Why keeping chickens is not your answer to high egg prices.
Million Buck Lady. A paint mare. They offered her at auction with her colt, a tobiano not yet named. I brought them home to a small homestead. A double sized stall fit their needs perfectly. Fill a barn with oats, hay, horse, and tack. You've got a barn needing chickens to eat the bugs. Plant a garden nearby, you really need bug control. I tell this story not to discuss horses, but to shed a little light on the reality of chickens. I brought home a dozen chicks. One turned out to be a rooster. That's another story. Chickens are work. Happy healthy chickens are as much work as parrots. If you've read any of my writing, you know how much work and negotiations go into living with parrots. You'll lose an argument with a parrot. And you will lose an argument with a chicken.
My chickens flew up into the tall pine tree next to the barn to roost at night rather than use their hen house accommodations. I was rude to suggest such a thing, anyway. They had one job. Eat the bugs gathering in the barn, garden, and in the hay bales. I didn't write the job description clear enough. I found eggs embedded in hay bales, on larger pine tree branches, and scattered around the barn area half broken. My chickens couldn't bother with sitting down to lay. They just kept walking and dropping. Absolutely no couth.
You just think you'll save money on the egg prices.
What you'll do is transfer the cost of eggs to the costs of keeping chickens.
- Hen houses are an interesting contraption. A small shed with windows for light in one area, but not another. Ventilation for air movement. If you're going for mobility, it'll have wheels on one end to move around like a half-cocked wheelbarrow. Shelves with open drawers for nest building. Perching areas, run areas, chicken wired to keep snakes and the local meat-eating hunters out. (Pro fact, you'll never keep snakes out). Add a chicken swing and foraging toys because they need something to think about outside of scratching dirt. Chickens are smart. Parrot smart without the speech. They communicate, in a chickeny, snotty way which is hilarious. A solid, safe hen house will run $250 (if you're creating or buying bare basic, which after you fall in love with them you will renovate larger).
- Chicken scratch. Just because they are eating your bugs doesn't mean they don't need scratch, mealworms of sorts, and chicken feed for their protein needs. Scratch is not feed. You'll need both. They will appreciate fresh vegetables from your left-over meals. They will happily consume fresh fruit. Yes, they'll eat the shells from their eggs after you've made an omelet. Point is chickens eat about 1/2 cup of food a day (or better). High-quality food is mandatory if you want good eggs with good shells on them. Costing out feeding a small backyard laying flock is a challenging proposition. It all depends on the quality of feed, scratch, and supplemental worms you buy. It depends on where you buy. And it depends on the age of your chickens. Starters eat differently than adult layers. I will suggest with the additional fruit and vegetable, one chicken costs equal to a parrot. One macaw costs us about $30 a month (or better).
- Time is valuable. And you can put a price on it. Got a job? Do the math and what's your hourly? You'll need at least an hour a day for your flock. Cleaning, clearing, moving the hutch around (if they aren't free roaming like mine were with the horses). Weekends you'll be cleaning watering stands and feed dishes. Clearing nest areas. Doing this right, you'll give your chickens two or three hours on your weekend off days. Then you'll fall in love with their personalities and be out there more. Fair warning. Chickens are delightful. And they like being with delightful human servers.
What's the actual cost of eggs from your backyard chickens?
- A single hen can lay one egg a day on average. Your egg requirements will do the math for your hen count. Chicks cost roughly $4 while Layers cost between $30-$50 depending on breed. Healthy chickens live about 8 years. Their laying years number 4. You'll be loving a chicken that contributes nothing for half their residency. Personally, I don't begrudge a chicken for this idea. I've got 13 companions, all contributing nothing but happiness, love, and improving my mental health every day. But if we're costing out chickens, they only bring eggs to the equation for half their time with you.
- Add up bedding, food, shelter, healthcare (yes, chickens need vet visits, you're eating their eggs), vaccinations, and supplements. Depending on where you are, the average yearly cost of a small flock is $250 - $400 (or better).
- They will need a run and outdoor spaces for healthy living. You will give up backyard space.
- Chickens are adaptable, and easy as far as 'farming' practices. Chickens are not simple. Again, just like parrots. A hen can go off her laying from stress alone.
All this being said, I'd have chickens again, if I could. They are immensely fun, intuitive, and loving. Fancy or domestic. A chicken is a chicken is a potential companion. All chickens. Don't think you'll save money by raising a few for eggs. Even with prices in 2023 projected at $7 a dozen on low grade eggs, $10 a dozen for organic and free range. You'll break even. Maybe.
But here's the question no one asks about raising chickens for eggs.
How many eggs should a person eat to be healthy, anyway? Well, that depends on the human's health. Those with high cholesterol levels, obesity, or chronic disease such as family heart disease are advised to stick with 4-5 eggs per week. Healthy active adults with no family history can have 1-2 eggs a day. According to Healthline.com
What about ducks or turkeys? Eggs are eggs. Their eggs are bigger. Quail are small, so are their eggs. The color of an egg does not affect the nutritional value. Eggs come in Easter egg amazing colors and patterns. Beige, brown, blue, green, speckled camouflage matching grasses, and black. Eggs taste different when the hens eat differently. Eggs taste better from your backyard than from the store.
There's cold hard math to the equation of keeping laying chickens in your backyard. The math toward saving money at the grocery store doesn't add up. You may actually find yourself in the red. But the math adding up for healthier eggs and happier mental health because you share your life with chickens? That is infinite math. Their value as a lifestyle choice adds up to great. Impactful. Surprising. Chickeny.
Which forces me to bring up my rooster, Darnell. I kept him. He woke early. But no earlier than our newborn baby, so sleep was a zero-sum game, anyway. He motored around the property like a roadrunner. Darnell proved a watchdog value to the property. He'd herd the horses if they got out of his idea of a line. Darnell was all kinds of extra. Just like his girls. Who avoided him by flying up into the tall pine tree next to the barn.
Forget the eggs. Chickens are brilliant companions. Roosters are pretty fabulous, too.
I came across one of your articles in my newsbreak app. I love your writting and sense of humor! Looking forward to reading more of your work. ❤️
Indeed they are! One (original) Rhode Island Red lived nigh on 12 years, many of which were eggless but on she lived until she could no longer see but she followed the flock out every morning and I gathered her up every night to return to the henhouse. Oh the memories…. I enjoyed them immensely except for that nasty old rooster 🐓😂