The Egg-onomics of Backyard Chickens

We’re now selling eggs for $4/dozen or $2/half-dozen (whenever the sign is out at 11927 W. State Rd. 59, Evansville, WI 53536). A dollar from each dozen goes to the institute. The eggs are medium browns with great yolks (we’ve had a few double yolks lately). Stop by and meet the birds, while you pick up a dozen. Our run meets the requirements for “pasture raised” certification (108 sq ft/bird, outside at least 50 wk/yr), which is more generous than “cage-free” or “free-range,” but note that we are not certified as this is just a sideline. Selling our eggs got us wondering about the economics of keeping chickens versus just buying eggs in the store.

Our flock.

Six years ago, we started with two chickens. We kept a small flock until two springs ago, when we hatched a dozen chicks. We sold off three of the six hens and butchered the cockerels. We had four chickens when we moved to Madison. Right now we have six and plan to increase by two hens each year until we have the local limit of ten. By staggering the purchase of our hens, we’ll get more steady egg production (compared to if we just bought ten chickens all at once: they’d lay like mad-hens for two years and then taper off to nothing after six or seven years).

Each of our hens lay five or six eggs a week when young and then after they molt, they lay three or four a week for a few years. They then taper off until they go into what we jokingly refer to as “hen-o-pause.” We feed layer pellets and supplement with kitchen scraps and whatever grains I can grow. Now comes your word problem of the day:

If six chickens eat a 50-lb bag of feed in 30 days and lay 133 eggs, how much does each egg cost if the bag of feed costs $17.95? How many eggs do the chickens average per day?

The continuing-operating  costs, then, are 13.5¢/egg and we can egg-spect . . . er . . . expect 4.4 eggs per day from six chickens, or 0.74 eggs per chicken per day (although I’ve never gotten three-fourths of an egg). That works out to $1.62/dozen, which is a good price, but this isn’t the whole picture.

Our sign off the highway.

This price fails to account for the cost of the coop and the chickens. The cheapest coop could be made for nothing if you are really handy and have scraps on hand. Most people will have to buy at least a waterer and a few other accouterments. If you buy a coop, you’re probably looking somewhere between $200–400 used or $300–700 new. The nice part is, you can resell the coop afterwards, so let’s estimate a lifetime coop cost of $250 (used or new and then sold off). The chickens can run about $15/bird if they are pullets (hen teenagers, full of angst), or about $1/egg if you want to hatch them yourself. Let’s go worst-case scenario and buy all pullets. For the sake of argument, let’s say they lay for five years.

If you had a flock of six for five years:

How much is the per-egg cost of running a flock of six chickens for five years?

Well each year that’s 1619 eggs, $218.51 in feed, $18 in chicken costs ($15 per bird divided by five years of production), and $50 in coop cost, thus $286.51/1619 eggs equals 17.7¢/egg or $2.12/dozen. Note that feed is 76 percent of the cost and we’re not accounting for hours worked (once set up, the daily work is maybe 5 minutes opening and closing the coop, getting eggs, and checking water and feed). Additionally, if you can provide some of the feed through growing corn and giving the girls areas to forage, your feed bill will drop. And you can’t put a price on the enjoyment of keeping a flock, especially if you have kids.

You can buy eggs at Costco for less than $2.12 a dozen, but that is an unfair comparison. Try to find free range, ethically handled eggs for less than $4.00/dozen, especially when $1 goes to support a good cause.

6 thoughts on “The Egg-onomics of Backyard Chickens

  1. But how much is pleasure of providing some of your own food worth?? I subtract that from the ‘cost’…;-)

    1. Absolutely! I would have added it sooner, but since most everything else was quantifiable, I left it till the end. I’d put chickens at more enjoyable than gerbils but less so than dogs (no. 1) and cats (a distant no. 2). Thanks for the comment.

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