Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

The Quest for Organic Chickens? February 24, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Economics,Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 1:10 pm
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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.

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5 Responses to “The Quest for Organic Chickens?”

  1. We are preparing to purchase our first batch of chicks next week. I’ve been trying to come up with an alternative to purchasing bags of ready-made feed, but finding that information is so difficult. We intend to let our birds free-range, but everything I read says that we still need to supplement grain-feed in addition to the bugs/grass our chickens will be getting. Just know you’re not alone in this! I cannot believe how hard it is to find out what past generations fed their animals before Orscheln and Tractor Supply were around!

  2. I’ve been on an Organic Chicken group at Yahoo and they have a great website with recipe to make your own. Here’s the external website: http://organicchickens.homestead.com/ I had another link which I’ll add if I can find it. I do buy organic food for our girls, but I only have four chickens and I supplement it with lentils, which I sprout for them and us and when I make our soaked oatmeal in the morning they get a bowl of org. rolled oats made into oatmeal too. If you google search ‘make your own chicken feed’ you might find other results as well. 🙂
    Sheri

  3. realfoodmama Says:

    Thanks for the comments and the link Sheri!

    I just picked up the newest edition of Mother Earth News and there is actually a whole article in there on making your own chicken feed. I am hoping it will give me ideas.

    – RFM

  4. I just found one of the other good links: http://themodernhomestead.us/article/Poultry.html

    And I forgot about mealworms. They’re supposed to be very easy to take care of and a great chicken food.

    I love Mother Earth News – I’m going to look for that article now.

  5. Barbara Grant Says:

    I have the same problem. We raise chickens and goats for our own use. I am going to ask the local mill if they will mix chicken feed for me and leave out the soybean meal.


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