured birds vs coop-raised birds. This part is the coop-raised experiment.

And yes, I'll take you up on the crunching offer. Thank you.

Chris said...

I'm also quite interested in your side-by-side experiment, but I have a feeling you may want to make a slight adjustment:

The non-hybrid roosters will not be very big at 8 weeks and likely not yet worth harvesting. You might want to take them to 10-12 weeks. The comparison to the 8 week old hybrids will still be fair. I imagine the non-hybrids won't eat as much by 8 weeks, but will have eaten significantly more by 12 weeks. I guess you can see what they all look like at 8 weeks and decide.

A taste test is definitely necessary! I did a very non-scientific version of what you're doing a couple years ago and I found the old fashion roosters were tasty, but rubbery. Not really roasting chickens anymore, but they were quite good slow cooked or pressure cooked.

Thanks for posting all your experiences!


Bruce King said...

My plan was to raise them to a live weight of around 4lbs (both breeds); so the cornish cross will probably be ready in 8-9 weeks, the heritage roosters in about double that time.