In a day when a large portion of grocery expenses are tied up in the fuel it takes to get food from point A to point B, it seems obvious that local options should not only be more economical, but fresher, healthier, and better for the environment as well.
What better way to be local than to produce food yourself?
So many folks worry about the oil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, etc. yet it never occurs to them that they could help by growing a little of what they eat. It’s not part of our mindset. Afterall, our yards are tradiitonally meant for growing grass, and flowers, and… pretty things.
I think an easy – and fun – way to produce some of our own food is with laying hens, So I’ve been doing a little breakdown into how much they cost, versus how much they produce. The end result was that I now know exactly how much our eggs cost, and I’ll be honest, they’re not cheap. Especially with there not being much forage for them this time of year. I have no doubt that their feed cost will go down as the weather warms up and the bugs come out, but averaged out throughout the year, I’m pretty sure our eggs still cost us more than the eggs we could be buying down at the local grocery store.
Of course, as these chickens are laying these expensive (but healthy!) eggs, they’re laying down some very rich fertilizer – something I have no way of putting a monetary value on – and they’re helping turn our kitchen scraps into compost. Currently we have them stationed over the garden area where their fertilizer is being directly applied, and they’re turning the soil as they go (it’s very loose – mostly compost from last year).
So while the eggs do seem to be more expensive, the health benefits and chicken litter, in our opinion, more than offset that cost.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What exactly is the cost of these critters? Let me put it this way;
- Chicken Feed – 50 lbs. = Approx. $15.00
- Feed consumed per day – Roughly 8 oz. per chicken (that’s about $.15)
This feed consumption is based on what our 6 chickens have been eating throughout the winter. These same six chickens are providing us with an average of 3 eggs per day. It’s normal for chickens to stop laying altogether during the darkest part of the winter, especially in their second year, which lowers your average egg production drastically.
If my figures are correct, our eggs cost about 30 cents each since it seems to be taking two chickens to make one egg every day. Ouch!
Of course, ours are two year olds. The figures for yearling, heritage breed chickens range from 4-6 eggs per week depending on the breed, and if ours were doing that well, of course, the eggs would cost less.
When considering the cost of chickens, don’t forget to factor in their shelter, which is a one time expense and can range from $20-$500 (basically as much as you want to pay), and the cost of the chicken herself. If you buy them as fluffy yellow (or brown) day-old chicks at the local feed store, you’ll probably be paying $3-$4 each, if you choose to skip feeding pullets for six months before they start laying, it can cost anywhere from $15-$20 (sometimes more!) to buy young laying hens.
Gabriel and I find that the model of chicken housing that works best for us is simple, low lying chicken tractors built with 2×2 lumber, scrap tin, and chicken wire. This simple construction gives the chickens plenty of room to exercise, while making it easy to move them pen every day – an essential for keeping things sanitary as well as smell-free. We’ve managed to scrounge most of the material for ours, which obviously keeps the cost down. Of course they’re not as pretty as some of the commercially available versions, which may be a concern if you live in a neighborhood. It seems to me that it shouldn’t be too hard to build an attractive chicken house yourself much more economically. A quick google search shows lots of great ideas!
So, I guess the answer to whether owning your own laying hens is worthwhile is dependent upon your goals.
If your goal is merely to eat cheaply, then the answer is no.
If your goal is to be a good steward of yourself (health), and put your money into quality, environmentally enriching products, then my answer is a resounding YES! The cost is worthwhile. Our birds live happy, healthy lives, enrich their environment by turning waste products into organic fertilizer, and provide us with healthy food at the same time. What could be better?
Update: Over the last several months we’ve begun letting our chickens free-range, putting them in their tractors only at night. The result is that they forage a much larger portion of their food. The ammount of commercial feed consumption has gone from 48 oz. of feed per day, down to 16oz. for our six chickens.
We joke that our chickens are “compost-fed” because they scratch around in the compost pile a lot, and come running whenever they see us adding kitchen scraps to it.