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? 

Playing Farmer

One morning a week, usually on Friday, I pretend to be a country girl.

After finishing our morning routine, the kids and I head outside to tackle “the chores”. With the rainy summer we’ve had, the grass and weeds grow quicker than I can conquer them, but it’s time to attempt it. The fresh earthy smell of cut clover fills the air as I carefully weed-eat, dodging the straggling strawberry vines or swift-spreading lavender in our seven small garden beds.

Playing_Farmer

The ascending sun beats down, so I don my straw hat to shade the sun and keep working. Once the yard is finished (or my battery runs out) it’s time to tend the garden: pulling a few weeds in one bed, staking tomatoes or asparagus in another, and wondering what on earth to do with the sage bush that threatens to take over another.

At this stage in gardening and motherhood, at least fifty percent of the planting happens after dark or at the beginning of a rain shower, but every once in a while I find time to actually dig in the dirt on a sunny Friday morning and plop a few seeds into the earth.

Hour for hour and dollar for dollar, I’m not sure the gardens are exactly worth the effort in the strict financial sense, but few things bring as much joy as watching our little garden plots bloom and bear fruit.

With dirty hands and dirt-streaked clothes, I turn to the chicken coop. Rose feeds the chickens, but refilling their five gallon pail with fresh water weekly is my job. So is cleaning out their coop. I try to think of the beautiful pile of sweet-smelling compost our garden will get next year as I scrape the chicken poop out of the pen.

Any allusions of a sparkling clean chicken coop I held when we first brought home baby chicks have met their just end. Once the coop is clean enough and our girls have fresh water and straw, I tidy up the tools.

Then I head inside for a shower, grateful to be a city girl again. Until next week.

  May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeHealthy 2Day ,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

Photo credit

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Backyard Garden Update

Few things are as exciting as watching life spring up from the ground, grow, and produce fruit.

Our backyard is sloped, on the small side, and when I Called-Before-I-Dug, the guy remembered our yard from last year because it has such a ridiculous number of wires in it. Still, it’s amazing how much you can grow in a backyard without sacrificing every inch of play space to garden beds.

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After a harsh and long winter, the first warmish days in March practically demanded a day in the dirt.

I picked up a handful of soil and it felt like rich crumbly chocolate cake. Just like the author of Back to Eden predicted, keeping the soil covered with mulch kept the soil loose and moist and practically eliminated the need for a shovel.

My only concern is that the mulch might have provided a home to the many bad bugs that found their way into our garden last year. Only time will tell. At this point the mulch seemed to be a pretty amazing addition to the garden.

Before planting, I just scooted over the mulch, mixed in several buckets of rich well-aged horse manure (thanks Elissa!), and planted lettuce, carrots, peas, spinach and kale seeds in one of the beds.

As the weeks ticked by and the seedlings refused to emerge, I feared that the snow had killed the seeds. But finally lettuce, spinach, and kale appeared. Three weeks later, the pea seeds still showed no signs of life. I soaked peas again and poked new holes by the original pea seeds. Guess what I found while making holes. Yep, a lovely little pea sprout.

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I was going to save the second bed for summer plants, but after finding this recipe for spinach chips, we have been burning through the spinach at a pretty ridiculous rate.

Thrilled as I am that the kids are scarfing down spinach, spinach is a vegetable I like to buy organic since it’s one of the dirty dozen and the bill was definitely adding up. So I decided to devote the second bed to spinach (and a bit more lettuce) to hopefully keep up with our latest “addiction”.

A month later, we’re just beginning to enjoy the first baby leaves of spinach and lettuce. Yum!

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Meg adores the chicks!

See that BUSH of oregano behind Meg? It isn’t called creeping oregano for nothing. That stuff is crazy. It survived the winter just fine and is threatening to take over. Thankfully, oregano is one of the best herbs for chicken health, according to Fresh Eggs Daily, and the chicks gobble up any we feed them like candy.

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Raspberry multiplication

Only one raspberry cane survived the winter, but as spring warmed up dozens of new canes sprung up! Here’s to hoping the birds and bugs let us enjoy some.

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My sweet little helper

I’ve wanted to plant strawberries for over a decade. This spring, I finally got to.

asparagus

See that? Now we just have to wait three years to enjoy it. 

Since I was ordering strawberries anyway, it just made sense to add some asparagus too since it’s another family favorite. Right?

Our Backyard Flock

Last week the kids and I went to a local hatchery and became proud owners of six adorable baby chicks. Now the soft chirp of baby chicks mingles with the morning songs of the numerous wild birds that flit about our backyard. 

I haven’t owned a pet since I was ten, so the fact that we have pet chickens is taking a little while to sink in. But after months of the children begging us to get a pet (and ruling out a dog because I don’t want to train one and/or have one ruin my garden) we decided to buy baby chicks, raise them, and hope to have chickens that double as pets and egg-layers.

Joshua spent two Saturdays building the most adorable chicken coop ever. My in-laws and friend Elissa have graciously answered the dozens of questions I’ve pestered them with. All the chicks have survived so far [insert deep sigh of relief] and have provided many giggles already.

Isn’t the coop ADORABLE?! Two of Joshua’s brothers stayed up late working on it with him. Don’t you love the chicken cut-out Jay made? (Thanks Jay and Sam!)

When the chicks were just two days old, a moth made the misfortunate decision to fly in front of their brooder lamp. Instantly the chicks scrambled over their feeder and around the waterer trying to grasp a hold of it. Three times the silly moth escaped but flew right back into the chick’s home. Finally, one of the Barred Rocks grabbed it in her beak. 

Now the real struggle commenced. The moth tried frantically to escape her grip while the other chicks chased her around the pen trying to grab the moth from her. The Barred Rock raced with all her might while trying to swallow the poor moth and fend off the others with her tail feathers.

It was quite the spectacle. Finally the Barred Rock succeeded in swallowing her snack and the chicks settled peacefully down for the night.

Despite a bit of nervousness, given my lack of animal experience, I am so excited to have our own little chicken flock and have spent hours and hours researching how to care for and raise our backyard flock naturally and frugally. It’s going to be a fun adventure!