Making ¢’s of Meat Prices
Making ¢’s of Meat Prices

Making ¢’s of Meat Prices

Why is steak more expensive than chicken?

We know that it costs money to produce the items we rely on daily. Contrary to this knowledge, we rarely question the prices of fiberglass and aluminum for vehicles, steel for bridges and computer chips for our cell phones. Yet I’m sure you’ve questioned why your food is priced the way it is, particularly when it comes to the meat isle. Questions like, why is beef more expensive than chicken? Or how expensive is it to raise and produce chicken, pork or beef?

Glad you asked! As we head into BBQ season, let’s put some sizzling answers together.

How productive is our livestock production is one year?Time and numbers are important when it comes to livestock. The main reason chicken is a cheaper meat source, is that a hen can produce 240 offspring a year, while a sow produces 22 piglets a year and a cow produces only 1 calf. The greater the number of offspring an animal can produce in a year, the greater the supply which helps to lower costs. While numbers matter, the length of time it takes to get that animal to market also influences price. Chickens have the quickest turnover, taking only 33 days to get to market, while a hog takes 140 days and a calf requires 450 days.

Meat prices also depend on what percentage of each offspring is returned to be breeding stock. About 4% of chickens are used to replace older laying hens. In hog production, 20% of offspring go to replace older sows and 50% of calves return to cattle herds.

The cost of feeding livestock accounts for 70% of the total cost of raising the animal, is also a factor of how much you pay. That is why it’s important to get an animal (or bird) to its slaughter weight as quickly as possible. 30 years ago, chicken required 55-60 days to reach the market, today it’s 33. In the beef industry, one of the reasons growth hormones are used is to reduce the number of days that animals are required to be feed. Without growth hormones, it would take a calf an extra 40 days of feed to be ready to go to market. This would result in increased beef prices.

Substantial livestock research is on how to produce meat faster and cheaper by increasing the amount of weight that a bird or animal gains every day, while remaining safe for the animals and humans. Some of this is done through better breeding research programs. This research focuses on determining the most efficient ratios of different feed ingredients such as corn, oats, barley, canola meal and soybeans to increase the livestock’s weight faster and cheaper. Livestock researchers are now beginning to integrate breeding knowledge and feeding efficiencies to breed livestock varieties that have improved feed conversion genetics.

It is possible to raise 13 chickens at the same time that it takes to produce one beef. Based on those numbers and time, you can’t fault beef for costing a bit more, time is money after all. The next time you slap a chicken breast, burger or steak on the grill, recall that it took 5 weeks for the chicken breast to get to you and 15 months for the burger or steak. Regardless of what you’re BBQing for supper, livestock researchers and producers in Canada strive to produce the best quality and safest meat possible. So, as the wonderful aroma of your meal wafts towards you, raise your beer or chardonnay to those that helped bring it to you.