For more information on processing chickens, check out my post How to Butcher a Chicken.
What is a Chicken Co-op?
A co-op is a group that works together to achieve a common goal. A chicken co-op is a group that either pools their buying power to receive better prices for chicks and feed (this may also be called a buying club), or works together to raise chickens for meat or eggs. Raising chickens as a co-op allows a group to pool their various resources to provide fresh, humanely raised eggs and meat for the members. For the purposes of this article, we will consider a chicken co-op as the latter.
A chicken co-op will generally have one person or family who has the room and facilities to raise chickens for themselves and a group of friends who would like to eat the eggs and meat provided. The members who are not able to raise the chickens will normally pitch in to help with chores, take part on butchering day, and pay for their share of chickens or eggs produced.
To begin with, you need a group of people who wish to receive a share of eggs each week or raise meat chickens for their freezer.
One person needs to have the property to raise the chickens. Be sure that the property is zoned properly and has the necessary housing and pasture space available. If there is work that must be done to prepare for the birds, all of the members should be willing to come over for a work day. Make it a fun day with a potluck and a presentation about raising chickens if you have someone willing to prepare and give a talk.
A chicken co-op that bands together to raise meat chickens normally start with day old chicks. They can be ordered through a mail order hatchery with all members paying up front for the cost of their chicks. Since one person will need to order the chicks, set up the brooder and coop, pay for the feed, and do the majority of the work, that person may wish to charge a non-refundable deposit for each chicken ordered. This will help cover the costs, in case anyone bows out after the initial order is placed.
A group that wishes to raise hens for eggs requires a longer commitment and members should be willing to help out if the farm family wants to take a vacation. The cost of keeping laying hens is divided between the co-op members with the family caring for the hens paying less, or nothing, to compensate them for their commitment and time. It’s a good idea to decide ahead of time if the hens will be butchered when their egg production slows down. Most members of a co-op won’t want to support a retirement home for chickens.
How Does it Work?
Every group will have to work out the details that they find agreeable. Friends who band together for such a venture may wish to keep things loosely organized if they trust one another. If one family is doing all of the work and arranging the butcher days, pick up times, picking up feed, and providing all of the equipment and chicken coops…that family may wish to ask for certain things in return. Some reasonable requests might include:
- Help on work days
- Chicken sitting help when they are out of town
- Payment in advance
- Pick up on certain days
- Reduced or ‘no’ cost to themselves for chickens or eggs
- Butcher your own meat chickens, or pay for the service
My Experiences with Chicken Co-ops
My first experience with a chicken co-op was several years ago when a friend of ours raised a flock of meat chickens. He didn’t ask for a deposit in advance and several people backed out when it was time to butcher. He asked if I wanted to purchase and butcher any of the unclaimed chickens. I went on processing day and butchered 6 chickens. I paid for the cost of raising the chickens and did my own processing.
Now that I have a property where I can raise and process my own birds, I have made the offer available to a few friends who I thought might be interested in naturally raised chickens. We have had several join in chicken and turkey co-ops and my experience has been very good. I only offer this to people I know and I would hesitate to raise birds for anyone else.