I’ve found that this is a question I’m often asked when I tell people that I raise backyard chickens. How much does it cost in dollars as well as time? So I decided to start taking notes of all my expenditure, the time that I spend on tending my flock as well as what I’m getting out of having backyard chickens. I always figured I kinda broke even, but I was surprised to discover that I actual turn a handsome profit for my labor of love.
I’m not even taking into account the pure entertainment value of these mini dinosaurs running all over my yard acting less than intelligent. I’m simply talkin about cold hard cash money that I’m either saving by not having to buy the byproducts or from selling the surplus eggs I get weekly. Glorious, beautiful organic eggs. You can’t beat the flavor, but even more so, you can’t beat the knowledge of knowing exactly where your food is coming from and what’s in it. Or not in it for that matter. No chemicals, no hormones and no general malaise from chicken depression. Happy animals make for tasty food stuffs! And just look at these beauties!
But the benefits don’t stop there! Let’s break down a typical month over here at the Mind Your Dirt “farms” during normal production times.
I currently have four lovely hens in my flock. Some more prolific than others. Some more entertaining than others. I currently have my two powerhouses, a Rhode Island Red and an Ameraucana or Easter Egger. They lay the large and yummy eggs and do so almost daily and almost all year round in my climate. I also have a Blue Polish which lays medium sized white eggs and my famous silkie named Piper, who lays smaller tan eggs. You can learn all about the breeds and these specific hens here. There are some cute videos of them as little baby chicks that may just melt your heart. Viewer be warned.
The two main monthly expenses (barring any illness or acts of god etc.) for my set up is food and straw.
Feeding chickens can be a breeze as well. In addition to your layers pellets and a small amount of scratch, you can add almost all of your kitchen scraps to their diet. That means nothing goes to waste and the landfills won’t get over-loaded with your garbage. The only bin I put out to the curb is my blue recycling bins. I hardly produce any actual garbage between my worm bins, compost bins and chickens. Supplementing their diet with table scraps really stretches out your chicken feed budget significantly. If you allow them to free range in your yard, they’ll also eat all your weeds and garden pests! That means no need for pesticides or harmful chemicals at all! It’s a win win…win win. On average, I use about 25 pounds of feed every month, totaling roughly $10.
The straw is used for bedding material in the chicken run. It helps keep smells down by absorbing all that poop and gives the chickens some fun exercise while the scratch away all day long searching for bugs and yummy treats. There are many options for coop and run materials, I prefer straw for one main reason. Compost! Straw is an excellent carbon addition to the ratio of carbon:nitrogen in your compost bin. Curious about composting? Here’s an excellent place to start!
On a typical month, I’ll conservatively use one full bale of straw. Usually much less when I tend to get a bit lazy. Well, not lazy exactly, Because I’m writing blog posts just for you. Let’s say I’m in a hyper productive mode for this scenario. One bale of hay is about $10 per month.
If straw is too hard to come by in your area, or you simply want some alternatives, here’s a good place to start. I can only vouch for straw however as that’s all I’ve used. For some more in depth reading on proper substrates and their pros and cons, as well as ANY chicken related questions you may have, go to Backyard Chickens website. Such an excellent resource and a stellar community of enthusiasts and experts! Other than Mind Your Dirt of course…
So, that broadly sums up the monthly expenses. I’m averaging about $20 total every month on these chicken raising needs. But what about the benefits?
We’ve already touched on eggs a bit above, but let’s get some more details. On an average month my hens will produce about 90-120 eggs. Grant it, this is only for the first few years and they will taper off and eventually stop production. It’s up to you and your conscience as to what happens next. I’m not emotionally ready to give instructions on butchering your girls, maybe in a few years. But until that fateful day, the hens will produce like crazy! I’ve noticed that my most prolific hen is the Rhode Island Red. Not much on the personality, but an ace when it comes to the weekend scrambles. What hens do you recommend as egg layers?
Currently in California, organic eggs will go for around $6 per dozen. Sometimes higher. They often claim to be free-range, but sadly that is not always what you think it is. The cost of eggs in California has recently increased due to some legislation, that I supported, that allows for some more humane treatment of livestock. For more information on that hot topic, go here.
My hens only get organic feed, pesticide and chemical free weeds and vegetables, table scraps made by yours truly and free bugs in the yard, that are also relatively free of any chemicals. They are at least once they enter the Mind Your Dirt Official Wildlife Habitat. What they get into before entering my sanctuary is out of my control. For now at least. My girls are outside ranging from sunup to sundown, every day. The look and act like the happiest healthiest chickens you’ve ever seen or imagined.
That’s what goes into my eggs. And that’s exactly what you taste when you eat them. Love and health. Now I can’t eat eggs 24/7, no matter how hard I try. Therefore, I tend to have a surplus. I give many to neighbors out of respect and general neighborly coolness. The others I sell to friends and family at about fifty cents per. That’s a fair price for eating only the eggs of hens you personally know by name!
That said, I’m looking at around $45-$60 of eggs for either myself or for friends and family. No small chump change huh?
Now lets talk about poop! Finally right? The average chicken will generously donate about four pounds of poop every month! That’s a lot of crap! But that poop is so rich in nitrogen that it’s like black gold for your garden! It’s so nitrogen rich in fact that you have to mature it a bit before adding it to the soil or else it will burn the roots. You can mature it in your compost bin or simply leave it in a pile with some leaves or straw from the coop and run. At least a few months. I simply rake up all the straw and poop and add it directly to my compost bin.
My girls produce roughly 16 pounds of manure every month. At the store, 16 pounds of matured chicken manure will cost you roughly $6. You can see the money adding up!
Composting is such an amazing way to get nutrient rich organic material into your garden or flower beds. It also serves to not add this precious material to the landfills where all those nutrients will be wasted. Once again, here is an excellent place to begin at little to no cost to you! Read that article for more in depth discussion of the huge advantages as well as simple ingredient lists and time saving tips.
When you combine the carbon rich straw with the nitrogen rich chicken manure, it’s the perfect ratio to breakdown fast. in short, no math! Huzzah to no math! You simply rake it up from the run or coop and add it to the pile. Bam! Simple and effective. Remember, it’s always best to let the manure mature for a few months before adding it to the garden!
I estimated that I get around 3 cubic feet of finished compost from raising backyard chickens. At the store, that’s about $10 worth. And that’s not including the added fertilizer that the manure provides! Once again, you see the profits adding up!
If you tally all that up, you’re looking at a maximum profit of $41-$56 per month! That’s only for four chickens, imagine if you had six or more! They take up so little room and are relatively easy to care for when you take into account how much they provide. Even if you have no use for the manure and compost, you can still make $25-$40 from the eggs alone. Or sell their poop to someone who goes in for that type of transaction.
Curious as to where to get started? Try to determine what type of coop and run you’d like to have in your space. It’s a great way to save some money as well as make it personal to you and a perfect fit for your particular yard space! You can get really creative too or re-purpose a structure that’s already in your yard. If you’d like to see how I built mine, then check out this in-depth article with crazy futuristic 3D video walkthroughs. From the future.
I absolutely adore mine and it really cut down on maintenance having a loft style and gravity feed water system. I typically spend about 45 seconds a day in maintenance! And half that time is gathering eggs. Also, having it up on stilts really helps keep predators and rats away. In fact, I’ve had zero signs of rats at all. I’ve also NEVER noticed any bad smells in the slightest from this design. Poo for thought.
Take a gander on my main page for links to more articles about the fun of raising chickens! I never thought that I would enjoy it so much and get so much out of it. I adore my girls, especially little Piper. By the way, here’s some shameless Piper promotional shots.
That little fuzzball is ridiculously cute and sweet. Not the biggest egg producer due to her size, but again, the entertainment factor with this one is through the roof! She also adores her papa and comes running whenever I call. Watching this fuzzball in a full run into your outstretched arms is sight you must behold. Adorable does not do it justice. Sometimes, she’s so eager that she forgets to stop once she’s reached me and bounces off of my legs. Heart. Melt.
I’m so glad that raising your own chickens is becoming a trend again. Not to long ago, everyone who had a yard, even crazy city folk, had a small flock to feed their family. Raising baby chickens is something that every child in the world can get into and it’s such a great way to teach young children responsibility and caring for small animals. During WWI, it was actually your duty as an American to tend the flock.
So what are you waiting for? Isn’t it time to return to self-sufficiency and healthy lifestyle choices? I’d say it’s high time for a return to doing what makes us human and get better connected to where our food comes from. I’m here to help get you started and I’ll be here to help along the way as well.