Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
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 that 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. 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.