Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Guest Post by Michelle Mather
As you might know from reading previous posts on this blog, Cam and I acquired 4 laying hens in May. We had always toyed with the idea of having our own chickens, but we didn’t know anything about looking after them and so we kept “chickening out.” We both eat a vegetarian diet, partly for ethical reasons, and so unless we were able to find eggs from happy, free-range chickens, we just chose to do without. When we lived in the city I was able to get organic eggs from humanely raised chickens at the local farmer’s market, but the market was only open during the spring, summer and fall and so we often had a hard time finding eggs during the winter months.
Then we moved to our home in the country and discovered a local organic farmer with a flock of chickens. We could see for ourselves that his chickens were not confined to small cages but were free to roam around a large barn and in good weather they ventured out into a pen where they could scratch and peck to their hearts’ content. He fed them organic feed and so we made a point of purchasing our eggs from him.
Then in the fall of 2010 he announced that his current flock of chickens was getting on in years and he wasn’t planning on replacing them, at least not right away. There is another farm in our area that offers eggs from free-range chickens but their eggs aren’t always easy to get. So once again we were back to only eating eggs whenever we could find them and doing without when our only choice was commercially produced eggs.
So last May we made the big decision to get our own chickens. At first we got two but then realized that our coop (which Cam made out of scrap lumber and two pallets as shown here) was big enough for at least 2 more. We also read that in case you lose one chicken (to illness or a predator), it’s good to have “extras” so that you won’t find yourself with one lone chicken in your coop.
The “girls” are an endless source of amusement (and eggs!) Henrietta, Penelope, Flora and Belle quickly settled in to life at Sunflower Farm and soon began laying almost one egg a day each! In three days we have a dozen eggs and so we get roughly two dozen eggs a week from our 4 chickens. They have slowed down ever so slightly now that the cold and snow has arrived, but they are still producing and most days we get 3 eggs from them.
We have given away quite a few eggs to our friends and family members and everyone agrees – once you’ve had a farm-fresh egg from a happy chicken, you can’t go back to the commercially produced ones. They just aren’t in the same league!
Not only do they taste much better, they are nutritionally superior too! Mother Earth News says that eggs from chickens that are allowed to roam on pasture (instead of being confined to cages as is the case for most commercially produced hens) have;
- 1⁄3 less cholesterol
- 1⁄4 less saturated fat
- 2⁄3 more vitamin A
- 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
(See the article here; http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx)
One of my friends asked me if we are saving money by having our own chickens. We didn’t acquire chickens in order to save money, but since we were spending more than $5.00/dozen for organic, free-range eggs when we were able to find them, I decided to do the math to answer my friend’s question.
The chickens eat a 25 lb. bag of organic feed in about 9 weeks. So they roughly go through almost 3 lbs. a week. Multiply that by 52 weeks and I estimate that our chickens eat about 156 lbs. of feed in a year. That’s 6.24 bags a year, so I’ll round it up to 7 bags. Each bag of organic feed costs $23.00 for a total feed cost of $161.00.
Let’s say each hen lays 300 eggs over the course of the year. With 4 hens, that’s 1200 eggs or 100 dozen. I was paying about $5/dozen for eggs and so one hundred dozen eggs would be worth $500.00 to me.
So, $500.00 less feed costs of $161.00 means a profit of $339.00.
I found a neat Return on Investment calculator here;
Once I had plugged in my values (be sure to choose “dollars” from the pull down menu since this is a British site) this is what it came up with;
It came up with a different profit, but a profit nonetheless. Notice that this calculator makes a point of stating that it “does not include your labour costs.” Something tells me that if I came up with an hourly wage for all of the hours that I spend just watching my feathered friends, the ROI would be a much different figure!
A note about these photos - These are not current photos. We haven't taken any recent photos of the chickens. It's been cold and snowy here lately and so it's been hard to convince them to leave the coop!
My daughter Katie read my blog and offered some photos that she took while she was at home over the holidays. Thanks Katie! Now this is what it looks like around here this time of year....
(Photos of chickens in the snow courtesy of Katie Mather)