Friday, May 18, 2012

The chicken decision... do clucks save bucks?

Thanks to my dear friend Angela over at Hot Frugal, I've been thinking lately if having chickens might save us money. Having chickens didn't start as a money-saving endeavor for me. I'd been checking out My Pet Chicken for probably a year and thought that they would be fun pets and that having fresh eggs was a nice side benefit, especially since I love to cook.

So back to my question - Does raising your own chickens for eggs save money? Probably not in the short term, but over the long term... perhaps.

We can count on 9 of our chickens to be good layers... anywhere from 4-7 eggs per week. Let's say they end up on the low side of things and lay 4 eggs per week. That's 3 dozen eggs! Fortunately I do eat a fair amount of eggs and do quite a bit of cooking. We are also planning to give eggs away to our friends... we'll consume anywhere from a dozen to 18 eggs a week, depending on how much we cook.

Free range eggs from a local company in the area sell for $2.50 for small, up to $4.50 for jumbo eggs. By everything I've read, our chickens will lay large to extra large eggs, which sell for $3.50 to $4 a dozen. We'll use the conservative estimate... $3.50 per dozen eggs, times 3... $10.50 a week. That's $546 a year! Of course, we won't be selling them, but that is what they are worth.

I'm also not expecting to get as many eggs during the winter and molting times, so we'll cut that down to 35 weeks of 3 dozen eggs instead of 52. Still, that is $367.50 worth of savings.

Now, how much did all of this *actually* cost?

That is a more complicated question. The initial set-up involved about $50 worth of supplies... brooder bulb and light, feeders, chick starter, bedding, etc.

The chicks themselves - cost $5 a piece for the black stars, $2.75 for the red pullets and $1.99 a piece for our straight run bantams (silkies). So we ended up paying $39.98 for our 11 chickens.

Materials for the coop building (including paint) came to about $150. We also bought some wire fencing to build the run and some plastic fencing and u-posts for a temporary run, which ended up totaling around $50. We are constructing their run out of pallets, which we snagged for free in the industrial park. We were able to save some money as well by using some items that we already had on hand, or inexpensive hardware that we bought at the local ReStore (the Habitat for Humanity store) for a steal - $1 hardware that could cost $5-$10 elsewhere.

Feed costs anywhere from $16-$20 for a 50 lb bag, which I'm guessing will last about a month. Chickens can also have table scraps and will forage for greens and bugs. They go crazy for anything creepy crawly. Once we let them out to forage more, we will probably save on our food costs.

I'm sure that I'm missing a few things, but that is the bulk of it. So right now, we're looking at an initial investment of just under $300.

However, this would cost other people an awful lot more if they didn't build their own coop - to answer this question properly also involves your experience and knowledge of power tools.

During the last week, our nail gun started malfunctioning and the trigger fell off the reciprocating saw while Jay was using it, locking it into the ON position. This can be quite dangerous!

Yesterday, I cut my wrist on a nail in a pallet. If it had been slightly lower or if the nail had been sharper, that would have been an interesting trip to the ER. Not to mention that I was covered in red paint, so it might have been a bit alarming to the staff. At least I knew that my boss was working the afternoon shift, and he also knows that I'm building a chicken coop. If he hadn't known, they might have shipped me off to the looney bin for trying to slit my wrist with a rusty nail. Don't worry, I'm up to date on my tetanus shot!

So if you're not a savvy builder or have to take a trip to the ED, that obviously will make the cost of owning chickens much higher. Most coops that you can buy online for 12 chickens will run over $800. Building it yourself will definitely save a lot of money.

Next year I may try hatching out some chicks. My boss's wife has an incubator that he's volunteered to let me borrow, so I'm thinking of ordering some fertilized eggs online and hatching out some other breeds... Easter Eggers or Ameracauna type chickens that will produce funky colored eggs, more specifically. So depending on how many hatch, we will probably sell some chicks and then keep a few, depending on how many chickens we have to replace. Hopefully all of my 11 will survive the next year, but I have to be realistic... there are a lot of feral cats in the neighborhood and I'm sure that we'll lose a couple.

With all of that said, we will probably be breaking even, or maybe even saving a little bit of money with our chickens. If we keep them for a few years, we will be saving money for sure.

Of course there are plenty of other reasons to keep chickens... fertilizer, pest control (they love to eat fleas and ticks), plus they are just plain fun to watch. They all have different personalities and can keep me entertained for hours with their antics.

I'm very happy that we have them and I'm sure I'll be even happier once they start rewarding me with fresh eggs! :)

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