Backyard chicken keeping is sweeping the nation, but is it really cheaper to keep your own chickens for eggs? Unfortunately, there’s no hard-boiled answer. Consider a few facts from an experienced keeper to help you decide.
First, do you care what sort of eggs you eat? If you always buy the cheapest eggs, don’t care how the hens lived or that the dozen you pluck off the shelf was probably laid a month ago, then money-wise, you aren’t likely to come out ahead. Our local discount drugstore sells a dozen large eggs for ninety-nine cents. Unless your chickens can roam a large piece of property to eat grass and forage for bugs, with only a little provided food, they won’t be worth your time.
If, on the other hand, you go for the more expensive organic, lower-cholesterol or higher omega 3 fatty acid eggs, then raising hens may save you money. A dozen healthy specialty eggs can go for $5 to $7, depending on where you shop. Even so, there are variables. Read on to see if keeping a flock of laying hens is for you.
In any backyard chicken discussion, somebody clucks about start-up costs. Fancy chicken coops can run into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but if you build a coop out of scrap wood or alter an existing structure, you don’t have to spend much money. Scratch around on the Internet for lots of coop ideas. String wire around a trampoline, transform an old shed or convert an unused dog house.
Feed and Breeds
A 50-pound bag of chicken feed costs as little as $12. Organic or soy-free feed costs much more, say $20 to $40. How much your chickens eat will depend on breed, individual personality and how much you’ll let them forage to feed themselves. Hunt and peck on the web for information about different chicken breeds. In my experience, flighty breeds like my Andalusians eat less.
You’ll also want to consider breeds’ laying reputations. Our barred rock hens lay beautiful big pink-beige eggs, but produce sporadically or cease laying altogether after about a year and a half. Before joining the backyard chicken craze, you’ll want to think about what you’ll do with the hens when they stop laying, too. People butcher them, but you may not be able to eat Henny Penny once she’s become a pet. Hens are fun to watch. They take dirt baths, peck around, and nap with outstretched wings in the mid-day sun. One of mine likes to sit in laps and be stroked like a kitten.
On an acre, our 10 chickens run free, eating up all the snails, slugs and bugs they can find. No pesticides needed here (so we save money). Our chickens also eat table scraps. Purchased food is a supplement, but we still go through a 50-lb bag every few months. Some keepers buy grit and other supplements, too.
Whether or not keeping chickens will save you money can be as simple or as complex as your favorite egg salad. Only you know the precise ingredients. Does keeping chickens save money on eggs? Study up so you can decide for yourself. Chickens Magazine has a wealth of information from me and other keepers.