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!)
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.
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?