Cheap Chicken?

We have cheap chicken thanks to industrialized farming.  Scientists have bred a chicken that grows FAST on less food and the more chickens you can raise at one time, the less expensive it ends up being.  But chicken is expensive to produce no matter how you do it.  Most people do not know that United States taxpayers pay billions of dollars a year to farmers for production of feed, usually genetically modified corn and soy.  That’s why you see so many fields of corn and soy in the country, with our tax dollars, the government pays farmers to grow it and then they sell it at a reduced price to industrialized meat production companies who are then able to feed their chickens (cows or pigs) for less than they would have to if they grew their own feed.

We pay a lot of money for the grain that we feed our animals, it is getting more and more expensive and it’s becoming even more difficult to source non-GMO grain.  GMOs are here to stay and until they manage to wipe out plant life as we know it, there’s not much we can do about. Because of cross-pollination, even organically grown grain can become contaminated with GMOs.

Raising pastured chickens (and for that matter pastured rabbits) is extremely labor intensive.  We do not have computerized machines that run feed and water to the chickens at regularly scheduled intervals.  We have to manually haul it.  While you can check goats, sheep or cattle once or twice a day, chickens (and rabbits) require more attention.  They need to be moved to fresh pasture more frequently than other animals because they are usually kept in smaller enclosures.  Moving the rabbits is labor intensive enough, I cannot imagine moving pens containing 50 or more meat chickens!  Humans (in the case of larger enclosures, humans driving tractors) have to move the chicken (or rabbit) enclosures, sheep, goats and cattle move on their on steam.

We have not got to the point of having a solid meat bird program, but we hope to be there in 2013.  I feel incredibly guilty charging even $4/pound for chicken, but I see other farmers charging as much as $6/pound for a chicken. Is that what they need to charge in order to make a profit?  Apparently and that’s scary!  Who can pay $6/pound for a chicken? I surely can’t!  I was told to buy a carcass of one of these $6/pound chickens to see how it tastes, but damn!  That’s over $20 for a bird! While you surely can get two or even three meals out of one of these birds, there’s a lot of sticker shock.  We charge more than $6/pound for our rabbit, but rabbit is a gourmet meal, a chicken, well, that’s sort of an every day meal.  There was a time, however, when chicken was not a common meat on the table.  A chicken that ended up on the table was likely a retired laying hen or a rooster raised from a clutch of chicks.

At the Charlotte Farmer’s Market, people usually don’t bat an eye at the prices we charge.  I guess it’s the desire to eat right, but that desire is usually coupled with a good income.  The income levels of individuals living in the United States have become so unbalanced.  I don’t think there’s a middle class any more.  There’s either the wealthy or the poor.  We are poor and likely always will be.

But is that really a problem?  Not for us because we can raise most of our food.  I feel bad for the people who cannot. Then again, there’s lots of people who don’t care what they eat.

Wally and I have to be extremely resourceful and creative with our farming.  We can’t afford to pay $25 to $30 for a 50 pound bag of animal feed and quite frankly, I don’t think we should have to.  With a little bit of legwork and networking, you can find viable feed sources for your animals that are not as expensive.  For example, we are now feeding our animals peanut plants.  In some parts of the World, perennial peanut is a viable crop for animal forage.  What we are feeding are peanut plants grown for their peanuts, but they have the same nutritional value.  The farmer down the street grows a large crop of peanuts and now he has someone who will come and pick up the peanut plants and be very happy to get them. Once he starts harvesting his sweet potatoes, I’ll be harvesting his vines for forage.  And there’s still kudzu to harvest for forage, but I’m a bit leery about using kudzu now for all the herbicide spraying that’s been going on.  I have no way of knowing if a patch of kudzu growing on the side of the road was sprayed the day before or not.  Luckily, there are some off-road patches that I can harvest, but that’s A LOT of work. Our Jerusalem Artichoke patch is thriving and I need to start harvesting the stalks.  Next year, the patch should be larger and I’m going to plant sunflowers in the same bed.  The rabbits LOVE sunflower and Jerusalem Artichoke stalks!  Jerusalem Artichoke bulbs are very tasty for us to eat.  I have a lot of carrot seeds to put in the ground which will be both for us to eat and for the animals.  Of course, the rabbits love carrot tops.

I love getting free or almost free food for our animals, especially given that it’s healthy food.  I could go to a discount bread store and get cheap bread to feed to the animals, but that’s not healthy for them (or us! I took out my sourdough starter this morning so I could start making bread again.).  This weekend, Wally and I met a guy who feeds stale taco chips to his animals. He gets them by the case at a local manufacturer.  I suppose he could be feeding them something a lot worst, like candy.  Still … garbage in, garbage out.

On another note, I thought I might have scored a good, part-time job, but it turned out to be a scam.  Damn, these people ought to be shot!  Glad I smelled the rat and checked into the company before I sent my personal information.  Jerks!

I’m slowly getting my to do list done for Animal Welfare Approved’s visit on the 27th.  There really is not that much to do.  I guess that’s a good thing.  There’s more to do for the Farm Tour in September, but that’s all cosmetic.  I told Wally that I was going to need to take Valium the morning of the tour!  Over the weekend, we were given 12 runner ducks.  I’m slowly conditioning them to work so we can do herding demos during the tour.  Whomever comes (if anyone comes at all) will love that.  The ducks are not so thrilled with the concept.  It’s okay, they are way better off here than they were at their former home.  Thank goodness I was able to send Gel into their pen to get them out.  Once he was done, he needed to be hosed off, but he still stunk.

It’s time to start my morning chores.

Until later …