Monday, June 27, 2011

The $100 Egg

"You are so lucky to get all those eggs for free!"

I get that comment just about every time someone learns that we keep backyard hens.  Yes, we are lucky.  To have chickens.  Eggs for free? Not so much.

You see, keeping backyard chickens isn't cheap.

There's the coop.  The chickens (or chicks) themselves.  Plus, the ones that were roosters or died or . . .  The chicken feed.  The feeder and waterer.  And probably the feeder and waterer you tried that didn't work.  The brooder, heat lamp, feeder and waterer you used when they were chicks.  Whatever you're using on the floor of the henhouse and the run, if you are using something in the run.  The scratch or sunflower seeds which you probably give because you are a softie.  There's also the critter-proof containers to keep said seeds and scratch in.  Any medical supplies and the costs of vet visits, should you choose to take your hens to the chicken doctor.

But keeping chickens doesn't have to put you in the poor house - or the hen house.  Here are a few ways I've saved or could have would have should have saved:

COOP: You can save money and resources by repurposing an old play house, dog house or similar.  Many people, including my sister, also reuse wood, windows, doors, curtain rods and what not when building their coop.  I envisioned something along the latter lines but Mr. Green Bean envisioned Home Depot lumber and, as he was building it, I deferred.  I may still get my salvaged building in the form of a greenhouse like this someday.

CHICKS VS. PULLETS: I've done both.  Chicks cost about $3-4 and pullets $15-20 in my neck of the woods.  We started with 5 chicks and have 1 remaining.  Two were roosters, one was MEAN and had to go, and another ate a screw.  After the expense of the heat lamp bill and the chick waterer and feeder, I'd definitely opt for the pullets if you can get the breed you want from a healthy source.  If you opt for chicks, though, you cut costs by borrowing a brooder and heat lamp from a friend, like I did.  I passed both along to another new chicken mama and I assume she's done the same since then.

ACCOUTREMENTS: I felt the feeder and waterer were a worthwhile investment but I'd recommend researching the kind you want before buying.  I first bought a galvanized waterer because I hate plastic but turns out you cannot use certain additives in the water in a galvanized (see below).  If you want to skip this expense, though, a friend fashioned a feeder out of a cat litter box.  Ingenious!

FEED: Without a doubt, hens do not go through as much feed when they are free ranging. They do go through the garden though and are also more susceptible to death or injury from screws, poisonous plants and predators.  After witnessing my pumpkin sprouts destruction at the feet of chickens, we decided on a plan of winter out of the run, summer in the run.  We also give all non-moldy kitchen scraps and handfuls of weeds for the girls.  A final thought is to grow your own chicken feed.  I've seen lots of forage gardens and this year planted borage and sunflowers for the pollinators and the hens.  

BEDDING: You definitely want bedding of some sort inside the henhouse and some folks also put it in the attached run.  I use cedar shavings in the henhouse but I've seen someone use shredded non-glossy paper with nice results and saw the suggestion of peanut hulls or coffee chaff.  The run is another story and, for over a year, I left it bare dirt, which is free!  I figured it was nice for the girls to dust bathe but this article convinced me to start spreading the straw.  Other run bedding ideas include pine needles, fall leaves, and growing your own.  I will say that we used fall leaves once and the girls were not fans but perhaps mixing leaves with one of the other media would work.

MEDICAL CARE: Organic apple cider vinegar in the water seems to cure many ails (but only in a plastic waterer). So does a clean coop.  I've gleaned many more low cost ideas - as well as hours of worry over nothing - from  Once a year wormer is a good idea to keep egg production up and I give it when they stop laying in the winter.  Yes, they do stop laying - unless you give supplemental lighting which I haven't . . . yet.  Then, there is the chicken vet.  If you really want to keep costs down, view your chickens as livestock and not pets and "cull" them when they are sick.  If you get very attached, like me, you just might find yourself spending too much money at the chicken doctor.

By following my tips - and avoiding my pitfalls - you can bring the $100 egg down to a $10 egg.  Add your own and maybe we can get that egg down to $5 each! ;-)

This post is my submission to the Monday Homestead Barn Hop.

Cluck on over to the Facebook page for in between post henhouse gossip.

*I'm linking to Seasonal Celebration Sunday for this post.


Chile said...

Lots of good ideas. I totally agree that they are not "free" eggs. I remember from having chickens almost two decades ago that it seemed like we were always spending money on them.

The strangest converted coop I've seen is at the organic mini-farm where I volunteer. The chickens live in an old small trailer - the kind that everybody used to tow behind their cars. The windows have been replaced with hardware cloth and everything removed from inside and replaced with bedding and a few boxes to lay eggs in. They have a ramp that lets them go in and out when the coop is opened into their little yard.

Rivenfae said...

We did spend money on something to use as a brooder, but what we bought was one of those steel stock tubs. Used to water stock in the field, all we did was put some wire screen over the top with the heat light.

Now it's being used as a dog water/swimming bucket and maybe next year after we clean it out and use it again it'll hold plants.

angela said...

great post! we are definitely finding the same thing. i read somewhere that "the first egg is about $2000. after that, they're all free!" :) we spared no expense on their 'poultry palace' (aka 'the garden coop'), but it's built like fort knox & it looks great, so we have no regrets there.

the shredded, non-glossy paper sounds like a great way to save on bedding & tackle some junk mail at the same time!

Athena at Minerva's Garden said...

Thank you for stopping by my blog! My neighbor's have four older hens and a couple of new pullets, and we live in town. It is nice to hear the girls over the fence, and if they find a hole in the fence, they have come to visit on occasion. I grew up on a farm and we had a few chickens.

Cherise said...

Great article! I was wondering if you use the apple cider vinegar to keep the algae down in the summer or only when your chickens are sickly...also, what ratio do you use?

Also, I thought someone might like the design we used for our coops. We have two that are built like this.
We keep 4 chickens in each and move it every day. The food and water hang from the peak inside, which makes moving it fairly easy. We built each of them for about $100. We found a similar design online and my father customized it for me.

I sell my eggs from one of the coops to a friend for $2/doz. I keep my money in a separate envelope and it pays enough to keep the chickens in feed. We do light our coops in the winter and also keep a heated waterer on. I can't imagine it costs too much as the light is only on for about 4 hours/day and the heater only activates below 35˚. In November my girls produced at maximum production. I got one egg/day for the 31 days that month!

I estimate that my set up cost for the 2 coops, the chickens and all the supplies cost no more than $350. Since then, they've been paying for themselves.

Green Bean said...

@Chile - Now THAT sounds like an interesting trailer. Would love to see a pic if you ever snap one.

@Rivenfae - Gotta love reuse. I'm actually looking for one of those now to turn into a water garden.

@Angela - Great saying and so accurate. We had to move our coop and rebuild the run when we moved last summer. We had to hire someone to rebuild the run due to the time frame. He put up a sign - on his own - that says Poultry Palace. :)

@Athena - What fun visitors! :)

@Cherise: I only usually do the ACV when they are sickly or the algae starts to be problematic. I'm thinking of lighting the coop this winter as last winter was such a disappointment so thanks for the encouragement. Love your coop plans! Looks SO easy to put together.

meg- grow and resist said...

Too true! I have a lot of things I would do differently as well. Our coop was expensive and we've had to expand and add a large run 1 year later.
I covet that greenhouse too...very awesome!
Do your chickens eat borage? I love growing it as well. And it is expanding everywhere. If they love it then I will def. plant it in my chicken run!

Deb G said...

A great summary! I figure the longer I have my chickens, the cheaper the eggs will become. My dad made my coop for me out of two reclaimed cabinets, just enough room for 3 hens. I figure that I save money in fertilizer too, so I think that brings the cost of the egg down some. Straw in the winter is essential for my run, keeps the mud down a lot.

Green Bean said...

@Meg - In full disclosure, I've been told and have read that chickens like borage but not actually experienced it. I too love growing borage so maybe I'm looking for excuses. Whenever the girls have gotten out, they never go for the borage. It is always straight to the pumpkin starts! Grrrr.

@Deb - I agree. Once you buy all the equipment, you might as well keep keeping chickens because the initial investments are the greatest. And great reminder about the fertilizer!

Joani said...

Those R great tips and it is so nice to see people back into raising chickens for eggs. Something for us adults to have though at times is very trying I'm sure. Thanks for sharing.

Sharon said...

Great post! I've been finding many new homesteaders don't take into account their expenses...ever!
I actually wrote a similar post a couple of weeks ago.
We have kept a spreadsheet with all our income and expenses. You're correct in saying keeping chickens is not cheap.
P.S. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

farmgal said...

I would agree that if you are starting from scratch that the costs of keeping chickens would be fairly high indeed.

I had to go back to my records to figure out our first years cost, and boy was I spoiled compared to what you guys are talking about.

So first, my farm came with chicken coop and outside run, that was set up with a yard, a tree and six foot chainlink fence on a base with three barbed wires on top.

The coop had laying box's etc and the owner left me the water and feed box's, as well as the heat lamps and six extra heat bulbs.

A farmer down the road said he had one year old hens that he was getting rid of as he does not keep them beyond their first laying season, I snapped up a free one year old layer flock, Talked to a friend and snagged two big roosters they didn't want out of the chicks they had raised, and on my first summer, had three hens go broody and hatch me out 32 new chicks. They were raised in the rabbit hutches till big enough to not get though the chain link holes and then back out with the flock, kept back the best girls, and butchered out the rest, I am currently on year six of hatching my own little ones, waiting on four broody momma as we speak for my new chicks. I trade out or buy new rooster a year for fresh blood in the flock.

I pick and give them alot of greens from the yard etc, so my only real cost is feed, and I sell just enough extra eggs to cover the cost of feed, I have a solar set up for light in winter, and don't give extra heat, and I dont run a heated water, I just take out water three times a day.

For bedding, my girls are not fussy, they will take leaves, spruce or cedar branches, but my main way for the outside (not the nest box's) is to clean up the spilled hay from the sheep an cow stalls and I put it into the chicken pens, the girls pull it all apart, peck though it for seeds and clean up the critter poo's and then I take it mixed with the chicken manure and add that to the compost piles.

Green Bean said...

@Joani - Thank you for visiting!

@Sharon - It is so easy to get caught up in homesteading and assume it is all about frugality. Can't wait to check out your article.

@FarmGal - Wow! Great ways to knock down the cost. Now that you mention it, patience is definitely a virtue and I've seen free or very cheap hens on Craigslist. Just, well, I'm not good at patience. ;-) Love your other ideas as well! Thanks for sharing.

Jill @ The Prairie Homestead said...

Hey- this is an excellent post! I love your ideas- very helpful and practical. That was one of my first concerns when we first got chickens- I knew the eggs definitely weren't going to be "free". But, we have learned how to save $$ here and there too. Love your cat litter bucket feeder idea, too. Creative! :)

ScottHokunson said...

Thanks for the dose of reality! We are planning on having chickens one day and appreciate the info without the rose-colored filter. We'll look to your suggestions when the time comes.

Green Bean said...

@Jill - Thank you!

@Scott - My pleasure. It was quite a learning curve but a few years down the road, it is easy peasy. You just have to get into the groove.

Natural Mothers Network said...

Green Bean thank you very much for placing this post on how to make keeping chickens just a little 'cheeper'- sorry I couldn't help it!-on Natural Mothers Network's linky: Seasonal Celebration! You helped make Seasonal Celebration a wealth of intelligent, creative and resourceful information and it's been such a pleasure for me and many others to read through each post. I am really looking forward to seeing you again Sunday evening or Monday! Rebecca x

Idella Garza said...

Keeping the chickens healthy is not an easy work and I know it because I can see how my grandfather works. We are currently looking for chicken incubator for sale. Can you recommend a shop or an online website where we can find affordable incubators?

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