How Big is a Chicken? Ideal Size for Our Farm and Your Kitchen

Posted by Luke Kurey on

Okay friends, welcome back to the world of pasture-based farming. This time, we would like your feedback, please! We would like to know what size chickens you prefer. 

If you read the last article, great! If not, consider reading it first: Pasture Poultry Profits? Chicken Cost, Pricing and Profit at Farmcraft

This current post is about the size/weight of pasture raised chickens, and the resulting cost, price and profit. This is the second post in a row about the farm’s finance/economics. I’ll write about something else for the next one. Here goes:

When you raise chickens, you will get a range of sizes/weights. Some of this is due to natural variability – each chicken has slightly different genetics from the next, and we buy day-old chicks “straight-run”, meaning both boy chickens and girl chickens, and the boys and girls have different growth rates. Other variability results from management – especially the total amount of feeder space and the overall health of the birds from arrival in the mail through butcher day.

Below are charts showing the weight distribution of the 3 groups of chicken we raised this year:

Minimizing variability seems like a good thing to me. The operation is simplified if all of the chickens are about the same size – freezer and inventory tracking and management, bagging and handling, marketing, cost, price and profit. But some variation could be good, if different customers want different sizes.

As important, or more important, than variability is “target weight”. By “target weight” I mean the average weight of the processed and freezer bagged chickens - if there was zero variability, what is the weight we would want all of the chickens? This year, I targeted 5.0 pounds. We ended up at 5.1 pound average for the year. Management – total number of days, season, feed type, feed amount, pasture nutrition, weather and weather protection – are the dials I can turn to try to hit our “target weight”.

 My question for you, reader and customer and friend, is what should the target weight be? What is your preference? Some things to consider:

  • There are fixed costs per chicken, regardless of its size – the chick, the enterprise assets, the farm assets, and processing.
  • Fixed costs mean that small chickens cost more per pound, and large chickens cost less per pound.
  • There are primarily 2 variable costs related to chicken size – field labor and feed.
    • Field Labor - Bigger chickens take more days to raise. Each day the chickens need to be moved (twice per day during the last couple weeks) and fed and watered, so the cumulative labor time attributed to each chicken increases each day. At 165 chickens per group and $20 per hour, it’s $0.05 per chicken per day.
    • Feed – Finished weight is directly tied to total feed consumption. In 2022 our “feed conversion ratio” was 2.4 (meaning 2.4 pounds of feed becomes 1.0 pounds of finished weight). If we assume the 2.4 feed conversion ratio remains constant, then each additional 1.0 pound of chicken weight would cost 2.4 pounds of feed, or $1.20.
  • Variable costs mean that larger chickens cost more total than smaller chickens.
  • A rotisserie chicken at the store is probably 2.0 to 2.5 pounds. That’s good for a couple servings. A 5-pound chicken will feed 4 people for dinner with several lunches leftover. A 7-pound chicken will provide lunch all week, or serve a group or chicken loving family.
  • Your time is the same, approximately, to cook a small chicken that provides a few servings vs cooking a big chicken that will provide lots of food in the refrigerator.

Below is the table showing our costs and the price we would need to charge for chicken weights from 3 pounds to 8 pounds. The gray boxes show the total price and price per pound for each weight of chicken. The yellow boxes are the variable costs, and the white boxes the fixed cost per chicken. The bottom 6 rows are the calculations for the variable costs.



What do you think? What would you like to buy?

As a farmer, I don’t care – the farm will earn the same profit - $7 – regardless of the size of the chicken. This year we raised and are delivering 5-pound average chickens, and I feel like 5-pound birds strike a good balance of enough vs overwhelming amounts of food, total price, and price per pound. As a cook and person that likes to eat chicken, I like big chickens. 6- and 7-pounds. High-quality meat and eggs fuel my daily work, they pump nutrition that I can feel into my body and mind, and they are delightfully delicious. And I like the time savings of cooking a big chicken and then having leftovers to eat cold or re-purpose for tacos, rice bowls, stir-fry, salads. That’s me.

What do you want? What size and price do you find most attractive? Next year we will once again be raising pastured chickens – if we can get some feedback, we will raise exactly what you would like, our customers and friends and community. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below! (Comments won't be posted - they'll just go to me).


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