To Raise a Chicken

Did you ever wonder how much it costs to raise the most amazing-tasting, nutritious, naturally-raised chicken? Probably not, because really, who thinks about things like that? We've become accustomed to just going to the store to buy whatever we want, whenever we want it, without really considering the realities behind the purchase. I had never thought about the price of chicken (in proper detail) until about 2 years ago. Before then, even though I was raising chickens, I was like a lot of others who make a semi-educated guess at the cost based on feed and processing costs - but didn't really crunch the numbers.

I have to say - it was a real eye-opener for me to figure this out! And now, I'm taking a deep breath and sharing the numbers here. There's nothing to hide, but it does somehow take courage to share the nitty-gritty.

Here's the cost breakdown for non-GMO-fed, pasture-raised chickens, based on buying 150 chicks (since that's the maximum I can take to the processor at once).

It's also based on ending up with 140 chickens (we usually get a couple / few weak ones from the hatchery that don't make it, sometimes we lose a couple at the end if the weather turns really hot, and sometimes one or two don't come back from the processor).

MATERIAL COSTS                                   Per batch           Per chicken

  • Chicks                                                             $225                $1.61
  • Gas to pick up the chicks                               10                    0.07
  • Shavings                                                            10                    0.07
  • Heat lamp bulbs, electricity                          25                    0.18
  • Feed (based on $18/50lb bag)                 2,052                  0.64
  • Grit                                                                     10                    0.07
  • Kelp meal                                                          15                    0.10
  • Outdoor shelter / maintenance                    90                   0.64
  • Gas for picking up feed                                   45                   0.32
  • Processing                                                        649                  3.79/whole chickens; $5.48 in pieces
  • Gas for 3 trips to the processor                     95                   0.68
  • General overhead (barn, equipment, etc)   45                   0.30
    • Total Material Costs                          $3,271              $22.49 / whole chicken; $24.11 / chicken in pieces


  • Set up their nursery pen                                                                      1 hour
  • Pick up chicks                                                                                        1 hour
  • Give feed and water daily for the first month: 1/6hr x 30 days  5 hours
  • Expand their pen at 2 week                                                          0.25 hour
  • Seasonal repair for outdoor pens                                                      2 hours
  • Move the chicks to their outdoor pens                                             1 hour
  • Clean up / put away the indoor pen                                              0.5 hour
  • Pick up load of feed (counting on 1 load)                                        2 hours +
  • Give feed and water daily outdoors: 1/4hr x 40 days                  10 hours +
  • Move their outdoor pens daily: 1/6hr x 40 days                          6.7 hours +
  • Pick up crates                                                                                      2.5 hours
  • Catch chickens to take to processor (2 people)                               2 hours
  • Take chickens to processor                                                                  3 hours
  • Pick up meat from the processor                                                     2.5 hours
  • Clean up pens & put away                                                                 1.5 hours
  • Collect orders / emails / phone calls                                                 2 hours +
  • Sort chickens to fill orders; collect payments                                  2 hours +
  • Prepare invoices                                                                                      1 hour +
    • Total Labour                                                                          45.95 hours +
    • @ $15/hour = $689.25 = $4.92 per chicken (labour cost)


For a whole chicken: Material costs + labour = $22.49 + 4.92 = $27.41 divided by a 6 pound chicken = $4.57/lb (Break-even cost)

For a chicken in pieces (breast, legs, wings, soup bones) $24.11 + 4.92 = $29.03 divided by a 6 pound chicken = $4.84/lb (Break-even cost)

Further costs to be factored in...

In the above, the $ in = $ out. There's no way to expand the business, contribute to general farm expenses, make loan payments, or contribute in some small way to the buy-a-farm fund. The only possibility is to raise another batch of chickens with the exact same factors (and hope the price of feed or processing, etc doesn't increase or that a predator doesn't take out a number of birds) and then hope to break even again. So, there has to be a margin included to cover these other costs.

If this was looked at solely from a business viewpoint, I know that a lot of people would say that after ALL of these costs are factored in, THEN the profit margin for a product should be 50%. Yikes! It wouldn't be feasible for any of us to be paying over $10 / lb for chicken!

From my idealistic viewpoint, I would like this chicken to be accessible to the average family. Obviously that means forfeiting profits... and so be it. Hopefully some other enterprises here will make up for it.

Perhaps a starting price should be $5.25/lb for whole chickens, and $5.50/lb for getting the entire chicken in individually-packaged pieces. Different pricing would apply for getting only packages of chicken breast or legs or wings, etc.

However, I will say this: if you are able to pay more for your chicken, I will accept it (with much appreciation) for the purpose of the necessary expansions in this operation.


  1. I'm working to find different sources of feed in order to lower the cost. Even the accountant shudders and stares with wide eyes at the feed bills... surely there must be a way to reduce this cost. The way it looks right now, I'll be buying various ingredients and mixing it myself. This will help to lower the feed cost (compared to buying it pre-mixed in bags) and will therefore lower the per-pound price for the chicken.
  2. This is not an exhaustive list of the labour involved. Plus, it does not count getting up at 4am to chase away the fox trying to break into their pen, or extra attention they might need during a heavy rainstorm! It also does not count over-time (such as catching chickens at 4:30am, leaving at 5:30am for the processor, and getting back at 8:30am to start a 10 or 12-hour work day - this is the reality of the timing of it for every single batch).
  3. This is not just my labour - this includes others working here this summer. The $15/hr includes the 'extras' a business pays beyond the hourly wage.
  4. The numbers given here are for a person hustling to get the job done - but I'm always looking for ways to make every step more efficient and take less time. Maybe we can whittle things down further this year? There's also some time spent watching them, checking them for beginning signs of health issues, etc, etc - that's not included here except for the quick checks that happen when they're fed each day.
  5. One way to reduce the labour cost (and effort) is to not move them every day to fresh pasture. I would still raise them outdoors, but keep them in one location with lots of clean bedding and bring the fresh greens to them each day.
  6. We're allowed to raise only 300 chickens per year. It would be extremely helpful to some day be allowed to raise more (like in other provinces where they can raise 8 - 10 times this number) so that we can access better prices for feed and labour efficiency can be greatly improved.