We went to the Grange Co-op the other day to pick up our ton of organic poultry feed. The price had gone up another 25% (now up 75% since last year). $718 for a ton of organic poultry feed! We were shocked! Needless to say, we only bought half a ton.
We’ve been trying to figure out what to do. We love raising poultry and would like to expand our poultry operation (despite the predators and the labor), but these rising feed costs are pushing us out of the poultry business. We pride ourselves on our organic pastured eggs and we have such loyal customers, but we are currently charging $6.00/dozen and after doing the math, we have to raise our prices to $7.50/dozen to even make the smallest margin of profit. We’ve been informing market customers of this change. Some have been supportive, some will buy eggs from other producers. While we have the only certified organic eggs at the farmers’ market, the problem is that other egg producers don’t charge very much for their eggs (even when the chickens are fed conventional feed, which is just as expensive too), so we are sort of up against a wall. Essentially, we are going to be priced out of the market. I’m curious whether these other producers are doing the right math–are they really making any money by charging $4.00/dozen? They just can’t be. Raising poultry on a small-scale, especially if you are pasturing hens and rotating them, is expensive and labor intensive. $4.00/dozen just doesn’t cut it.
We were planning on ordering another hundred layers this November, but we are seriously considering slaughtering most of the flock and just keeping a few chickens for our family. I’m not sure I see an end in sight for cheaper grain prices what with all the investment into biofuels and ethanol. Speculators have said that it is going to be a great corn year for the Midwest–the best ever–and millions of acres are coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program (which means that these farmers will most likely put corn back into production with the high prices they can get), so perhaps we will see a decrease in grain prices, but I’m not sure it is that simple. Check this out–Rich from Mossback Farm–has a link to a video (see Junk Food journal entry) from Wall Street Journal about how feedlots are mixing in candy from M&M factories into their corn silage for their beef cows because they can’t afford to buy regular feed corn. Woah. Woah. Do people know that the feedlot beef they are eating is being fed candy? That isn’t good. Not for the cow and not for us.
Anyway, we are in quite a dilemma here about our poultry operation. We have some serious thinking to do about the sustainabilty of raising organic eggs from pastured poultry. On a more positive note, we are participating in a grant with Oregon State University and Washington State University, in which they are going to look at formulating alternative poultry feeds grown in the Northwest for various small-scale poultry farms in Oregon & Washington. I’m looking forward to participating in that and seeing what they come up with. They will basically pay to feed half of our flock with alternative feeds to see how the poultry do on their rations. Josh and I are also going to start doing some research on our own about formulating our own organic rations and what that would take. Oy vay. Are we really that dedicated to this? I think so.
The hardest part, I guess, is communicating to our customers why we have to charge so much for eggs. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks. We may be eating a lot of eggs and slaughtering a whole bunch more than just our broilers in October.
In other news, the broilers are happily ranging on pasture in their beautiful chicken tractor that Josh built. I went out to take pictures this morning and of course, the battery was dead on the camera, so stay tuned. I’ll have some soon. We’ve lost 16 to predators so far, so we are down to 34 chickens. We’ve made some adjustments (basically putting steel claws on every side of the chicken tractor as well as flashing red lights to keep predators away), so we haven’t had any more losses in the last few days. We also caught a skunk in the live trap last night, so the whole farm smelled like skunk this morning as did Josh when he came in for breakfast. Yuck!
The broilers are quite happy and have had no health problems at all. I have heard so many horror stories about leg problems and heart attacks with the Cornish Cross breed, but we’ve had none of that yet. We went with two slow cornish breeds, so I think that’s helping. We also add an organic supplement–a Fetrell Kelp mineral product–that helps with leg problems and nutrition. Anyway, we’ll only have a few to sell at this point with so many losses, but at least we will have a freezer full for ourselves and be able to cover our costs. We’d like to do a whole lot more on the broiler scene next year, but that all depends on grain prices. I’ll be eagerly waiting and watching the grain market in the months to come.