Friday, 16 January 2015

Is rearing your own meat cheaper than buying it?

Posted by Rosie

It's a question we get asked fairly frequently, 

"is it cheaper to rear your own animals than buy from the butcher or supermarket?"

It's a good question so whilst waiting to collect B from the bus stop this evening (T was at his saxophone lesson) I started crunching a few figures.

We buy our chickens from the market when they are 5 weeks old and last year they cost €3.50 each.  Calculating how much food they eat is hard as they share supplies with the ducks and turkeys but as a rough estimate I would say €40 for food in their lifetime.  So if my maths is right that's 12 x €3.50 + €40 = €82 or approximately €7 per chicken. Each bird probably weights about 5lb/2kg so the meat is about €3.50/kg.

Young chickens destined for the table


Chicken from Eco-Gites of Lenault - home reared

Now if I was to buy a similar farm reared chicken from a reputable dealer who raises the chickens outside and with a natural diet I would have to pay around €20 per bird.  So in that sense we would appear to be quids in (or should that be Euros in?).

But ...

... the supermarkets often sell chicken much cheaper.  I know a while ago Tesco was selling 2 chickens for a fiver but I have no idea of their size or provenance.  I would guess small and barn-raised birds, pumped full of growth hormones, water and suchlike.  Not what I want to be eating.

Looking on Sainsbury's website today (sorry, nothing French was available for comparison) I found these prices for whole chickens which I have converted to Euros:
Whole chicken - €3.25/kg
Taste the difference chicken - €7.30/kg
Organic chicken - €8.75/kg
So we appear to be producing meat at a comparable rate to the lower end of the market and cheaper than the taste the difference birds which ours best compare to.  But there is still another but ...

In the price to calculate the approximate cost per bird I have not accounted for any of the following:
  • Our time to raise them
  • Slaughter costs - we kill and pluck the birds ourselves but sending them to an abattoir would raise the cost.
  • The cost of running the freezers to store them.
  • The cost of packaging materials, any medication needed and other sundry items eg grit, bedding etc.
  • The fact that we could lose one or more birds to disease and possibly all if a fox, weasel or suchlike were to get into the pen.

I could sit and play with figures all night but it would not change anything.  We would raise our own birds what-ever the cost as we want to eat food that has minimal food miles (we buy their food from the farmer next door), that has had a good life and a quick end and we are repaid with the most fabulous tasting meat.  Were we to buy chicken it would have to be those €20 birds raised in the same way as ours.

So with that in mind, yes, rearing our own meat is cheaper than buying it, assuming you do not lose all your birds to a predator.

I would love to hear your views on this subject.  Do you raise your own or buy the cheapest meat available.  Please do leave a comment below.


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10 comments :

  1. I'm on my first four hens, and I think they are cost effective for the eggs they produce, let alone the fun value. I know little about rearing for eating, but from your calculations, I assume they do not lay for you before you eat them - if they do, then their value is further in their favour. I do know that I couldn't do the slaughtering etc. Interesting article, thank you

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    1. I reckon our egg layers pay their way in the eggs they supply us too. Usually we keep a couple of the meat birds for a bit longer as they tend to start laying just as our layers go off lay in late summer ...that way they are even better value for money.

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  2. I have been trying to work out the same thing. I want to raise hatch out meet chickens and raise them and cull them myself but the cost and time is higher than what I can get a chicken for at the supermarket. I don't want it to be just about cost though- I feel happier eating my own chickens that I know have had a good life rather than eating a chicken that has had a miserable one.
    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

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    1. Once you've raised your own birds, Jennifer, you will never want to go back to eating a cheap supermarket bird again. The taste is simply fabulous. I hope you get to raise and kill your own soon and thank you for taking the time to comment.

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  3. I would love to be able to do this - but I am far too squeamish to do anything like this! I do think that raising your own is better as you know the timeline of the animal that way. Thank you for linking to #PoCoLo :) x

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    1. Exactly - we know our birds have a good free range life and a quick end when their time comes.

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  4. I think that it is cheaper if you have space. Chicken for example give eggs too. And you know where they have been. In the Philippines we do this a lot. Especially when theres an special event and we want to serve soft meat (chicken only as we don't have space for pigs). Because when you buy in the market it just shrinks! I would always compute my ingredients as per the size of the chicken and would end up with a lot of other ingredients cuz the chicken shrink more than they have to. They probably have too much water in them. Sorry for writing a lot. I am just thinking out loud now. It is actually my dream to have space to garden and take care of animals for our own consumption but we cant afford to do that. I also wish to have a beehive. Not just for their honey but just to help with pollination in general. Thanks for this nice topic as my brain wont stop dreaming. #pocolo

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    1. I hope your dream comes true one day. As for water in neat, you are so right. I used to work in a meat analysis laboratory and the amount of water in some meat is huge. No wonder it shrinks on cooking.

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  5. I love cooking and the key to good food is from its source. I would love to rear my own meat - we've considered chickens for the eggs which is still a possibility! But you can't beat the taste of good quality meat reared in the right way. The problem comes when I can't always afford it for everyday stuff. But I will try to always go to the local butchers when I can especially for joints and roasts.

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    1. Before we raised our own animals to eat we used to buy meat from a local farmer who was in conversion to organic. It was more expensive but the taste said it all. So we bought less per week but enjoyed what we cooked all the more for that.

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