What did you think last time you went to the farmer’s market to buy a chicken (or beef, or pork…)? Did you think “Hey, that’s an excellent price!” Not likely. It was probably more like “Wowza! What did they feed that thing? crushed diamonds??”
I often hear people say that they’re discourgaed from buying directly from producers because the product often costs twice as much as the same product purchased from a grocery store. But what consumers often over look when purchasing directly from small-scale farmers is the costs associated with raising these animals. If knowing your meat (or eggs!) came from a place where they were treated with respect, instead of being treated like a commodity, is important to you, this will give you an idea of what goes in to raising livestock. (Even if you only plan to raise meat for your family, this will still be useful as the base costs will be roughly the same)
Example based on a heritage breed Turkey
Pros- Much hardier than commercial counterparts, slower growing thereby reducing losses due to weak legs and heart attacks, capable of reproducing naturally (Did you know commercial Broad Breasted turkey’s have to be artificially inseminated because the Toms are so large they either crush the hen, or shred her back with their claws?)
Cons- Slower growing so they require feeding for an extra 10 weeks (Commercial varieties mature between 12-18 weeks, while heritage varieties take roughly 28 weeks!)
A heritage poult costs about $12 to purchase.
A turkey will eat roughly 5 lbs of feed per week. a 55lb bag of feed costs $15. So over 28 weeks thats about $38 in feed for ONE turkey. This is obviously an approximation as different factors will affect the amount of feed consumed.
Then for butchering (in ontario animals must be butchered in a government approved facility if they are to be sold publicly) you’re looking at roughly $1.20/Kg.
The average turkey is about 10 Kg, so thats $12 for butchering.
Let’s add all this up: 12+38+12= 62, and that’s with out the farmer making any profit! Other factors include mortality; If a bird dies at 18 weeks, the farmer is out the cost of the bird and the food it ate to get to 18 weeks.
If you raise a non-heritage breed (or hatch your own) this can decrease the price by about $20, bringing costs down to $42 base price.
The truth is that this is reality, and it’s sad that our current food system has driven down the price of commercially raised livestock so much that it’s impossible for a farmer to make a profit. That’s why it’s so important to support local producers and farmers. If money is a problem (and really, for most of us it is!) Look in to buying groups and CSA‘s for the best prices on sustainably raised produce, or offer to help out around the farm for a discount on goods. There’s always something to do!
Keep this information in mind next time you look at the price of local produce, and remember that most of us do this because we are passionate about keeping our food sources and our Earth healthy and happy. Obviously we don’t do it for the money!
So what makes it worth the money? Well, peace of mind is a starter, but the the taste is what really does it for me. When was the last time you ate a good pork chop? No, not the tasteless excuse of a chop you get from the grocery store, but the tender, juicy, mouth watering chop that can only come from a pig raised as pigs should be raised-outside with all the freedom to exercise it’s piggy nature. Once you’ve tried a well raised, free range chicken breast; firm, tender and juicy; you’ll find it hard to eat the mushy bland breast from the store. The same goes for beef, turkey, ect. I may eat less meat to fit in into my budget, but the meat do eat is worth every penny!
- Why You Should Buy a Heritage Turkey This Thanksgiving (esquire.com)