Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chicken experiment #1 conclusion

Question from Email:
"...Hi Bruce.

Was interested to read about your experiment raising Barred Rocks (and others) compared to Cornish Cross.
Saw the posts up to day 28.

Are there any other related posts?

There wasn't, but I should write a final, so here it is:

I raise batches of heritage roosters each year; buying the male chicks from the hatcheries and raising them free-range on my farm. There's a ready market for them, and the people who buy them really appreciate them.

But the problem I've had is pricing for the birds, and I was curious about how the cost of raising heritage roosters compared to the cost of raising cornish cross (the most common meat chicken in America today -- both on small and large farms)

So I proposed a chicken experiment #1 and wrote about the methodology (what i was going to do) and then followed that up with weekly writeups of the chickens progress, every seven days. Day 14, day 21, day 28, and for each of those days I took pictures of the birds and recorded their weights.

In doing this experiment, I had several problems. First was that there was a miscommunication about the feed; and the feed weights presented to the chickens aren't accurate enough. Yes, I know how much feed all of the chickens ate, but I was forced to use educated guesses (volume measurements) about the amount consumed. I fixed this in day 21 and 28, but by then didn't have an accurate measurement.

The second is that the experiment chickens were only being fed once per day, and the feeder capacity wasn't big enough. So the non-experiment chickens from the same batch grew at a faster rate than did the experiment chickens, which didn't show up until day 35, but by that time the non-experiment chickens were an average of 25% heavier. The non-experiment chickens were fed via a high capacity feeder and had feed available at all times, the experiment chickens had feed for 2-3 hours a day.

The third is that the experiment chickens, finding that their feeder was empty, could get out of their brooders and raid the food of other, more timid chickens, which further retarded the growth of various groups of chickens. So I'm going to have to say that overall the experiment didn't accurately reflect the growth of chickens vs my normal brooding/raising practices, and so for me wasn't worth continuing.

I'm going to do this again, with several changes to fix the problems:
1) All feed presented to the chickens will be weighed accurately as it is fed.
2) the feeders will be big enough so that the chickens have access to feed at all appropriate times
3) each group of chickens will be securely penned so that they cannot raid other chickens feeds, so that I can accurately describe the growth of specific breeds without interference.
4) I will be raising two groups of birds, one on pasture, and the other penned, to look at how being pastured effects the feed consumption. My inclination is to say it lowers the feed bill, but by how much?

My subjective impression is that you can raise a pound of cornish cross for about half the feed cost of a pound of heritage rooster. Put another way, you'll have twice the feed bill if you go with heritage roosters vs cornish cross.
There are people who will pay twice the price per pound for heritage birds, at least in my area. They are mostly recent immigrants to the USA, and are used to picking their chickens out live, and want the bird to taste and have the texture of the birds they remember. A cornish cross, even when offered at 50% of the price of a heritage bird, is typically declined in favor of the heritage bird. So the doubled feed cost, in terms of profit-per-bird, is about the same.
Cornish cross are the fastest bird to market. You can produce more groups of cornish cross per year than any other bird, which lowers your capital costs per bird produced.

1 comment:

Mike said...

It will be interesting to read about this once you get the kinks worked out. I know from raising both types of bird at the same time that the cornish cross really pack on the pounds much faster than the others.