Avian Economics

Now that we have a few years experience raising birds, I’ve done some quick calculations of costs. We already know what we get for them at the end of the season. I’m only doing the turkeys, ducks and geese. The Icelandic chickens both cost and pay very differently, and this is our first year with the Chanteclers, whose economics I expect to be different than any of our current birds. This is the version for raising day olds bought from the hatchery. Hatching our own is a topic for another day.

I’ll put a table at the end. Here’s the data in narrative form, the way I figured it out:

Hatchlings: Ducks $4.00, Geese $9.00, Turkeys, $9.00. The geese and ducks arrive alive and stay alive. The turkeys are stupid and delicate. There are dead poults on arrival and they keep dying for about six weeks. We lose a third of ours, and I would be skeptical of anyone who claims to do significantly better. So the real cost is $900/65 or just under $14.00 per turkey.

We are running 31 ducks, 13 geese and 70+ (they don’t hold still) turkeys together on roughly an acre of pasture, along with Danny the American Milking Devon steer. That’s somewhere between 110 and 120 birds. We feed them separately, but they all steal from each other, and the chickens sneak in too. We’re feeding them roughly a bag of feed a day, at $11.25 per bag including quantity discount. Call it $0.10 per bird per day.

The ducks are ready for slaughter in 13 weeks, costing $9.00 in feed. The turkeys take six months, 180 days or $18.00 in feed. The geese are also ready in six months, but the current plan is to keep them an extra month to sell fresh not frozen at Christmas. The ground is snow covered by then, so I allow $6.00 for the extra month or $24.00 per bird.

USDA processing for the turkeys is $5.00 per bird. We haven’t yet located a USDA processor for the waterfowl, but we can get it done under the poultry exemption for $5.00 per bird. (This year we have few enough to do it ourselves.)

So, at harvest, our cash investment per bird is: Ducks: $18.00, Geese: $38, Turkeys: $37. Assuming we sell everyone for $5.00/lb, we get: Ducks: $35, Geese: $65, Turkeys $65, for a gross profit of Ducks: $17, Geese $27, Turkeys, $28. In theory I should put the opportunity cost of money, but these day’s that’s 0. I’m sure the Too Big To Fail banks thank Ben Bernanke every day.

Those numbers look, and are, handwavy, but based on thirty years experience, they’re better than most corporations use to authorize multimillion dollar projects. Back in slide rule days, both Physics and Engineering 101 carefully taught the difference between accuracy and precision. Accountants on the other hand don’t seem to have heard of error bars.

I shudder at the thought of calculating capital invested, let alone return on it, and overhead is a topic for getting to sleep on a long winter’s night. However Lisa and I may eat for free, but we still have taxes and utilities, so how about some wages here? I can SWAG the hours we’re putting in now: Chores take anywhere from three (rare) to 8 (also rare) person hours a day. However the variations are driven by the mammals. Do we need to deliver balage through the snow? Do we need to dump snack size yoghurt for the pigs? The birds are rather predictable. Water always and check the grain which takes about the same amount of time whether or not we actually feed some. Anyway, I’m going to say the birds are an hour a day, and assume we can get more efficient on watering as more water is needed. Unfortunately I can’t plausibly claim less time after the ducks are gone. So, one hour per day for 7 months is 210 hours.

Species Bird Cost Mortality Net Cost Food Cost Processing Total Price Gross Profit
Duck $4.00 0% $4.00 $9.00 $5.00 $18.00 $35.00 $17.00
Goose $9.00 0% $9.00 $24.00 $5.00 $38.00 $65.00 $27.00
Turkey $9.00 35% $14.00 $18.00 $5.00 $37.00 $65.00 $28.00

So for our current flock, our gross profit of $510 for ducks, $304 for geese, and $1960 for turkeys adds to $2774 or $13.20 per hour. It could be worse, but since I haven’t included depreciation or overhead, it has to get a lot better. Fortunately, as long as we can sell them, we should be able to raise twice as many birds with only a few more capital goods and little more labor.

Note, we are actually planning to overwinter all the females in the hope of raising our own babies rather than buying hatchery birds. Nonetheless, I think this is a good first estimate of the economics of a hatchery sourced free range poultry operation.

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4 Comments

  1. Bill Fosher
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I did a similar exercise for pastured meat chickens, but I started with a $20/ hour labor charge and didn’t count anything as profit until that was paid, and the equipment was amortized. I assumed a five-year life on the chicken tractors, drinkers, and troughs. I came up with a selling price of $4.25 per pound. I didn’t think that was a viable price, so I abandoned the project and took a job with an outfit that sells the same sort of bird using the same sort of production system. For $4.25 a pound. And has pre-sold its entire production of 1,000 birds. Dope smack self.

  2. Frank
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    We’ve had no trouble selling turkeys and geese at $5.00/lb. The few ducks we’ve sold have been sweetheart deals, getting ours for the supermarket price. If we can’t get our price for duck, we’ll just raise them for ourselves and to tip the staff at the Cherry Garden who know good duck when they eat it.

  3. Katharine
    Posted August 5, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that the VERY expensive turkey poults I purchased for $12.00 a piece DIED and the cheaper variety I bought at the feed store, survived?? That had me peeved. We sell our meat chickens on a CSA and by the pound at $3.50, we’ve not yet processed any geese, ducks or guineas as the these have not reproduced well yet. STILL waiting for them to breed enough first. Pigs on the other hand are doing well w/ 6 sows and 1 boar keeping us well stocked w/pork and piglets to sell. We’re waiting for our 1st lambs and kids and for the beef to grow!

    • Frank
      Posted August 6, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      On the feed store poults, I wouldn’t be surprised if a bunch of them (the weaker ones) had already died by the time they were put on display at the feed store.

      It’s apparently quite common for geese to take two years to breed. Supposedly the ganders just aren’t ready even though they do their best. I’m surprised you don’t have surplus boys though. We ate the extras and continue to as we build up our flocks.

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