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Side Hustle Series: I’m a Chicken Farmer

by J. Money on Thursday, October 14, 2010

Most of you know by now how much I love to hustle. I do it at work, I do it at home, but mainly I do it online ;)  One of the nice things about pf blogging is that you can sometimes make a little side income from it!  (notice all the ads over there on the right) But online ventures are only a SLIVER of what’s out there.  People have been hustlin’ for hundreds and thousands of years and there’s always a way to make more money if you really put your heart into it.

So today we’re starting a new series called the “Side Hustle Series,” and the only purpose it’s gonna serve is to show ya’ll how many OTHER ways there are out there to bring in that extra cash. And what better way to showcase these than by sharing the written accounts from the hustlers themselves? You may not like or even think about doing any of these, but they’re all real-life stories of people making trying to make that extra money. And sometimes it doesn’t always work out!  It can really take some trail and error to maximize those profits. If you’d like to be featured here yourself, give me a shout and share your story with me.

My name is Molly, and I’m a Chicken Farmer

I love chickens.  I love to look at them, pet them, sit next to them and yes, eat them.  My kids will tell you that some days I like my chickens more than them.  I’ve kept a dozen or so chickens for eggs in the backyard for the past ten years. In Quicken I classify them as pets, but my real intent is that they provide us food, compost our leftovers from the kitchen and provide our garden with fertilizer.

This past Spring I decided to jump into chicken farming with both feet and raise not only laying chickens but chickens for meat too.  Now, if you were to talk to most farmers they would tell you its hard work, never a day off.  I get bored easily with projects I start and I don’t ‘love’ hard labor, in fact I can be a bit whiny at times.  Yet this Summer I became a chicken farmer and I’m trying to make some money from it.

Here’s the breakdown of how it worked out:

Will it make $?: This year was a test.  By the end of the season I would know a lot more about chicken farming and if I liked it I’d be all set to go into larger production for Spring 2011. I created a spreadsheet and put in all the costs and the potential revenue.  What I saw was the more chicken, the more profit.  When I ran the numbers it looked like I would break even at about 100 chickens.

baby chickMarch- Order the chickens: In March I ordered my first batch of 25 chickens. I ordered ‘slow-grow’ Cornish Rock chickens because they can survive at over 7000 feet above sea level which is where I live.  They are bred to be ready to harvest after 10-12 weeks.  The ‘fast-grow’ variety used in most industrial farms mature in 6-7 weeks.  They don’t do so well at our altitude and I don’t need my chickens keeling over from heart attacks.   I built a brooder for raising chicks in the chicken coop and waited.

April- Building infrastructure: My husband, Michael, and I built two mobile chicken pens.  At three weeks old I’ll move the chicks from their nursery in the coop to the mobile pens.  In the pens they will get moved around the yard every day to a fresh patch of grass.  The grass and bugs will supplement their feed while their poop will fertilize our land.  We were able to build the pens from materials we had laying around so it cost us nothing.  We are reading up on the subject of processing chickens and my husband, who likes to read reference books for fun, is starting to build a chicken plucker.  Pluckers can cost up to $1200 retail. Not something we want to invest in for an experimental chicken farmer. If his homemade plucker isn’t working by the time these chicks are ready we’ll have to do it by hand.  Our chicks arrive late April and were in good shape although I got shorted two chicks. Day two I checked in on the brooder and it was full of active little chicks except for one who had moved on to chicken heaven.  It happens.

May- Full time farmer: I quit my job (Whoo-hoo! Now I can farm full time!).  This was not the plan but my husband knew it was inevitable.  This weekend the chicks will be 3 weeks old and big enough to come out of the brooder and into the new pen.  Thank god, because yesterday I ordered 50 more and I’ll need the brooder for them!

Mid May- Predators: The coyotes have moved in and eaten two of our chickens.  A little coyote education:  Coyotes have their pups in February.  They feverishly feed them through May traveling up to 3 miles to find food. Once they find a good supply of food (my chickens) they move in and don’t leave until the supply is depleted.  This could include my cats and two small dogs.  Along with the coyotes a raccoon has taken up residence and is enjoying the fruits of our chicken labor.  I spend the week ‘battening down the hatches’ of the mobile pens.  They are much more difficult to move now because I have surrounded each one with 18 cinder blocks.   Moving the pens daily was one chore the kids could do on their own.  Now I will have to help them, but I will be getting my weight bearing exercise!

securing mobile chicken pen

June- Processing: We butchered our first chickens.  We’re down to 14 from the original 25 I had ordered thanks to predators and other mishaps.  We processed 7 one day and 7 the next.  The plucker is working great but since we are new its slow going.  The rains are coming and already we had to move the pens in a panic during a heavy downpour so they wouldn’t get submerged in water.  We can still hear the coyotes but the pens seem to be holding up.

July- Wrapping Up: This weekend Michael and I spent two full days butchering and dressing the last 50 of our meat chickens.  Believe it or not, it was fun, lots of work, but fun.  I felt like I was finally getting the hang of how to dress the chicken about midway through (I still leave the killing to Michael).  When I first met Michael, meat was not something I ate regularly.  I had probably cut into a piece of raw chicken meat twice.  I’m not exaggerating.  I was not a vegetarian; I just got a bit squeamish when the meat came out.  Now I can pull the lungs out of a chicken in record time.

Assuming my labor was free here’s how it turned out:

Description Price
75 Chicks -$162
Equipment -$269
Feed -$371
Total Cost -$802
Chicken Sales $891
Net Gain $89

 
Raising our own chickens to eat has been a huge learning experience for me. It lasted about 3 months from the time the first babies arrived to butchering the last batch.  My goal was to get closer to my food and see if it could turn into a bit of supplemental income.  I did get much closer to my food and am still able to eat it (something I thought I might give up on).  Did it give us additional income?  Well… yes, but not much.

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Interesting in reading more?  Check out Molly’s chicken blog here: Chickentopia, or hit up her personal finance blog: Molly on Money. Thanks for sharing your project w/ us Molly!!

If you’d like to be featured here yourself, give me a shout and share your story.


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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 01phoenix October 14, 2010 at 8:48 am

Cool new series idea! Fun read, and looking forward to more stories- maybe I’ll even get some good ideas out of ‘em :)

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2 Molly On Money October 14, 2010 at 8:49 am

Thanks so much for having me on as a guest writer! I love the idea for this series and look forward to reading more of it…..FYI, I love your theme song (rap). Is that ‘Punch Debt In the Face’s’ side line hustle?

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3 Karmella October 14, 2010 at 9:32 am

I love chickens – I couldn’t read the article because chickens were being killed! My neighbor has a few for eggs, and they’re so sweet, once I saw them gobbling and scratching I could not eat chicken – goodbye, beloved Chick Fil A :( :(

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4 J. Money October 14, 2010 at 10:04 am

I know, it is kinda hard to read about if you think about how cute they are :( I just think it’s SOOOOO cool how different our lives can be. We all get into things that others have probably never even thought about.

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5 Molly On Money October 14, 2010 at 10:33 am

@ Karmella-
I firmly believed this experience was going to transform me into a vegetarian! I was surprised when it did not. One of the main reasons I decided to get into the meat chicken farming business was because as a meat eater I wanted to be closer to my food.
I have not been able to bring myself to do the actual killing. My husband doesn’t mind doing it so I’ve left it to him. I’m great at the rest of the processing.
Many layer chicken breeds double as stew chickens. At two years old when they stop laying eggs the idea is you kill them for stew. An older chicken contains enzymes that are very good for us. I cannot bring myself to kill our older menopausal laying chickens. In fact I have one that is getting so old she recently went blind. The other chickens take care of her.

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6 DC October 14, 2010 at 10:49 am

J, I love the new series! I’m ALL about this!

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7 LindyMint October 14, 2010 at 11:47 am

Wow, I wasn’t so ready for talk about pulling lungs out if chickens this early in the morning. But it’s fun hearing about your adventures. Here’s to no more predators!

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8 Edward - Entry Level Dilemma October 14, 2010 at 11:47 am

I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t J. who was raising chickens. :)

I’ve been interested in raising chickens for a while; it’s definitely something I’m going to do once I have a yard. I plan on starting with layers and eventually work up the courage to meat birds.

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9 Evan October 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I couldn’t imagine killing the chickens. I love meat, but the thought of taking it down myself make it well worth whatever markup I pay.

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10 Kelsey October 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I could never butcher the chickens either…I don’t have a strong stomach. Are you going to be doing it again?

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11 Yana October 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I love this post! I think I’d like to have a few chickens just for eggs, if and when we move to a place where we can have any kind of yard. I wouldn’t think of it as a money-making venture, but great fun and work that feels good.

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12 Vinny October 14, 2010 at 1:31 pm

That’s a cool hustle for sure! But for $89 after 3 months of work, stress & energy I think I personally would rethink repeating this hustle myself. No offense but I can think of quite few hustles that would net more than $1 a day.

I think I’m going to try standing on the corner with a sign that says “Will Budget for Money” if I can’t bang out more than a buck a day with that sweet hustle it may be time to throw in the towel!

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13 Molly On Money October 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm

@ Edward- Maybe I can get J Money to agree to an apprenticeship with me next spring?!
@ Kelsey- We are doing one last batch of 25 chickens for our own consumption. This time I experimented and got the ‘fast grow’ Cornish Rock (you can butcher them in 6-8 wks). So far I’ve had the same % of early deaths as with the ‘slow grow’. We will butcher this last bunch on Halloween!
@ Vinny- I agree! I have a real problem with aligning my passions with a money making venture….I’m working on it, kinda.
For those interested in getting started with a few backyard chickens it does not take a lot of space. They are as easy as keeping a cat! You can email me your questions at chickentopia@gmail.com

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14 Meredith October 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm

J, this new series is AWESOME!

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15 Briana @ GBR October 14, 2010 at 2:41 pm

What a great series! I would never think to be a chicken farmer, and I think it’s because I’d be too emotionally invested in the animals lol but a great learning experience nonetheless!

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16 Jenna October 14, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Thanks for the money break down. I’m planning on getting chickens when I move out (I can have 3 within city limits) but only want them for eggs and to help with composting.

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17 ctreit October 14, 2010 at 3:51 pm

J knows that I would like to raise my own chicken, but I am living in a place where the ordinances do not let me do it. I will have to wait until I buy myself a little farm somewhere out in the country. – All the best to you Molly! I am sure your chicken and eggs taste a lot better than the products we can buy in the supermarket.

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18 Rachel211 October 14, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I suppose one thing that you should consider in your costs is how much you saved in not buying chicken for your family at the store. Was that part of it, or was this first batch all for sale?

And while I think baby chicks are cute – I grew up around a couple dozen adult chickens in pens and they are gross and smelly! (And hard to catch!) So that never turned me into a vegetarian. ;)

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19 Molly On Money October 14, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for all the kind words!
@ Rachel211- We kept any chickens that got bruised or thrashed going through the plucker. Otherwise they got sold (and quickly!).
The pens I have can hold up to 40 chickens but I’ve opted to only put 25 in each pen. Why? They get very poopy very quickly. Having pens that are meant to move is a great help to keeping it clean.

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20 Michael Senchuk October 15, 2010 at 11:11 am

I work for a major poultry processor in Canada, so I found this article very interesting. Our chickens are on an eight-week cycle, versus Molly’s 10-12 weeks. I do think, Molly, you may need to find a more permanent solution for the coyotes next year – but excellent work for your first season!

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21 Molly On Money October 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Two weeks ago we had another break-in (this time from a raccoon) and one chicken became the raccoons dinner. After that I retrofitted the pens so I can lock them in at night. Next year I’m making new pens that will be a chicken house on wheels. During the day I will let them out into the pasture that will be fenced.
We only have one major poultry processor in the entire state of NM. There are some private processors and I’m hoping next spring to get to tour one of them.

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22 J. Money October 16, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I find this whole thing extremely fascinating Molly :) I know I’ve told you that like a billion times, but it’s just such a different lifestyle that I’m used to! So thanks again for sharing it all with us.

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23 Molly On Money October 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

J. Money- Thank you again! You are my fairy godfather (sexy, of course). And thanks to all the readers that came to both of my sites!

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24 Sandy @yesiamcheap October 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I loved this story! We raised chickens in the back yard when I was little. I was involved with the killing and butchering process as well so I’ve always appreciated the chicken that I eat. I’ve also lamented the taste of what passes for chicken now versus the smaller more flavorful chickens that we ate as kids. I’ve been trying to convince my BF to let me grow a few (3-5) in our back yard, but it’s a no go.

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25 J. Money October 22, 2010 at 10:04 am

Haha – is he just freaked out by it like I kinda am, or does he just not want to deal w/ the maintenance and all that? Actually I think I’d like to experience it at some point in my life, or at least the eating it part – don’t think I have the cajones to do the rest ;)

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26 Sandy October 22, 2010 at 4:55 pm

The entire idea of food walking around in the yard scares him. He’s such a city boy.

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27 J. Money October 24, 2010 at 10:28 pm

haha… I think I’d get along with that guy.

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28 Molly On Money October 25, 2010 at 8:45 am

I’m always impressed when people tell me they helped butcher the family chicken as a kid. My kids will help with the chores but NOT the butchering. They go in the house and scream out,’TELL US WHEN ITS OVER!’

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29 Jen October 25, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Good for you! We have been doing this for years also. We experimented with raising and selling homegrown turkeys for Thanksgiving one year, but found the same problem – not much $ for a whole lot of work. The scale we would have to get to in order to make a reasonable income for time invested was not worth it for us. And having to butcher all of them a day or two before Thanksgiving was pretty stressful!
Our kids (5) have always had homegrown poultry, and they actually think chicken from a restaurant is pretty gross (different texture). My 5 year old daughter took a chicken to school one day for “show-n-tell” and when they asked her what the name was, she thought quickly and answered “Dinner”. I love when kids have such a healthy attitude about where their food comes from. Keep it up!

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30 Erin August 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Just reading through all of the side hustles for a friend! Thought this was GREAT! I live on a 5 acre farm and we have 7 chickens and 3 ducks that lay eggs (well, 3 chickens aren’t quite there yet, they are this springs babies). Anyways, I’ve been trying to figure out what we will do with them when they stop laying. I was a vegetarian for a year except for things I caught/killed myself but have recently gotten lazy about that. I just don’t think I could kill them myself either, and the manfriend won’t because they are “pets”. I actually have an egg co-op at work. Coworkers bring me egg cartons, they get fresh chicken eggs. We just have way too many that we can’t use. I suppose I should have started charging for this. Oh well – hindsight :)

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31 J. Money August 15, 2011 at 9:33 pm

that is awesome!! I want fresh eggs!!!! :) I really really admire all of y’all who make their own food like that, and raise all these farm animals. I just don’t have the patience (or land) to do any of that just yet. I can totally see getting addicted to it though. Maybe one of these days?

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