The Real Cost of Fresh Backyard Eggs

Last year we jumped on the crazy bandwagon of backyard chicken owners. Our adorable little flock of chicks grew into a funny flock of laying hens. Now, in the words of our young neighbor, we get “free eggs every morning.”

His comment made me wonder what the cost of fresh backyard eggs actually is. The real answer is a vague “it depends,” but the geek in me wanted something more concrete than that so I decided to put my math skills to the test.

All you really need to get your “free eggs” are chickens, a coop of some sort, food, water, and bedding. And your time, of course. In exchange, you get the fun of having your own chickens, fresh eggs, and a happy garden full of composted manure.

The real cost of fresh backyard eggs

The cost of hens

We picked up chicks at the hatchery for about $1.50 each, but after figuring in the food they ate until they started producing and cost of the heat lamp, it probably cost about $10 each to raise a darling little chick into a laying hen. (My friend Elissa loaned us a chick waterer and feeder, so we didn’t have to buy them. Otherwise it would have cost more. Thanks, Elissa!)

Our chicken palace

The chickens in their palace! (Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.) 

The cost of a coop

This cost gets tricky. Joshua asked me what kind of coop I really wanted. I showed him a picture on Pinterest and he spent several weekends making the most darling coop I have ever seen. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. Do I love it? Absolutely! My Pinterest search showed options ranging from free to insanely expensive.

The cost of feed

This also depends quite a bit. Organic feed costs a whole lot more than regular, of course. We opted for regular. Joshua’s parents found a local store that carries 50# bags for just $9. We give the hens table scraps and let them free range quite a bit, so one bag lasts about six weeks. That brings their food to about $1.50 per week.

The cost of bedding

After reading countless conflicting reports about the best chicken bedding, I decided to go with straw. It’s cheap, breaks down into compost quickly, and is easy to find. A huge bundle of straw cost $6.00. I change it out weekly, but one bundle lasts about six months, making the cost per week around 25¢.

The cost of water

We quickly learned that, if given the opportunity, chickens will turn water into a mud puddle in record time. So, Joshua fitted four wonderful chicken waterers into the bottom of a five gallon bucket. Their water stays clean and I only have to fill it once a week or so. According to our water bill, 3,740 gallons of water cost us $2.12. (Assuming I deciphered the bill correctly!) So, their weekly five gallons costs less than $0.003… but let’s just round up to 1¢.

The cost of time

Another very fuzzy category. One of the main reasons we got chickens was because the kids really wanted a pet and Joshua and I really didn’t. Chickens seemed like the perfect compromise. The eggs were a side benefit.

Plus, Will wants to be a farmer when he grows up, so getting chickens seemed extra fun for him. Every morning he trudges out to give them their breakfast. I usually go out at least once each day, just to check on them. Once a week I spend 30 minutes or so refilling their water, changing out old bedding with clean straw, and adding a fresh layer of chicken manure to our compost pile. Between the two of us, we maybe spend an hour each week caring for the chickens and checking eggs.

Total cost per week

Once you’ve built or bought a coop and spent about $10 each per hen, the weekly costs end up being $1.5 for feed, 25¢ for bedding, and a whopping 1¢ for water. If my not-so-awesome math skills serve me correctly, that brings the weekly cost to $1.76, not including the initial investments and time.

What we get: eggs

I spent quite a bit of time researching the best breed of hens. Since we can only have six chickens in town, I wanted to have our “farming” endeavor be as worthwhile as possible. I chose breeds with an “excellent” food consumption to egg-laying potential that generally have sweet personalities. (For the curious, we have three Production Reds, two Plymouth Barred Rocks, and one Black Sex-Link.)

During peak seasons, we get about five to six eggs a day. In the dead of winter, it ranges from one to four eggs each day. (From what I’ve read, giving them warm water when it’s cold out increasing egg production. We had six inches of snow today and still got four eggs.) Over the course of the year, my guess is we will average four-and-a-half eggs a day, or just over 31 eggs each week.

What we get: awesome composted manure

Yes, chickens produce a lot of manure. If you’re not a gardener, this is not such a great thing. If you are a gardener, this is awesome!

I read once that for every dollar you spend on your garden, 90¢ should go toward the soil. Good soil is just that important. Believe me, your garden will gladly use up an insane amount of composted manure. (How do I know? Two springs ago, our super sweet friends dropped off a truckload of horse manure. I thought we would still be using it up ten years from now. It was completely used up by the middle of last summer.)

This is another thing that is hard to put a number on. I bought a bag of cheap composted manure last year, but it was not properly composted, smelled horrid, and I did not use it. Properly composted, chicken bedding and manure make excellent compost.

We’re yet to enjoy our first spring since becoming chicken-owners, but my guess is we’ll have 10 to 20 bags worth of great composted manure by the time spring rolls around.

If you've ever thought about jumping on the crazy bandwagon of backyard chicken owners, here's a nerdy breakdown of what fresh eggs REALLY cost.

So what’s the real cost of fresh backyard eggs?

So what exactly is the cost of the beautiful brown eggs that sit proudly on my kitchen counter? Some of the factors are too hard to put a finger on, like what coop design you choose and how much the beautiful compost is worth to your garden.

But factoring in the factorable (after the initial costs of coop and hens) it costs about $1.76 each week for us to keep six chickens. Averaging the ups and downs in production over the course of the year, they lay about 31 eggs each week. Which brings the total cost, per dozen, to 68¢.

And now for the million dollar question: is it worth it? The answer to that really is, it depends.

I love having super fresh (somewhat) free-range eggs. I love looking out and seeing a cute little flock of chickens playing in their darling coop. I love the excuse to get outside everyday, especially on days when I wouldn’t normally make the effort. I love watching as Will faithfully feeds the chickens and counts up the eggs.

So even though the eggs aren’t quite free, to me, it is worth having backyard chickens.

What about you? Do you have chickens? If not, have you considered getting some? 

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Comments

  1. says

    This is so true and helpful for those who aren’t in the know…we have had many comments through our egg selling years that the price of $3.00 per dozen was just too high. They were delivered and clean! They were the most golden of yolks, but 3 bucks was just too high *sigh*
    Thank you, dear one. I’m sharing!

    • anna says

      Thanks so much, dear Jacqueline! And yes, 3 bucks for beautiful fresh eggs, delivered and clean, is a steal! 🙂

  2. says

    I really want chickens. My mister isn’t as convinced, and he may be right. I haven’t given up yet, though! I love how you laid out all the costs here. And you really make a great point about the animals being an excuse to get out of the house. Too often I find myself preoccupied with everything inside that I forget to go out!

    So Anna, you’ve rekindled my want for chickens. I won’t let it slip into covetousness, or at least I’ll try. Ha!

    • anna says

      Lol, I certainly wouldn’t want to rekindle an unmet desire. 😉

      Yes, I think the impetus to get out of the house, even for just a few minutes on the ickiest days, has been my favorite part. Normally I wouldn’t, but just stepping outside and being outside for a little works wonders for my spirit.

  3. Tami says

    I have 2 Rhode Island Eeds, 4 white long johns. During the spring , summer,fall, they are free range chickens. They ate all the ticks, ants, etc. I had 0 ants in my house last year. No ticks were found on my fur babies. I get 6 eggs everyday. This winter they had a heat lamp on them. I love my chickens.

  4. says

    That’s actually much cheaper than I thought it would be – 68 cents per dozen is great (and the value of well-composted chicken manure makes it even cheaper!). I kind of wish we could get chickens, but our backyard neighbors have these hunting dogs, and I’m not quite sure what would happen with that, since our coop would need to be located near the back. Also, if we have a 4-foot chain link fence, could they get over that?

    • anna says

      I’m not sure if they could get over a chain link fence. We have a fairly high privacy fence. You could try an enclosed moveable chicken run. (I saw some cute ideas on Pinterest!)

      Yeah, 68 cents per dozen is pretty great, though I didn’t know how to properly factor in the start-up costs. That brings it up for sure, but still totally worth it in my mind. 🙂

  5. Imani says

    This post is awesome! I just wanted to say that when you said that the eggs were “somewhat” free-range you actually probably didn’t have to include the “somewhat.” I was researching it the other day for myself lol… Can you believe that in order for a farm to legally call their eggs or meat “free-range” or “cage-free” they have to have access to the outside and not live in a cage? That doesn’t mean the chickens have to actually be outside ever (which is scary). So your eggs are probably more free-range and cage-free and definitely more organic than the ones at the grocery store – according to the law. I just thought that was interesting lol. Keep it up!!!

    • anna says

      Wow! That’s crazy that that’s all it takes to be called “free range!” Ours are definitely more free range than that. 🙂 They’ve got a good area to run and we let them roam the backyard fairly regularly (besides giving them fresh weeds to eat when I’m gardening!)

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your helpful comment!

  6. Patricia says

    I think that my eggs are much more expensive, but my feed costs much more, probably double your figure. I started my flock 1 1/2 years ago and it has been a learning experience. We butchered three cockerels last year and have more this year to butcher. Since the cost is so much, I just may buy them already frozen from a farmer who actually uses organic feed. They chickens are definitey free-range too. We built a large corral for ours; before that, we had two dog attacks and lost 15 the second time. Traumatic for the chickens and for us too. I cried.

    • anna says

      I think I’d cry too! SO sorry! We can only have six in town, so we’ve never tried raising for meat, but I’m not sure it would be worth it for me either.

      And thanks for sharing your costs. I thought we were getting a pretty good deal on feed, but didn’t realize how great it was.

  7. Kim Flanagan says

    Dear Anna, I never imagined myself having chickens until I got laid off a few years ago and it seemed like an opportunity to explore urban farming. I’m a paralegal who works from home now, which lends itself perfectly to having chickens. We started with six in the spring of 2013, two Leghorns, two Silver Wyandottes, a Plymouth Barred Rock and a Buff Brahma. The whole experience has been a delight. We initially let them have the run of the yard, and while they do truly eat all the insects, if you don’t protect your vegetables, they will eat those too. The second year we compromised and they now have a quarter of our backyard which is a sizable plot. I am in the process of designing a chicken garden which I hope will be as beautiful as the rest of our garden. It’s a challenge finding things they don’t like to eat!! . At the moment production is down because the girls are starting to molt, but they always lay enough to feed us and during peak laying we have a rotation with our neighbors. Our neighbors are always excited to get our eggs and will usually give us something in return. One neighbor gives us fresh trout he catches and another canned goods she has put up herself. We are avid composters and have rabbits too, so with the addition of rabbit droppings and chicken poop, we have wonderful soil!! We feed our chickens a standard crumble from the farmers coop, but they get fresh greens, oatmeal and homemade yogurt and lots of chicken scraps. I’ve never tried to compute what they cost to maintain because they give us such pleasure, but I would bet that we don’t spend much more than you do. Overall they are a very low maintenance pet. They are my girls and there isn’t anything like having a chicken come sit on your lap, that would be Beatrice, while you drink coffee and take stock of your day. That’s my meditation!!! Flanagan’s Urban Farm

    • anna says

      What a LOVELY sounding farm you have! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. 🙂

      And yeah, we’ve had the same problem with our garden. Josh portioned off a section of the yard for them to free range in, but we can’t let them roam the rest of the yard un-monitored or they’ll devour the garden. Sometimes though, I’ll let them out to eat bugs and just shoo them away from the garden beds if they get to close. It’s so fun and relaxing watching them!

      Happy urban farming!

  8. says

    We love our chickens and I think the quality eggs are well worth it, but another really important thing to consider is that your egg production numbers are based on young birds. After the age of two those numbers are going to decrease considerably, but your costs will not. If you have a plan to “retire” and replace your hens in some way, this may not matter, but long-term costs per dozen are going to go up quite a bit after the second year. Our feed and water costs are also quite a bit higher (even with free range), and if you need to supplement with oyster shell and/or grit, that also adds to the costs. I think it is important to point this out so people have a realistic sense of cost, not just if they plan to get their own birds, but to give people a sense of why a dozen free-range eggs is worth the cost (here in Colorado it is closer to $5 a dozen, and well worth it).

    • Dee says

      Thanks Angelia for adding the information. I’ve been reading this and thinking……WHAT? Your comments are spot on. Regular feed is available for $7 for 40# here. Organic is $30 for 30# at Orsh and $25 at TSC.. I feed the layers organic feed, sprouted organic grains, alfalfa etc. because I only eat organic, no genetically modified or round up. The initial cost of the chicks, the months they are eating before laying and the fact a hen eats 2# of feed a week plus the extras you spoil them with. The cost per hen to feed until they get to be a layer and cost of hen when bought are spread over the 2 years of being a productive layer. Being a business person all my life, had to look at it as a business from force of habit, even though I rarely sell my eggs. The cost PER DOZ of organic eggs averaged out over a two year period feeding organic is $3 . Of course I cheated on that because no labor was included. Having found that out, I still have them because it isn’t a business obviously, Nothing to do with money and everything to do with good health. Every two years I get 6 baby chicks then retire the girls who aren’t laying well. They go to the “Happy Hen’ Retirement coop and live a life of leisure, petted, free ranging and following me around the farm but being fed the $7 a bag feed. I have hens from my original flock who are healthy and spry at 9 years old. Couldn’t kill one, I will probably starve to death while they’ll all die of old age! Obviously have more retirement hens than layers,……..#’s increasing every 2 years. [grin]

  9. says

    We love having chickens. We have right around sixty right now, divided between two coops and runs. Each day one of the groups comes out to free range. They take turns otherwise their roosters get upset with each other.
    My garden is fenced off so they can’t get in there but in the fall, we put both the chickens and the goats in the garden to eat down what’s left, till, fertilize and keep bugs and weeds out. It works wonderfully.
    We spend a bit more in feed since we have so many chickens (our 50lb sack costs $15 and lasts a week) but we average 25 eggs a day and we sell about 14 dozen a week so the feed coat is completely paid for.

    • anna says

      That’s awesome! Was it hard to set up? I’d really like to start using a rain barrel for our garden, but it’s still on the “someday” list. 🙂

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