This spring it is my plan to raise chickens. We have a lot of work to do before we can purchase our birds. We have to build a chicken coop, decide on a breed, figure out how many birds we want, and determine whether or not we will be able to sell any of our eggs come fall.
My desire to have chickens is motivated by the same thing which spurred my desire to own goats: that is the desire to know where my food is coming from, and that it is being treated humanely before it gets to me. In addition to providing the family with a regular supply of eggs (between the four of us we easily go through two dozen a week) I am also hoping that the chickens will supply much needed fertilizer and pest control for our gardens.
The thing I am really struggling with at this point, regarding both my chickens and my goats, is what to feed them – specifically, whether or not to give them organic feed. Now this may sound somewhat ridiculous, but the primary reason for my concern is financial. I can buy conventional feed for both animals, or I can buy organic feed. The reason I hesitate to buy organic feed is the price: for my goats I spend about $20 a bag on their feed twice a month, not including the alfalfa. If I were to upgrade to the organic feed I would be spending $35 a bag twice a month. This is nearly double and frankly ends up with the goats costing more than they are saving us – i.e. I have a very small “profit margin” and purchasing the organic feed pushes me into the red. At this point, we break even if you calculate feed costs and compare them to the amount we would be spending on milk in the event we didn’t have the goats. If I fed them organic feed, we’d be losing money.
So while I am hardly a large industry, I am affected by the costs associated with organic certification. It makes me think that the whole process is yet another way for the big guys to get richer while the small farmers suffer. And while I hardly identify as a small farmer, in a way that is exactly what I am. I own livestock, I grow my own food, and I am placed in a specific financial situation as a result.
This has in no way altered my decision to purchase chickens, nor has it inclined me to get rid of the goats. However it is something I struggle with and I really have no idea how to resolve the issue short of growing my own alfalfa and grain and I just don’t have the room for that. It concerns me because I wonder what is going into my milk, and how it is affecting my animals. Will it increase vet bills? Could I afford to buy the organic feed every other bag? It is easy to rationalize the additional expense when the food is going directly into my body, or the body of my two year old, but I seem to have a harder time with it when it is coming to me second hand.
In either case it is nothing that I will be able to resolve today, and if we are in a financial situation where I can afford the organic versions I will certainly cough up the additional cash. Until then however, the goats and chickens will be getting conventional feed and that is just the way it will have to be.
This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.