I took the time to do the maths on whether our backyard flock are earning their keep, comparing them on a cost per egg basis with both the cheapest eggs available at our supermarket and the most expensive, "luxury" eggs.
And what I found out really surprised me. Our chickens are blue-ribbon money-savers!
Cost per egg comparison - luxury and budget brands
The brands I checked out are:
- "Budget" brand mixed grade standard eggs. $2.99 for 12 eggs.
Cost per egg: 25 cents.
- Farmer Brown mixed grade standard eggs. $9.25 for 30 eggs.
Cost per egg: 31 cents.
- "Eco eggs" (they have a website) free range eggs, mixed grade. $4.85 for 6 eggs.
Cost per egg: 81 cents.
- "Bio eggs" (they have a website) free range eggs, organic mixed grade. $5.69 for 6 eggs.
Cost per egg: 95 cents.
Then our own humble chook eggs come in at just 19 cents per egg.
The costs and details of our own chickens and eggs are all laid out (pardon the pun!) below.
How many eggs do our chickens lay?
Our flock of hens is a mixed bunch, 13 in all. They are all, as far as I can determine, purebred, and less than 2 years old.
The amount of eggs our hens lay varies throughout the year.
Our hens lay as many as 9-10 eggs between them each day in the peak summer months, but in midwinter we are lucky to get 3-4 eggs a day between them.
Taking into account the winter egg laying drop off, and working on averages, between our 13 chickens we get an average of 6 eggs a day throughout the year.
If someone tells you that every chicken will lay an egg every day, don't be fooled. They're trying to con you. My chickens lay every second or third day, depending on the season, and that's normal.
Chickens are animals (some with great personalities!), not machines!
What do chickens eat?
We feed our chickens wheat and layer pellets, oyster grit for calcium, plus scraps from the table.
They free range around our 3 acre property for a few hours each day as well, getting insects and weeds, and fallen fruit.
How much do chickens cost to feed and house / bed?
I buy a bale of hay every month for bedding and nesting. This costs me NZD $12.00 a month (USD $8.50).
Total cost of hay per year NZD$144.00 (USD $101.68).
Wheat: The chickens are eating through a 40 kg (88 pound) bag of wheat every 2 months or so. The bag of wheat costs $26.20 at my local farm supplies store.
Total cost of wheat per year is about NZD$157.20 (USD $111.00).
Layer pellets: I am also replacing their 25 kg (55 pound) bag of layer pellets every 3 months. The layer pellets cost $25.60 at my local farm supplies store.
Total cost of layer pellets per year is about NZD$102.40 (USD $72.30).
Grit: Chickens also need oyster grit for calcium. I buy that in 10 kg bags (22 pound bags) for $12.80, and they use about 1 bag a year.
Total cost of oyster grit per year is NZD$12.80 (USD $9.04)
Scraps: The scraps from the table cost us nothing.
- Total cost for food: For feeding 13 chickens for a year = NZD $272.40 (USD $192.34).
- Total cost for bedding and nesting: NZD $144.00 (USD $101.68).
- Total cost of keeping 13 chickens per year: NZD $416.40 (USD $294.02).
- Total cost of keeping 13 chickens per week: NZD $8.00 (USD $5.65).
In my calculations, I have deliberately excluded the cost of housing, because that will vary from farm to farm, and property to property.
In our case, the chicken house was already in place and cost us nothing. But for others just starting up, building a chicken house could be a sizable cost, and is something to take into consideration.
How much are our eggs costing us?
We get about 6 eggs a day, on average throughout the year, from our 13 chickens.
This works out to 2190 eggs in the course of a year, roughly.
This means our chickens are costing us 19 cents per egg (USD 13 cents an egg).
Hidden costs and benefits of keeping chickens
Depending on which eggs we would have bought, looking at the comparison at the top of this post, we're saving between 6 and 76 cents per egg by keeping our own chickens, in absolute cash terms.
Hidden costs: However, one big factor that I have included is the time and effort that keeping chickens costs.
I estimate that looking after our chickens - cleaning their house, maintaining their clean food and water etc. takes about 10 minutes a day, plus half an hour twice a week for a good clean-up. About two hours a week.
Our chickens also get a lot of extra food from their free ranging. We live on a small farm, and it is likely that they would cost a fair bit more to raise if we had to feed them 100% of their diet. Our chickens range in our orchard, scratch through the hazelnuts, and peck through the stables next door!
There is some manual labour involved in keeping chickens - bending over and scrubbing of nesting areas, so keeping chickens may not suit the frail and elderly, or those with physical disabilities.
Hidden benefits: Having chickens makes a house a home. I love the soft clucking they make, and our farm seems friendlier with them feathering around. I can't imagine Hazeltree Farm without them.
Our children are learning that animal care is important - they are learning how to look after the chooks, and how to treat animals well.
I think these are important benefits with real value. My son wants to be a farmer when he grows up (in between wanting to be a singing frog and a builder)!
We don't eat our chickens, but if you do intend to keep chickens for meat as well as eggs, this would be an added benefit. Organic, hormone-free meat is very expensive, and this would be a huge value to keeping chickens - especially if you are concerned about what is in your meat.
If you intend to keep birds for meat as well as eggs, be aware that some breeds make much better meat birds. Some are better layers. And some are just good all-rounders. Do some research before getting your chooks.
Or just go for it!
I believe that our eggs are superior to anything sold in the shops, including the 95-cent-per-egg luxury numbers. They taste better, and they are the only eggs I do not have an allergic reaction to, interestingly.
I do not believe that all food is created equal, which is the premise on which GM food managed to gain acceptance in the laws of some countries.
Our eggs may look the same on the outside, but they whisk differently, have a different texture to shop-bought eggs (even the free range shop bought eggs), have truly golden yolks, and the shells are TOUGH.
As someone who cares about animal welfare, I also believe that every egg laid in a home environment by well cared-for chickens is from one less animal that needs to suffer in battery systems.
Backyard chickens can bring about the end of caged hens, because my figures show that keeping hens can give you eggs cheaper than from the supermarket, making the cost argument for batteries defunct.
Batteries are cruel and should be banned.
Our home laid eggs are significantly cheaper. If you buy free range eggs and eat a lot of them, keeping hens will save you a lot of money.
Prior to keeping chickens, we were buying the organic bio eggs - usually two dozen or more a week at 95 cents each.
So our chickens are saving us about $1500 a year. That's not chicken feed!
Thanks for reading. I hope this was useful :-)
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