The Real Cost of Chicken

me and birdWe killed two of our Ixworth-Naked Neck cross cockerels that I hatched out back in May – see here and here. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but they had a good life messing around in the front garden and then living on the smallholding albeit in a slightly smaller space. We feed them different food to the layers so need to keep them separate.

the meat birds Their  space is larger than it seems, it is 4 metres by 4 metres and over 6 foot high and we feed them lots of vegetables as well to make up for the fact they have eaten lots of the grass. I would like to keep them in their own field but we have to find a way of keeping the sheep out of their food – sheep don’t tolerate gluten and I am pretty sure there is gluten in the chicken food, but now I think about it, I will have to check.

We chose two of the Ixworth-Naked Neck cross cockerels and took them to the place where we kill them.

JamesI gave them a cuddle to make sure they were calm, James put them in the cone.

putting the bird in the cone

I held their legs and he stunned them with this. I then cut their throats. Quick, calm and quiet.

dead bird

I then plucked the chickens and took them inside to butcher them. I am getting a little more adept at doing this, but it still takes some time and this got me thinking about the real cost of chicken.

I see chicken for sale everywhere – chicken sandwiches, fried chicken, chicken on every pub and restaurant menu – chicken it seems is cheap. People choose it for a cheap dinner, but chicken isn’t cheap. The emotional, financial and time costs of rearing chickens are not negligible.

We hatched these birds from eggs in our incubator (a cost), we raised the chicks in our brooder (a cost) we then moved them to outside houses where they could pom about in our garden (a cost). We fed them organic food from family-owned, independent feed company (another cost). We took the time to catch them and kill them quietly and then time to process them.

Dead bird2

So how come chicken is so cheap? I also came across these two articles this week concerning the horrific conditions that not only are chickens kept in, but that workers work in – see here and here. These articles talk about how migrant workers, particularly workers who have no residency rights are poorly paid, housed in appalling conditions and abused – all to bring us cheap chicken. They are employed to catch thousands of chickens an hour – I regularly catch chickens – it isn’t an easy job and to do it with minimum stress to the animal takes time, but that costs money and people want cheap chicken.

What I felt was particularly shocking was that while the media rants on and on about illegal immigrants and the supposed threat they pose to our country and economy, it seems the darker corners of our food industry rely on such workers – their illegal status is a benefit to such employers because it means they can pay and treat them poorly and they can’t complain. It is on this basis of the exploitation of people and animals that our cheap chicken sandwiches are produced, cabbages are picked from the fields, chickens and fish are gutted. When you buy cheap food you are benefiting from the exploitation of others and if that food is meat or a meat related product you are benefiting from the exploitation of animals and I am not even going to talk about the horrific conditions many farm animals live and die in.

Producing good food in a humane manner free from chemicals that damage our planet takes time and involves a cost. Surely it isn’t fair to expect animals and people to suffer and to bear that cost just so we can have cheap chicken?

chicken meat2

We produce a reasonable amount of meat, we could eat meat everyday, but we don’t. Meat is something that is special, it comes with a cost. We see that cost for what it is. We will eat our chicken on a special occasion, with friends. We won’t eat it in a quickly grabbed lunchtime sandwich, we won’t eat it in a mid-week meal – we mainly eat vegan Mei Goreng, stir fry, curry and other cheaper vegetarian dishes for these meals. We don’t add chicken to stir-fries, we throw in cashew nuts or tofu.

We need to find out where our food comes from, how it is produced and know who grows or raises it. Increasingly there are more and more small farmers and producers in the UK and elsewhere who are making food in an environmentally sustainable, respectful way. Their food costs more than exploited food, but this is the true cost of food. Maybe next time grab a hummus sandwich for lunch or buy a chicken from a free-range, family farm such as Sutton Hoo chicken if you live around near us. Similarly, our bacon and sausages aren’t cheap, but they are good and the animals and workers (James and me) were treated well.

N.B. in the interests of not just painting a rosy picture of life – the two cockerels we killed had some kind of lice-type creature! I have never seen this before on any of our poultry. It was awful – not least because they crawled all over me – no really, all over me – ehhhhh. (I can only imagine the lice that chickens raised in cramped barns must have and thus the horrible job the chicken catchers have especially as they don’t generally have access to a nice bathroom and clean clothes). We will treat the others with diatomaceous earth and hope that helps.

See here for more thoughts on the ethics of chicken rearing for eggs and meat.


13 responses to “The Real Cost of Chicken

  1. Great post and words I try to live by everyday. It’s amazing how many people are disconnected to where their food comes from.

    As for the lice I am starting to keep this in mind too. I have DE and i sprinkle it around. But i think i want to schedule an inspection of my hens every month and treat them with DE directly to the feathers to prevent this from happening. I want them to be as happy as possible.

    Again, excellent write up!

    • Thank you. I think it is good to sprinkle them with DE whenever possible – will help keep the dreaded red mite at bay as well. It is so exciting that your hens are laying now – I still love collecting the eggs from mine – even though in the summer I do it with an entourage!

    • Thank you Pat. I want to put my head in the sand a lot of the time, but really that just makes me complicit – got to do stuff if we want to make a better world x

  2. Great post. All so true and we all do really need to be more aware of where our food comes from. We recently killed and butchered our first duck. It was hugely satisfying and strangely empowering. And absolutely delicious. 😋

    • Thank you. I still find it hard to kill our animals (and I think I always will), but I am glad for the opportunity to be able to face what is involved and do it. I am also happy that we are able to provide people with the opportunity to buy humanely kept and killed meat too – so I guess I feel empowered as well. What kind of duck was it? Our pekins are huge and while I am not looking forward to killing them, I am looking forward to eating them!

      • We have Aylesbury ducks. There a couple of pics on my blog. One on Starting Out and one in Meet the Residents at the bottom of page. They are a fabulous breed and great characters.
        We thought long and hard about killing one. But as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall keeps saying, we have given them a great life and a humane death and the meat just doesn’t compare. The size of the breasts alone! What you get in a supermarket or butchers is tiny compared to these. Now it was an older animal, but still….
        Also, we used everything. No wastage. We had breasts for one dinner. I fed six adults on stew from rest of carcass. And have 3 bags of stock in freezer for soup. The liver and heart we fried up for breakfast. And our dog got the rest.

  3. Aylesbury ducks look great – we have Indian Runners for eggs (we ate the boys a couple of years ago) and now the Pekins. I want to breed from them next year so we probably won’t get to eat many of them – only 6 hatched out. Being able to use everything is the one of the best bits of raising your own meat. Love your blog by the way.

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