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Chickens: A Cost/Benefit Analysis

by Sue Campbell (SueCinPDX)

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My Flock
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Let's begin by acknowledging that one does not ask a dog or cat to pay for itself.  Pets provide entertainment and affection in ways that we don't attempt to quantify.  With chickens, you get the unquantifiable stuff and you also get a valuable commodity: eggs. 

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So, I'm not asking my birds to actually pay for themselves. However, like any responsible person, I must calculate cost before bringing any new pet home, to make sure I can afford to care for my animals in the manner they deserve.  For my dog, the calculation is pure subtraction: the cost of food, toys, vet visits, etc.  With chickens, the math actually involves adding the tangible value of eggs.   

First, let's look at the costs.  Here's a breakdown of what my chickens, purchased last fall, have cost me so far: 

-- Renovations to existing coop and run $300

-- 4 Chickens (purchased as pullets, not chicks) $80

-- Feeder and Waterer $30

-- Chick light for cold weather $20

-- Pine shavings $70

-- Feed $70

-- Grain, oyster shell and grit $20 

Total: $590 

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I have calculated that my hens go through a fifty pound bag of organic feed about every 5 weeks (each bag costs about $25.00), adding to that the ongoing costs of pine shavings and scratch grain etc, I think my ongoing costs will be about $30/month.   

Now, let's look at egg value.  Organic eggs run about $4.20 a dozen.  Once all of my girls are in lay, I'll be averaging about 90 eggs per month. 

So, if I start with my $590 investment and add $30 per month, I can divide the amount I've invested by the number of eggs produced to get my cost per egg.  At the end of this month, my cost per egg will be about $6.55.  If I keep charting in this manner the cost per egg will level out at about 70 cents around August of next year.  Of course, my birds are unlikely to lay 90 eggs a month throughout the entire year, they will stop laying during molting, and production will drop during the winter, but you get the idea.

Now, I would never pay $8.40 for a dozen eggs at the grocery store.  Or maybe I would, if they were the most delicious eggs I'd ever had, I knew exactly what the chickens had eaten under what conditions and that the store had gotten them fresh from the chickens a few hours ago.

Then there are the contributions chickens make that are harder to calculate.  Chickens turn my table scraps into manure I can compost and use in the garden.  They eat garden pests and weeds.  They are great entertainers, and yes, companions.  Last weekend, I had four hens watching my every move as I weeded my flower beds, they were waiting for me to unearth worms for them.  Best of all, my daughter is living a sustainability lesson.  As my father-in-law put it, instead of watching Big Bird feed chickens, she feeds her own chickens and collects her own eggs. 

There are plenty of ways to raise chickens more cheaply than I do.  We chose to renovate an existing outbuilding into a chicken coop.  It's a large structure, so it was a bit expensive.  Great deals on chicken tractors are on Craigslist all the time, a smaller coop also means less money in pine shavings.  Instead of buying pullets in the city at $20 a pop, you can buy them in the country for less.  Or buy chicks for between two and five dollars.  And, of course, you can feed your chickens non-organic feed, which is about half the price. 

Chickenkeeping is a great balm to our too fast culture.  If you really want to save some money in the process, I recommend cancelling your subscription to cable television as a way to finance your flock.  When you want entertainment, just slice open a melon and watch your delighted birds peck it to pieces.

 

For a Q & A with SueCinPDX, please click here.  Thank you Sue!!!!

Tags

chickens, eggs, chicken coops, Urban Gardening

comments

I'm wondering two things: what size coop is really need for 4 or 5 chickens? and also you made mention that your chickens were good weeders, will they eat up your grass as well? I ask this because I,m trying to grow a lawn from seed. Also all anyone is talking of are the egg benefit. Does anyone raise chickens to eat?
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hapehr commented on 05/08/11
We spend a good chunk of change for our girls, too, but they save us even more. They give us the freedom from herbicides and pesticides around the house - I'm sensitive to both - Roundup gives me instant migraines. Of course, there's the eggs and manure. And with the half billion egg recall, don't you love the fact that your eggs are safe and healthy? And our girls will die of old age. They are members of the family.
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vetch commented on 09/11/10
Thank you for your post! I have been wondering about the Cost/Benefit analysis of having chickens. What do you do with your chickens when you go away for a few days?
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PurpleSage commented on 05/24/10
Excellent idea to cancel cable and get some chickens.
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Seedling commented on 03/10/10
Yes the pictures are great butterfly I agree- and it does make me hungry for FRESH eggs. I get mine from the farmer's market right now, but having chickens does sound like fun.
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nematode commented on 03/10/10
That picture of the eggs in your hand is just beautiful! Definitely makes me hungry for my favorite... Fried eggs and toast with butter. Simple and delicious. There are some codes around here I am unsure if we are allowed to officially have chickens on our property, but a lot of people have them anyway. Seems like if you can have any pet chickens are a good way to go- wonder if they attract a lot of pests... or coyotes. We have lots of those running around.
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butterfly commented on 03/10/10
Well, I have been thinking about it a lot- and this post is definitely giving me some food for thought! Don't have any pets so far, so this could be the way to go.
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earthworm commented on 03/10/10
A great analysis. Sue, how much time to you spend weekly on average taking care your chickens? I think the costs are outweighed by the fresh food and sustainability lesson for the kids... but I am a little worried about the time commitment. Also wondering of dogs can co-exist... My kids made a poster last week of the top reasons they want to have chickens as pets, and picked out the breeds online!! So, there's big pressure this year to add them to our crazy household!
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chief cultivator commented on 03/08/10
Great question about time commitment. I am happy to report that chickens are ridiculously easy to care for. I make sure they have food and fresh water once day and close up the coop door at night. Most days, chickens take about five minutes to care for. I am not exaggerating! Then, once a week you'll want to add more litter to the coop, and clean the coop once a month. When I was thinking about getting chickens, a woman wrote that she would never recommend that just anyone go get a dog or cat, but would encourage almost anyone to get chickens. Omlet.com has a great guide for beginners and they make really cool coops.
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SueCinPDX replied: on 03/08/10
I love those coops- they are so funky... space aged chickens! Thanks for that info-- I do think that dogs are a much bigger time commitment, and their poop (excuse my language) doesn't help the garden like a chicken!
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FigTree replied: on 03/10/10
Yes, dogs can coexist. When I added a half dozen chickens to our household, I spent several hours on the first day sitting on a little stool in the yard, holding our energetic hound dog close, while the half grown chicks scampered ever closer. Eventually our hound calmed to the point of sleep and the chicks walked right across her toes. In three years there have been no bad hen-dog experiences. Can't say the same for roosters --
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Egghead replied: on 06/16/10
that's interesting about the roosters....
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FigTree replied: on 06/16/10
I love how you say in the beginning that we never ask for our dog or cat to pay for themselves-- that is so true! Chicken give back :)
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FigTree commented on 03/08/10
I loved this post! I have been wondering what the cost/benefit would be for something like this. The sustainability lesson for the kids is particularly appealing. Thanks again!
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gardengirl commented on 03/08/10

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