So, how much does it REALLY cost to have chickens in your backyard? I decided to keep track this year to see how much those eggs are costing me. Right off the bat, I have a disclaimer: This isn’t going to be a totally accurate cost assessment, as most of the big expenses are already out of the way (the most expensive cost being that of a chicken coop). I’ll discuss those expenses here, but they’re not going to figure into my running totals for 2011.
For those of you contemplating chickens of your own, first you’ll need to have a place to house your girls. I got a bit carried away with my coop (although I used a LOT of reclaimed/recycled materials in it but it still added up). I’m not completely sure on the total cost (partly because I’m afraid to know) but I can tell you it was over $500. (It’s also large enough to house a dozen chickens, which is a much larger flock than most cities will allow.)
You’ll also need food and water containers. The food tray I bought with my chicks was maybe $5. When they out grew it, I made my own self-feeding food container for about $2.00 (I’ll show you all how to make one sometime soon). The quart-sized water container I started out with was $5 or less. I then graduated to a plastic shoebox container (found free in garage) and a homemade self-waterer (which you can see how to make here—another project for $2 or less). I also have a $10 plastic gallon water container that I don’t love.
Chickens (if you’re getting chicks) cost between $2.00 and $7.00 depending on the kind and where you get them. Some feed stores run specials in the spring, giving away chicks if you buy food from them, so costs really vary, but are pretty minimal.
You’ll need food (chick starter at first, then layer food later), bedding (wood shavings, stall pellets, etc.). Food is between $10-15 for 50 lbs (and it’s much cheaper to buy it in larger quantities), and bedding runs $5-15 depending on what you’re getting. You’ll also need calcium and grit, which they don’t eat a ton of, so it will last you for a while (I think I got 5 lb bags of each for $5-7…which is enough for about a year’s supply).
Oh, and if you’re starting with chicks, you’ll also need a heat lamp for the first few weeks(until they get their feathers). I just used a hanging light and regular light bulb that I had around the house. But you can get much fancier, if you want. (I also used a dog crate to house them for the first 3 or 4 weeks and graduated to an appliance box I got free from a local home improvement store).
Okay, so that’s what you’ll need to start with. But, I’m not figuring any of that into my totals for 2011. What I want to know is now that I’ve invested in most of the major stuff, will my chickens pay for themselves this year or not? So, I’m keeping track of eggs and costs to see what kind of investment these fresh from the backyard eggs will be.
For January, I went from 9 chickens down to 8, as I lost Amelia. They gave me 172 eggs, bless their hearts (they laid an average of 5.5 per day). Of those just over 14 dozen, I sold 9 dozen at $3.00 a dozen (which is in the low-average range for around here). Just to make it easy, though, let’s just say all the eggs are worth $3.00/dozen, so I made $27.00 in cash sales, but I also kept about $16.00 in eggs to eat, for a total of $43.00 worth of eggs.
My chickens eat around $18-20 dollars worth of food per month. This is their layer pellets as well as ‘chicken candy’ (cracked corn and bird seed treats that I feed them daily in very small quantities). This is pretty nice, right? They eat $20 worth of food, and in return they give me $43 worth of eggs.
The slight problem I had this month, however, is that I had a sick chicken. Medicine and electrolytes for Amelia were $16.00. Plus, I ran out of bedding, adding another $22.00. Plus, I decided to buy two bags (instead of one) of the layer pellets just to save me a trip later on. As a result, my total outgoing money for the girls this month rang in at $80.93. Ouch.
This means my eggs cost me .47 cents each or $5.64 per dozen this month (although it’s not quite an accurate total as I’ve got bedding and food to last me through February too). We might be off to a bit of a wobbly start, but I’m still hopeful. And I’ll keep you posted on the running total throughout this whole year to see what we end up with by the end of 2011.
Of course it goes without saying that there are many benefits to owning chickens that make up for the cost. For one, they’re great fun to have around. They make me laugh often (and laughter is good medicine, so it’s adding years to my life, right?) Also, they provide amazing amounts of fertilizer—they’re REALLY good at it (so I’ll save money in a couple of months when I prep the gardens). They’re also organic pest controllers.
It makes me feel good knowing where my food is coming from and knowing that it’s healthy. According to Prevention Magazine (August 2010 issue), researchers at Penn State found that free range chickens produce eggs that have DOUBLE the vitamin E and 2.5 times the omega-3 fatty acids in them, which is good for my immune system, my vision, my heart, and my brain function (and I can use all the help I can get there).
So, my conclusions for January 2011?
172 eggs = $80.93
Having chickens = Priceless