Is Raising Chickens Cheaper Than Buying Eggs?

LET THE EGGS ROLL

With sustainability securing its place in the popular zeitgeist, raising chickens in the backyard holds a certain appeal. It conveys commitment to a lifestyle: the natural grooming of the landscape as the flock roams free, the peace of mind from knowing where your food comes from, and the general thrill that comes with money-saving self-sufficiency. Cheapism.com wanted to know whether it pays to raise chickens in the backyard -- for their eggs, mind you, not the meat. The answer, it seems, is a qualified "yes."

CHECK LOCAL ZONING REGULATIONS

Before forging ahead, check local zoning regulations and health codes. The raising of livestock, which may or may not include chickens, is subject to local control in many communities. Also note that if you plan to do without cages, make sure the birds won't be able to leave their coop or grazing area. The website Backyard Chickens cautions that chickens can fly 5 feet high without breaking a sweat.

POSITIVE BYPRODUCTS

Aside from the boon to your lifestyle, other benefits accrue to maintaining your own henhouse. A post at The Art of Manliness points out that chickens left to roam free in the yard are excellent compost facilitators, landscapers, and insect-control experts. They also make fun, low-maintenance pets that will eat from your hand and trail behind you.

WHAT'S THE PAYOFF?

For the most part, raising chickens for eggs will save you money over time. On average, you'll get two eggs a day from every three hens. Many raisers calculate their profit (or savings) in terms of how much a dozen eggs cost to produce versus the cost of buying eggs in the market. Reader postings at Backyard Chickens assert that the do-it-at-home approach is far cheaper than a store-bought supply: 90 cents to produce a dozen eggs, one commenter crows; $1.44 on feed per dozen eggs, reports another. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of a dozen large, Grade A eggs hit $2.11 in January, 2015. And that figure doesn't reflect the higher cost of premium eggs, such as organic, free-range, or GMO-free.

STARTUP EXPENSES

The largest expense is the chicken coop, which houses mature chickens and is a one-time investment. Prices vary depending on locale, vendor, and specifications. You could build your own or buy a used or new coop. Backyard Chickens estimates prices start at $50 and climb to $600. A brooder for raising chicks until they're ready to start laying eggs costs $75 to $100 to buy, but less if you build one. Heat lamps, feeders, and waterers add another $50 or so to your start-up expenses. The blog Live Simply provides an excellent DIY guide to building a chicken coop for less than $50.

BUYING CHICKENS

Experts generally recommend buying chicks and raising them to maturity rather than buying adult chickens. The going price for baby chicks ranges from $3 to $5 each (up to $50 for rare breeds) while pullets (young hens) cost $20 to $50. Roosters are cheaper -- figure on $5 to $15, and some are offered free -- but they don't lay eggs. Unless you like having lots of chickens around, don't bother with the males. And be sure to keep the chickens protected from predators.
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RECURRING COSTS

Feed is a recurring expense. For the best price, buy feed in bulk 50- or 100-pound bags. (Find a local supplier, as shipping costs from online vendors boosts the cost significantly.) There are three types of feed: starter feed for chicks, pullet (young hen) grower feed, and layer feed. If space allows, farmers recommend letting the flock roam where vegetation grows, which reduces feed costs and ensures a more varied diet, and therefore healthier chickens and more nutritious eggs. The website Wilderness Survival provides an excellent primer on feeding chickens and Fantastic Farms gives an encyclopedic rundown on what chickens should be eating depending on their age and their use (if you want to use the birds for meat, this is where to start).

OTHER CARE

While start-up costs are far higher than for most other pets, once everything is set up, the time spent caring for chickens is minimal. Chicks need a quick check about once an hour, but after they move to the coop, you're relatively home free save for food and water deliveries and a weekly coop cleaning. Chickens also tend to live quite a while and continue laying eggs into their teen years. Now think about all that goodness on your plate.