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Will Raising Chickens for Eggs Really Save you Money?

Raising a small flock of backyard chickens is a fun hobby that provides a convenient source of delicious fresh eggs, but will it really save you money in the long run compared to buying eggs from the supermarket?

With a recession looming on the horizon (or maybe it's already here?) and rising food prices, eggs still remain one of the most nutritious, economical protein choices. 

Many of us raise our own chickens and grow our own gardens already, so we are semi-insulated from the increase in the cost of living. 

But those of you who haven't yet dived into backyard chicken keeping might be wondering...

Will Raising Chickens for Eggs Really Save you Money?

The simple answer is, initially, no. Raising chickens for eggs won't really save you money. There's almost no way that you can possibly raise chickens on a small scale as economically as the large commercial farms can.

But in the long run and with the price of a dozen eggs rising to $5 or 6 dollars or even $8 and $10 dollars, it certainly is getting easier to justify raising a backyard flock purely to save money. 

I would definitely say that a flock of backyard chickens as a long-term investment is going to pay off. In more ways than just eggs.

But let's break down the various costs anyway and look at them individually before I say unequivocally that raising chickens won't save you money on your grocery bill, even in the short term.

Raising Chickens for Eggs: Start-Up Costs 

The start-up costs when you're getting into raising chickens can vary wildly depending on how extravagant you want to get and how handy you are, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly how much you'll need to sink into your venture, but here's a rough idea to get you started.

The Cost of the Chickens

To start with. you'll need chickens, obviously. 

Starting with Baby Chicks

Day-old baby chicks will cost somewhere between $4 to $25 each, depending on the breed and whether you buy them at your local feed store or order them online

And then remember you'll need to feed those chicks for a few months until they start laying anywhere around 18-20 weeks old (although baby chicks don't eat that much feed!)

And there's always the danger that you'll end up with a few boys by accident! But if you do keep a rooster, then in future years, you can hatch your own chicks for free. Thereby keeping your flock self-sustainable at no additional cost of buying chicks.

But not everyone wants to start with babies...

Starting with POL Pullets

Some people choose instead to start with POL (or "point of lay") pullets - which is what hens under a year old are called that are just about ready to start laying. These can cost anywhere from $15-30 or more, again, depending on where you can find them. 

One benefit of buying the older birds is that you aren't stuck feeding them for 18 or 20 weeks before they start laying, but your upfront cost is greater. You also don't have control over how the hens were treated or what they were eating for the period of time before you got them. 

While baby chicks will also need some sort of nursery or "brooder" set-up, which can be as basic as a plastic tote with a heat lamp, feeder and waterer or as involved as a custom-built wooden box, the advantage of buying the pullets is that they can move right outside into a coop as soon as you get them.

The Cost of the Coop

Chicken coop prices range from a few hundred dollars for a cheap, DIY kit that you can buy online or at your local feed store and put together yourself that won't last more than a season or two, to extravagant custom coops costing thousands of dollars. But remember...

The primary functions of a chicken coop are:

  1. to house your flock at night and keep them warm, dry and safe from predators, and
  2. to provide them a place to lay eggs
There's not much sense spending a lot more money than you need to on a coop as long as it fulfills those two requirements. 

If you're handy, you can always build your own coop. There are tons of plans available online or in books. Or you can convert a shed or playhouse pretty easily into a chicken coop, but you'll need to figure in your cost for materials, tools and time.

But for argument's sake, let's assume the chicken coop will cost you around $1,000 for a small flock of 5 or 6 chickens.

The Cost of the Run (or Pen)

Unless your coop comes with one, you will also need a secure pen (or run) for your chickens to spend their days in. Unless you are home all the time and plan on free ranging them, they need to be kept safe from predators. Even if you are home all day, free ranging is always a risk and a run is still a good idea. 

Building a run isn't difficult, but of course supplies are expensive, so plan on at least a few hundred dollars worth of fencing, lumber and screws.

The Cost of Other Stuff

You'll also need a feeder and waterer for your flock, but those aren't generally too expensive - and you can also use repurposed tubs or trays. You'll need some sort of bedding for the coop. Straw, hemp, etc. The cost of that can start to run up depending on how large your coop is and how often you need to change it out.

You can use dried leaves or pine needles in your coop if you have an abundance of them, and there's not need to put anything on the ground in your run once the  chickens scratch up all the grass. They're perfectly happy with a dirt floor that they can scratch in looking for worms and bugs.

Raising Chickens for Eggs: Ongoing Costs 

Once you have your set-up and the chickens, you need to think about the ongoing costs of raising chickens for eggs. 

They need to be fed and given fresh water every day, then there are supplements and treats to think about - although weeds, kitchen and garden scraps make up the majority of my flock's treats and are free! 

You'll also likely want to keep a stash of egg cartons on hand to store your eggs in - or to give to family,friends and neighbors.

The Cost of Chicken Feed 

Chicken feed costs vary considerably, depending on which brand and type you choose. 

A bag of layer pellets or crumble from a good-quality conventional layer feed brand like Poulin Grains will probably run somewhere around $15 to 20 per 50 lb. bag. Estimating that there are about 240 half-cup daily "servings" per bag, that comes to around .06 to .08 cents per day to feed each hen. 

So to produce a dozen eggs, you're looking at .72 to .96 cents a day in feed costs. And that's assuming each hen lays an egg every day which isn't entirely realistic. Most hens will lay 5-6 eggs a week during peak season and then slack off to maybe 2 to 3 eggs a week (or non) during their annual fall molt and winter "off"seasons.

If you choose a non-gmo or organic feed such as Small Pet Select, you could be looking at costs as high as $75 to $85 per 50 lb. bag. That would bring your cost to produce a dozen eggs to somewhere around $3.75 to $4.25 per dozen.

But remember, as food prices go up, chicken feed prices will also go up, so you'll need to take that into consideration and adjust the numbers as the prices rise.

Of course there are some simple ways to cut your chicken feed bill without sacrificing the health of your hens or the quality of their eggs. 

The more you can let your chicken free range, and the more you supplement their diet with scraps, the less feed they'll eat, keeping your cost down. You can also ferment their feed which should result in them eating less since the fermentation creates additional nutrients and improves the nutrient absorption.

The Cost of Gas to the Feed Store

With gas prices what they are, you also need to figure in the cost of the gas to drive to the feed store once a month or every two weeks, or however often you make a feed store trip.

The Cost of Health Care for Chickens

Although if raised properly in a clean-ish environment chickens should stay fairly healthy and don't need regular shots or immunizations, etc., keeping a well-stocked first aid kit is always a good idea. 

Adding some natural supplements to your flock's diet can help boost their immune, respiratory and digestive systems and keep them healthy, but figuring in the potential cost of a vet visit or two is also pretty realistic over the lifetime of a chicken. 

And you'll need to provide a calcium supplement and grit for your flock. That can be as simple as filling a small dish with crushed eggshells and another with some coarse dirt or small stones, or your can buy commercial crushed oystershell and commercial chicken grit.

The Cost of Additional Chickens

One thing to remember when you're figuring in the cost of raising chickens for eggs is that chickens don't lay year round (they generally take a break in the fall/winter unless you provide artificial light in your coop). 

They also only lay well (4 to 6 eggs a week for the more productive breeds) for about two years, then egg production starts to drop by about 20% a year until they're not laying hardly any eggs when they reach 5 or 6 years old.

So that means you'll need to replenish your "stock" fairly regularly to keep the eggs coming. Another thing to keep in mind is that new layers DO lay through that first winter, so if you want eggs year round, you'll need to get some new chicks each spring.

The Time "Cost" of Raising Chickens for Eggs

There's also the time involved in raising chickens. They do need daily care. Eggs need to be collected, feed and water needs to be checked and replenished. They need to be let out each morning and locked up each night. 

Then there's the time involved in cleaning out the coop on a fairly regular basis.

Raising Chickens for Eggs: The "Emotional" Cost

Then there's another, less concrete, cost that needs to be considered. And that's the emotional investment you'll be making into your chickens. 

I think many new chicken keepers are amazing at how "pet-like" chickens are. Less like livestock, much more like a pet. They name their chickens and hang out with them, just enjoying their company. 

But as fragile, living, breathing things, stuff happens.  You can end up losing chicks to coccidiosis or pasty butt.

And you have to worry about all kinds of predators once your flock goes outside to live in their coop. Even your neighbor's dog will kill your chickens if given the opportunity. Chickens can die from strokes, heart failure, eating something they shouldn't, heat exhaustion or because an egg gets stuck and won't come out.

Even best-case scenario, chickens generally only live for 10 to 12 years max. And I would say that 5 to 6 years is more accurate. So be prepared for losses on a semi-regular basis. And that's hard. 

That also adds to your costs and reduces your bottom line when it comes to figuring out if raising your own chickens will really save you money.

The Benefits of Raising Chickens for Eggs

It should be pretty clear at this point that when you add up all the costs of getting started with chickens and their ongoing care and upkeep, it's going to be pretty hard to save money on eggs by raising your own chickens, at least at first, but for me, the fact that I have access to delicious, fresh eggs right in my backyard is priceless, as the saying goes. 

There are definitely other benefits to raising a small flock of backyard chickens that should be considered. 

The Benefit of Selling Eggs

Even with just 15 hens, we find ourselves with more eggs than we ever could eat during the warm months when production is at its highest. As egg prices in the super market go up, the price you can sell your extra eggs has also gone up. 

I am hearing about lots of backyard chicken keepers getting $5 or more  for a dozen of their fresh eggs. So selling your excess eggs can go a long way towards subsidizing your feed bill these days. 

The Benefit of Chicken Poop

If you are an avid gardener, then you know that manure makes the best fertilizer. Chickens will produce more than enough manure for your garden. And there's nothing better than free fertilizer! 

The Benefit of Chicken Feathers

Chicken feathers and the soiled coop bedding that you rake out also make wonderful mulch for your garden. Mulching your garden beds in the fall when you clean out the coop provides the soil nutrients and also improves soil structure as it insulates your garlic, rhubarb or other over-wintering plants.

The Benefits of Bug Control

Chickens also do a wonderful job at bug control. 

Here in Maine where ticks are a huge problem, we notice so few on ourselves and our dogs when we're in the yard. Chickens will also eat all kinds of slugs, grubs, spiders and other creepy-crawlies, including small snakes and reptiles.

Raising Chickens for Entertainment

If nothing else, raising a small flock of backyard chickens is good for the soul. Watching them frolic and chase each other or take dust baths as they contentedly cluck to themselves is very relaxing. 

Raising Chickens as a Learning Tool

Chickens are also great for teaching kids empathy, responsibility, where their food comes from, and for incorporating homeschool or life lessons into their care. 

You should also take into consideration the fact that meat prices are also rising. At the time of this writing, the cost of beef is up 14% over last year and the cost of chicken is up 16%. The cost of eggs is also way up. So it could actually turn out that it IS much cheaper to raise your own chickens some day soon! 

But for now, because you'll have so many eggs once you start raising chickens, the more you use eggs as the protein in your dish, you'll be saving money by not buying other types of meat in addition to store bought eggs.

In Summary

Bottom line, fresh eggs can't be beat, so even if on the surface it doesn't seem that the numbers add up to save money by raising your own chickens, there are lots of other benefits that far outweigh any monetary investment - at least in my opinion.

In the end, regardless of whether starting a small backyard flock really will save you money, with a relatively reasonable initial investment, some ongoing costs and time spent on upkeep, it's worth it. And as a long-term investment, I think you actually can save yourself some money.

But as my husband loves to say, "these are the most expensive eggs we've ever eaten". And he's probably right. But I don't care. My chickens have provided us with hours of entertainment and make my heart happy. And in the end, that's all that really matters. 

Well, that and the fact that fresh eggs ROCK! 

But there is more to it. Even just from a financial standpoint, if egg prices continue to soar, then the numbers will start to make more sense and a backyard flock could save you money sooner than later.

But even more importantly than just the numbers game, the SECURITY that comes from knowing you are providing food for you family and will have access to fresh eggs even if the grocery stores run out - or limit how many you can buy - to me, that's priceless.

(If you're thinking about getting some backyard chickens, here's a great place to start.)

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