It’s no secret that the cost of eggs has risen dramatically in the past several months. What was once one of the lowest cost sources of animal protein has now become fodder for internet memes with people making hyperbolic comparisons between the cost of an egg and the cost of a diamond engagement ring! As a result, our office has noticed an uptick in the number of folks calling for information about keeping backyard hens. When questioned about their motivations, these aspiring chicken farmers often confess that they have more of an interest in saving money than they do in actually managing a flock. Keeping chickens can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but those who go into it solely hoping to pinch pennies may want to investigate the economics of small-scale egg production before setting up coop.
Hens begin laying eggs when they reach about five months of age, though this can vary greatly based on breed type and management. Egg production can be impacted by several factors including the quality and quantity of feed being consumed, the time of year and length of daylight, the age of the hen, and their overall health. At most, a hen can lay one egg per day and on average a well-managed backyard flock can be expected to produce somewhere between 17-20 dozen eggs per hen per year.
Cha-Ching! 20 dozen eggs might sound like money in the bank, but don’t go counting your eggs before they are scrambled… we haven’t considered any of the costs yet.
Costs associated with keeping backyard hens include the purchase price of the birds themselves, the price of the coop (or cost of materials if you are building your own coop), and the cost of other equipment like feeders and waterers as well as feed storage bins, bedding, and containers for collecting and storing eggs. Veterinary costs can vary considerably depending on what issues you encounter and the level of prevention and/or intervention you provide. Of course, there is also a cost associated with your time as you’ll be spending some time every day feeding your birds, collecting eggs, and keeping their coop clean.
One of the easier costs to quantify is the cost of feed. For the purposes of this blog, I calculated the average cost per pound of commercially available layer feeds using the current price of five popular and widely available brands. From there I figured out how much it would cost to feed a laying hen for one year based on the average cost of feed and the average daily feed consumption of a mature hen. I then divided that cost by 20 dozen eggs (the high end of what she might be expected to lay per year) to figure out how much a dozen eggs would cost the backyard chicken farmer just in terms of feed…and came up with $6.11/dozen. Remember, this figure only considers the cost of feed and does not take in to account any other fixed, or variable costs, associated with the keeping of chickens. Of course, this figure may vary considerably based on your individual situation, but this rough math makes it clear that raising your own eggs is unlikely to offer a tremendous cost savings compared to purchasing eggs at a grocery store, even with today’s high retail prices.
Backyard chicken keeping may not be a money saving venture, but it can still provide value. Chickens are amusing little creatures who can be a delight to watch after. Many people enjoy the challenge of raising livestock on a small scale and find it rewarding to collect their own farm fresh eggs.
If chicken keeping seems like something you would enjoy, it is important to learn as much as you can about chicken care prior to getting started. The UF/IFAS Extension Lake County office will be offering a class on the care of backyard chickens at 6pm on March 7th. Space is limited and pre-registration is required online at https://UFChickenUniversityMarch23.eventbrite.com.
For more information on keeping backyard chickens please visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/AN239