Whenever people start thinking about raising chickens, one question almost instantly leaps to the forefront:
Will I actually save any money by producing my own eggs?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer to that question.
Sure, I can tell you exactly how much it cost to produce our eggs from October 13, 2015 to January 19, 2016 (because I kept pretty extensive records during that period of time), but it would be impossible to give you more than a rough ballpark estimate on how much your eggs would cost — there are just too many factors that play into it.
During the 14 weeks that I was recording everything, our 6 chickens (5 hens and 1 rooster) ate through two 50 lb. bags of feed ($9.98 each) and produced 294 eggs — which means a dozen eggs cost about $0.82!
Now that’s better than a kick in the pants!
But like I said before, there are a lot of different factors that go into the cost of egg production. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are a few things to keep in mind:
The cost of feed is probably the single biggest determining factor on whether your chickens are profitable or not.
How much do chickens eat?
Well, on average, you can expect each chicken to eat about 1.5 lb. of feed each week (roughly 1/4 lb. per day), but again, that will vary with each individual chicken — and the cost of feed can fluctuate quite a bit as well.
There are some years when grain prices are better than others, and as a result, your chicken feed will (generally) be quite a bit cheaper. In years of drought, however, the feed prices are going to shoot way up.
You’ll also notice that certain feed stores in your area tend to offer lower prices than others. And while that might sound like a great deal, remember — cheaper prices often equate to cheaper quality. And low-quality feed can lead to unhealthy animals.
That being said, I still choose to buy the lowest-cost feed in our area…
In our case, it actually works out pretty great though. The folks I buy my feed from are a smaller “Ma and Pa” type grain mill — a great place to do business. And although their feed might not be the very highest quality, it’s still good enough to keep our girls healthy and happy.
Besides, we supplement their feed as much as we can with weeds, fresh garden extras, and kitchen scraps. I figure they’re getting plenty of nutrition. They’ve never told me otherwise. 😉
Now, there is also a growing market for organic and non-GMO feeds (generally corn free and soy free), and if you’re interested in that sort of thing, all I can tell you is that you’ll be paying much, much more to feed your chickens. Like, probably 3 or 4 times more than conventional feeds…
If the whole “organic” thing is important to you, raising chickens might not be the most lucrative choice.
But then again, life isn’t all about money, right? Sometimes you just gotta do what makes you happy — and keeping chickens definitely makes me happy!
The breed of your chickens also plays a huge role in the cost of producing eggs.
Some breeds are much more efficient at converting feed into eggs. Two of the heaviest hitters are White Leghorns (if you want white eggs) and Rhode Island Reds (if brown is more your style). Both of these breeds are used extensively in commercial egg farms, and they also do pretty well in a backyard flock — or so I’ve been told.
We’ve had always had good luck with our Rhode Island Reds, but we’ve never actually had any Leghorns.
Personally, they’ve always just seemed so dull. So humdrum. White chickens laying white eggs… Where’s the fun in that?! As you can tell from the photo (see the top of the article), we like a bit of variety around here! Sure, our Easter Eggers may not pop eggs out quite as often as other breeds — but I think those green eggs are just awesome!
If you really want to come out ahead with your eggs, however, a simple Google search should point you in the right direction. There are quite a few breeds to choose from that will produce 250+ eggs per year.
Availability of Forage
Looking for a good way to reduce your feed bill? You might want to consider turning your chickens loose in your yard to forage for some of their own food. Chances are, they’ll find a whole smorgasbord of bugs, worms, weeds, seeds, etc.
Unfortunately, they might also find their way into your garden… or your neighbor’s garden… or your neighbor’s dog…
There’s also the problem of chicken poo getting everywhere — and the possibility of your hens laying eggs wherever the heck they feel like (turning every day into a real life Easter egg hunt).
Although free-ranging your chickens can provide some very tangible benefits, it can be kind of a tricky decision. You definitely want to consider the pros and cons beforehand.
In fact, you might even want to look into “Chicken Tractors” (I’ll tell you more about them in a future blog post).
Although we don’t allow our chickens to run “free like the dolphins” (yet), we do try to supplement their diet as much as we can.
I mentioned earlier that we’ll dump buckets of weeds into the chicken run, and the girls go absolutely crazy for them! Not only does it help reduce our feed bill, but all those fresh greens — rich in beta carotene — will turn the yokes a beautiful deep orange color. And they taste so much better than those boring old “weak sauce” eggs you get at the store!
In addition to weeds, we also give our ladies whatever kitchen scraps we end up with.
We always keep an empty ice cream bucket over by the sink — so we can simply reach over and throw in an old apple core, or a watermelon rind, or the bad spots we cut off of a potato.
Sometimes the chickens will even get a slobbery glob of chewed-up string cheese that our little monkey decided she didn’t want… They love when that happens! (And I love that they turn my “garbage” into delicious eggs!)
We’ve also been experimenting with growing some of our chicken feed.
Last year I planted a bunch of extra corn and pumpkins to feed our chickens throughout the winter. But as luck would have it, those silly birds didn’t really appreciate the pumpkins as much as I had hoped (they ate a bit, but a lot of it ended up in the compost pile) — which is unfortunate, considering we actually had enough pumpkins to fill up the bed of my little pickup truck!
They sure loved the dried sweet corn though!
This year, I think we’ll be focusing more on the corn than the pumpkins…
Time of Year
Another thing to bear in mind is the fact that chickens just won’t be quite as productive in the winter.
The cold weather causes them to burn more calories just to stay warm, but it’s really the shorter days that decrease the egg production.
Of course, there are some people who will set up artificial lighting and heating for their girls (to try and simulate the longer days and warmer temperatures of summer), and although this does improve egg laying to a degree — the truth is, productivity is going to slow down no matter what you do.
As for myself, I love the quiet thoughtfulness of winter; it gives me a chance to slow down and relax a bit after a busy summer and fall — and I think my chickens probably feel the same way.
After all, can you imagine producing and delivering an egg that is roughly 3% of your total body weight, every single day?!
Age of Your Chickens
Depending on the breed, chickens don’t really hit their stride until they’re about a year old, and then egg production tends to drop off pretty drastically by age 3 (again, depending on the breed) — so you’ve got kind of a narrow window for peak production.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to stop your hens from aging. It is just a simple fact of life.
It may sound a bit callous, but when egg production drops off, I intend to put all of our hens in the freezer. I truly love our chickens, but at the end of the day, they are here to feed our family. I don’t see much use pouring feed into a chicken if it isn’t going to give something in return.
This might come as a bit of a surprise, but chickens are really sensitive to environmental changes and stresses. If something around them is different — or if they feel harassed or endangered, your chickens might just quit laying altogether for awhile!
Take last Saturday, for example:
My mom, dad, and younger sister came up to our house for a “work party,” and with their help, we finally got the east side of our property fenced in! We spent a good portion of the day pounding t-posts, wiring up stock panels, and just making a general ruckus — all in close proximity to our chicken coop…
All that noise and activity seems to have stressed our poor birds right out, and they’ve decided to protest by not laying eggs!
We normally collect 3 to 5 eggs a day, but on Sunday and Monday, we only got one egg.
Today (Tuesday) we are back up to 3 eggs, so hopefully they’re beginning to get back into the swing of things — but it’s a good lesson!
Happy hens lay more eggs.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve stuck with me through all my rambling, you’ll probably realize that there are a lot of things that you can do to help make your chickens a profitable venture — but when all is said and done, keeping chickens isn’t about the money.
Not for us, anyway.
Although our chickens do give us plenty of high quality eggs and meat (at a fraction of the cost that we’d find in the store), the real reason we keep them is because they enrich our lives. The rooster has become my alarm clock. The hens are our garbage disposal. They provide us with a little bit of self-sufficiency, hours of entertainment, and most of all, they teach us a greater appreciation for life.