The Price of Chicken

We use to buy the poultry from our county fair after the children were through showing them. We did this for a few years then stopped and told a friend that we would not be bidding on these birds anymore and that they needed someone else to buy them. This friend has now told me that he can no longer sell these birds and won’t be buying them this year.

I did a few quick calculations and discovered that even if we simply took the birds and gave the fair board no money at all, the end product would still cost us more than if we just went to the grocery and purchased them one at time. Let me say that again. If a small farmer is fortunate enough to have someone give him free of charge a few dozen birds, by the time he has transported the birds to the slaughter house and paid to have them dressed and packaged, he would have spent more money than if he just went to the local grocery store and bought them. How can that be! This doesn’t even account for other factors such as having an inspected poultry processing plant within 100 miles driving distance, owning a vehicle capable of transporting a few dozen birds to the plant and fuel costs. Then there is the cost of the refrigeration required to store the birds and so on.

I should note that I am comparing prices of chicken and turkey that is on “sale”, without regard to brand or perceived quality. At any given time I have see one package of chicken at one half the price of a similar package of chicken right next to it. The only visible difference is the brand or which brand is on sale at a discounted price that week. I have noted that it is not necessary to ever buy chicken at the higher price as someone’s chicken is always on sale. I have noted this pattern over several years.

We are told that the cost of chicken will increase soon because of the anticipated poor harvest this year. Even so, the price of this chicken will no doubt still be less than the cost to produce it. I of course do need to qualify that statement. The cost to produce a conceivable amount of chicken is apparently very different than the cost to produce enough chicken to fill the store shelves in America everyday, an unimaginable amount of chicken.

It is this truth that has shaped the way our farm has progressed. We can not compete with the factory farms on price no one can; it is difficult even for them to compete with each other. We don’t even try to sell chicken! We also do not vilify the factory farms, at least not intentionally. If the goal is to feed as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible, then they win. We try to offer something else.

What really bothers me is that even if I compare the cost of the most expensive chicken in the store with what it would cost me to produce that same bird, I still show a loss. Economies of scale can only account for some of the advantage the large corporations have, as for the rest, I am still at a loss.

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