Let’s face it – raising chickens for your own fresh eggs is like a gateway drug to a full-fledged addiction to all things ‘rural’.
At least it seems that way, with practically every second magazine having anything to do with ‘home’ talking about backyard chickens in some way, shape or form. There’s a reason why chickens are the first thing most people think about when they think ‘rural’. I mean, what household didn’t have chickens back in the day? Mansions, shacks and everything in between – everyone had a few birds out back for eggs and meat.
We brought our first batch of ISA Brown girlies home on May 31, 2011. It was step number 4 on our journey to a more self-reliant lifestyle (steps 1 through 3 involved moving just outside of a small town, transitioning to full time self-employment, and getting the raised beds set up and organized for veggies). The goal was to be able to eliminate the need to buy eggs for us or fertilizer for our new veggie gardens. The second goal was for my son to understand the work and reward that goes into raising our food. Third, we wanted the birds pay for themselves. And that’s where things get interesting.
I asked this question on our Facebook page recently: “Do you track your costs and benefits of keeping chickens for eggs?” Or something like that. Anyway, the answers ranged from, “Always – they have to pay for themselves” to “Never – my husband would never let me keep them if he knew what it actually cost!” and a whole bunch of humorous answers in between.
So let me ask you: do YOU track the cost of keeping chickens?
What Chickens Cost
Since the beginning of this adventure, I’ve tracked feed and building costs, along with sales to friends and associates, but not actual egg production. Here’s what it looks like to date (from 15 chicks in May of 2011 to 17 producing hens – 13 of which are 20 months old and 4 are about 7 months… oh, and 2 roosters [was 3 but one was dispatched by a hawk this past Christmas]):
- Cost of building the coop and run (materials only): $315
- Cost of feed, scratch (all certified organic), bedding, etc.: $1,400
- Income from egg sales to friends & associates: $1,175
- Profit/Loss: ($540)
Now, that might look not so good, but considering our household took about a dozen eggs a week between November 2011 and today, our chicken co-parents took one or two dozen a week between December 2011 and early summer 2012, my parents take a dozen every couple of weeks or so, and we gave away numerous dozens as ‘gifts’, we’ve definitely come out ahead. At $7 a dozen (the current rate for certified organic eggs around here), that would equate to 77 dozen eggs – we’ve probably taken close to that just ourselves since the first batch started producing, so the economics work out. I sure wish I’d tracked production, though! This year we’ll be tracking everything to give us a more accurate picture.
One thing to keep in mind is that this calculation doesn’t include any time investment. If we were to add our time for building, caring, maintaining, picking up feed, etc., well, let’s just say that it makes WAY more sense to buy organic eggs at $7/dozen at the market. But that’s not why we’re doing this, is it? (Note: if you have or plan on having a livestock dog that you wouldn’t have otherwise, you’ll also need to add a percentage of the cost of the dog’s feed, vet bills, etc. to your calculations – which is why we don’t have a dog! ;).
Ways to Reduce Feed Costs
There are ways to reduce feed costs, which have risen quite a bit over the past year. Ideas include:
- Free ranging – Always a great idea if it’s safe (i.e., no predators, no chemicals lying around, you can provide good fencing).
- Fermented feed – I haven’t tried this myself, but one of our Facebook friends says it reduces her feed costs by about 30% due to the fact the fermentation makes the nutrients in the feed more bio-available, hence the chickens need less. We’ll be giving this a go this spring.
- Augmenting feeding with appropriate kitchen scraps.
- Feeding cheaper feed – This isn’t an option for us, but for some it might be viable. We go out of our way to avoid genetically modified ingredients in the food we eat, so feeding GE soy/corn feed to chickens that provide our eggs just doesn’t make any sense. Plus I think the birds are just healthier all around with organic feed (we’ve never had an illness or lost a bird to anything other than coyotes and hawks).
- Potentially mixing your own feed might make it less expensive, but the time involved would make the benefit nil for me.
Cost/Benefit Tracking Sheets
To help you figure out how much your chickens cost or benefit your household, purely by the numbers, I’ve put together a very simple cost and benefits tracking spreadsheet for you to download for your own use. You can download it here:
- Chicken Economics Calculator (xlsx format)
- Chicken-Economics-Calculator (xls format for Excel 97-2004)
- Note: there are actually 4 spreadsheets in the workbook – the first one you’ll see when you open the file is a summary – the actual tracking documents are in the other 3 sheets, which you link to in the tabs below the spreadsheet when you open it.
Don’t have Excel? OpenOffice is a free alternative – you can download their applications here: click to download OpenOffice. You can open Excel files in OpenOffice, so you’ll be all set!
I’m super happy with our decision to get chickens. It’s not without a lot of work, but they’re so entertaining, and the fact we have our own relatively self-reliant source of quality protein can’t be overstated. And the value added to our lives in so many other ways is immense. Of course, if we ever couldn’t get feed for some reason, we’d have to change our arrangements so the birds could free range 100% of the time, but for now, it works and it’s worth it.
Let us know how the spreadsheets work for you in the comments below! I’m happy to amend them if you think of something we should add.
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Thanks for the spreadsheets! I have only tracked my feed purchases vs. egg production (what I don’t spend at the store). So far, I’m ahead!
Our girls give us a lot more than just their eggs. I can’t tell you how many of the neighborhood kids now ask to come and visit the chickens. They get to pet them, feed them, and harvest eggs. In fact I had two boys over for ‘green eggs and ham’ one morning. We went out to the nest box, gathered our eggs, and brought them in to cook. It was great. I also have lost count of how many times we have had friends over for adult beverages and what we call ‘chicken TV’. Sitting in the back yard and watching the girls work over the yard is stress relieving and quietly humorous…especially if you introduce a bag of meal worms as enticers. People walking the neighborhood, stop and ask if they can come in a see our set up. Can you say COMMUNITY. People visiting the neighbors on either side of us will walk out to the enclosure to catch a glimpse of the flock. I am not sure how to value something less intrinsic than an egg, feed and coop calculation. But it is part of our pay back equation.
Terry, I so agree! Ours are endlessly entertaining, and have been an amazing benefit to my son in the responsibility of caring for them. SO many other benefits, too. I do know a number of people on our Facebook page have stated that if the hens don’t pay for themselves, they have to go… Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – we’re on the same page!
Yes, I am keeping track and,,,well, I am way way behind…
I had to pay someone to build my dream coop for me since I don’t have the knowledge and my DH doesn’t have the time. (I waited over a year for him to build me a coop and finally hired someone else to do it…)
But, waking up every morning and hearing rooster Bob trying to crow, (4 months old) puts a smile on my face as I start my day.
Feeding and caring for the ladies is relaxation therapy for DH and I and a good learning experience (animal care & Science) for DS.
Eventually, we will be bartering eggs with friends for services, but not yet. I only have 2 laying now and a roo. But come the end of the month, I will have 25 chicks and in a few more months,,,we will start to make up the financial investment….
I would have to say that keeping chickens is a great savings to my family. We eat eggs as well as the chickens that we raise and the cost of feed for the chickens is apox. $200 less than the cost of the purchase of eggs and meat per month. And in a family of 7 that is a huge savings.
You did not include the costs of the eggs/chicks, brooder etc., until able to start foraging for themselves. I expect like any now enterprise that set up (establishment of flock) costs will be high, and a 3-5 year return on investment is expected to be phenomenal, so I would see this as a good investment. Also, you would have some birds for meat (organic of course), to help to offset costs. The benefits of interaction with the flock, feeling of self reliance, and the built in alarm clock feature can not be calculated. Overall a very positive investment.
Thanks for the spreadsheet! We had the great blessing of being given a really sturdy and secure chicken coop, as well as 8 laying hens. We have switched out most of the hens. Now in the middle of winter, we have 8 layers, and are getting 1 egg/day (which is 1 more than we have been getting for the past few months).
We augment our feed with spent grain from a local brewery, so that really helps the feed bill (we freeze portions and feed them daily).
I have to honestly say that what has been our biggest ‘expense’ has been my lack of knowledge about raising chickens! Despite online resources, and having been raised in a rural environment with lots of other animals, I feel a bit inept. It wasn’t until I sold a few hens to a vet that he called me back and pointed out that my hens had an upper respiratory infection. When he came back to trade out a hen, he was kind enough to educate me, showing me how to examine their mouths and nasal passages. I had another hen who got bumblefoot on BOTH feet, so I gave her to a feed store owner who successfully performed the necessary surgery on her (next time I’ll give it a go myself). I wish there was more of a local resource or mentor to help me through this. I would be glad to ‘pay it forward’. In the meantime, I keep on learning, and hope that the Girls don’t suffer much more of my ‘newbie ignorance’.
You’re not alone! I think we all feel inept at first – anyone who says they don’t is probably full of hooey… 😉 I find backyardchickens.com’s forums incredibly helpful.
You talk about eggs but not about meat production and what you have to do to harvest. How many folks here harvest your own meat and how? I have never done it but have seen many different ways to do it but is there a preferred method?
We only have the birds for eggs at this point. I did ask the question on our Facebook page a few months back and the preferred method (quickest and least stressful for the bird) was some method of breaking the neck. Sounds awful for someone who’s never seen it or done it, but it was overwhelmingly the highest regarded method. Worth looking into if you’ll be raising birds for meat.
I’ve always heard that having them upside down in a cone and slitting the carotid artery with a knife is best because the sudden drop in blood pressure knocks them right out but the spinal cord is still intact so the autonomic systems can help the blood drain. That way the chance of not breaking their neck all the way is eliminated and you wind up with cleaner meat and a no stress kill.
i’ve just encountered your blog for the first time.
i live in London, but planning to move out to the country in the next couple of years, so at the moment just researching and making plans.
my partner and I are planning to own a house with some land, and become as less dependent as possible on outside sources.
i found your blog very interesting and helpful- with putting everything into actual numbers.
thank you, and i’ll keep reading
Thank you! I hope to get back to writing soon – it’s been awhile… 🙂
Thanks. I am planning to have 50 hens. Right now. I am raising 25.
Chickens are a gateway livestock.
🙂 Yes, yes they are!
Quick question, I visited friends on the Sunshine Coast and the Island all have or had chickens. Everyone of them had to deal with an increase in rat infestation. Do you have this issue and if so how are you handling it?
Great question. We didn’t have any rat issues until people moved in up the road and brought in chickens and turkeys… now we have a problem, though not a large one. Thankfully they are confined to the roof of the chicken coop, and the wildlife manages to keep their numbers in check. They’re small little creatures – not sure if they’re bush rats – but yes, rats nonetheless. All we can do is keep all of the feed locked up in steel cans and keep everything clean. Short of constantly trapping, there’s not much else to do – except feed the owls and coyotes.