Saturday, November 13, 2010

Not For Profit!

A selection of Penny & Dorothy's eggs.  Our two other hens, who lay blue eggs, have stopped laying since daylight has been decreasing in these fall/winter months.

Sometimes when I mention that I have a backyard chicken flock people will comment, “You must save a lot of money on eggs!” While that statement is true, it is also misleading. Yes, I never have to buy eggs, but the eggs are hardly free.

You can buy a dozen of eggs at the supermarket for about $1.50. You might spend as much at $4 if you buy a dozen of the free range, organic eggs. But even $4 is relatively inexpensive. If you buy a dozen eggs a week for a year, the most you will spend is $224. Owning chickens seems like an easy way to bring down that cost.

The coop I built cost roughly $200 to build, plus the time I put into it. If you want a dozen eggs a week, you will need three hens. Hens can be purchased at the pullet age (when they are beginning to lay) for around $25. If you try to save money by buying chicks, you end up spending comparable money on food. Also, chicks are more fragile, so they have a higher percentage of mortality. Three laying hens, if allowed free range, and if you augment their food with table scraps, should cost about $10 a month in feed. You also need a watering device ($15) and most likely buy a feeder ($15) so that grain is not wasted on the ground. For the first year, you end up spending roughly $425 on your flock, nearly twice of what you would spend on eggs.

Of course the second year is much cheaper, because the starts up costs have already been paid, but it takes a few years to recoup your expenses. It is important to remember that hens do not live a long time and that their productivity starts to dip in their second year. So after a few years, you may find yourself once again on the market for new hens.

I am not writing this to discourage you from raising a backyard flock. And it is likely true that, in the long term, you will be fiscally rewarded by your hens. However, it is important to go into urban homesteading with realistic monetary expectations.

There are many other benefits of urban chicken farming that I see as being far more valuable than saving a few bucks on the grocery bill. I enjoy taking action to become more sustainable and less dependent on distant people and policies. I take pleasure in watching our hens meander through the backyard and hunt for bugs. And they help me make a firm connection to nature. Nature sustains us all, and our dependence upon nature demands respect and reverence: I find those things in my backyard flock.

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