The more I try to feed chickens naturally but economically, the more I see the vanishing point.
To obtain protein from an animal, you need them to have either a marvellous ability to turn vegetable matter into meat (cows, sheep), or a marvellous supply of full-profile protein. Commercially, supplying the extra amino acids is done using artificial versions derived from petrochemicals. These may have population health effects, but that's no concern to the producers, it seems.
What I'm finding is that it's easy enough to supply a full protein profile without relying on fakes, but it's not easy to do this economically. If I ran a dairy, perhaps... But on a home budget on a mere acre?
Mind you, I'm not comparing these chickens to supermarket ones in terms of cost-to-raise; that makes no sense. What I'm comparing them to is the effort in raising another meat like lamb. I'm starting to sense that chicken meat (needing protein from animal sources) is and should be an expensive meat after all! It should be more expensive than lamb because lambs, having the wonderful rumen, can derive everything they need from vegetable material (with a few minerals etc thrown in).
Now I can also understand why in olden days chicken meat was a luxury... Raised naturally in a large group, it is expensive. Raised naturally on free range with a high bug population... Well that would be different, but there would be losses to raptors and so forth, so even that will entail a cost.
Fortunately I didn't start doing this to make cheap chicken meat. However I do feel my attitude evolving, the more I experiment. I don't feel tempted to give up and buy supermarket chicken, but I do feel a need to step back and rejig what I'm doing. Natural, yes, no question about that — as natural as possible given that I don't live on a highly arable acreage. But maybe natural in the case of chickens means lighter, better-foraging birds with occasional pot-cockerels rather than a meat production line?
In a way this dovetails neatly with what I believe anyway: we need to respect where meat comes from. Cheap meat will always have something wrong, whether it's nutritional (cheap petrochemical-derived food) or in terms of sustainability (over-fishing and toxic waters). Yes, I do believe it's time to rejig where chickens fit into the scheme of things...