Although it sounds esoteric,
the feed conversion rate is at the heart of raising a sustainable
chicken. Also known as the feed to meat ratio, this number is
simply the pounds of feed given to a chicken divided by the weight of
the cleaned carcass.
The sad truth is that
the feed conversion rate for chickens raised by nearly all backyard
hobbyists is two, three, or even four times as high as the ratio for
industrial chickens. Yes, you do end up with a higher quality
chicken that lived a happier life if you raise it yourself, but that
chicken will not only take more money out of your pocket than buying
one from the store would, your homegrown chicken will also have a
larger environmental footprint. In my mind, that's unsustainable.
Let's look at some feed
to meat conversion ratios:
- 2 : 1 --- what the industry claims they get for factory farmed Cornish Cross.
(Hard to tell if this is true. My other numbers come from
extension service websites or my own experience, both of which I trust
- 3.5 : 1 --- what you can expect to get from pastured Cornish Cross in optimum
- 5.2 : 1 --- Freedom Rangers
on pasture, again optimal conditions. (Other "slow" broiler
breeds are in the same ball park.)
- 6.2 : 1 --- Our Dark Cornish at 12 weeks last year.
notice that pastured chickens actually eat more feed to reach a certain
weight than they would have eaten if they were confined. (Side by
side experiments have confirmed this.) Although we think of
pastured chickens as getting a lot of their nutrition from wild food,
chickens can't digest much grass, so what you're really counting is how
many bugs your birds found. It seems to take broilers more energy
to find bugs than they get from eating those bugs, thus the lower feed
conversion rate on pasture.
Although these numbers
seem very disheartening, I hope they don't make you turn to supermarket
chickens. As I'll explain in a later post, I think that
homesteaders can grow heritage chickens at nearly the same feed
conversion rate that you'd get from Cornish Cross on pasture (and maybe
even better) if we're willing to think outside the box.
Our chicken waterer is essential equipment in a
chicken tractor since it never spills on uneven ground.
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