Chickens in Suburbia


I was reading an article yesterday in the New York Times that at first seemed like something I would be interested in but made me realize what a ridiculous sounding thought it really was. The article titled “Keeping Their Eggs in Their Backyard Nests” talks about the growing trend of suburbanites starting to keep their own hens around for eggs or meat.

I have always thought this would be a pretty cool idea, I get some birds build a little coop and blammo free eggs. But this really hits on the fact that nothing is free:

  1. You have to buy the chickens
  2. You have to build the coop
  3. You have to FEED the chickens

Aside from the initial purchase, not much about having a chicken is actually cheap. According to some sources each chicken you possess can eat up to 1/3 lb of feed per day so for 6 chickens that is 14 lbs. per week. According to the NY Times article:

Lloyd Romriell, a married father of four in Annis, Idaho, recently received seven grown chickens and a coop from a relative. The hens lay a total of about two dozen eggs a week.

So at a conservative $1.40 per dozen you made $2.80 in one week of chicken raising but spent 14 lbs of feed where you probably paid ~$8-$9 for a $25 bag of feed. Add on top of that the costs to buy the chickens and the cost to build the coop and I am pretty sure you are looking at a loss. In addition you aren’t always going to get consistent production out of your hens, cold weather and poor nutrition could both affect the amount of eggs your hen lays.

Even if spreadsheets can demonstrate that raising chickens at home is not cost-effective, it may instill an invaluable sense of self-reliance.

What? Seriously folks self reliance to me is paying $1 for a dozen eggs at the grocery store as opposed to paying to raise, care for, feed, and house a flock of chickens for 2-3 years. Oh yeah I didn’t mention that, you are probably only looking at 2-3 years of good hard egg laying.

Mr. Walsh, the director of community outreach at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has 25 hens and, to cover his costs, sells eggs to a local restaurant for $6 a dozen.

I always knew there was a reason I didn’t live in New York, $6 a dozen those eggs better by gold plated. But wait this guy isn’t content to rip off the restaurant for eggs, he is now raising broiler hens as well. You know those ones that go on sale all the time for like .99 a lb. This guy anticipates paying $8 per chicken to raise them.  I can get a 6 lb chicken for $6 and I didn’t have to 1.) wait and 2.) scoop up chicken crap.

The most poignant point in the entire article is:

“You can buy eggs in the grocery store cheaper than you can raise them,” said David D. Frame, a poultry specialist who works with the Utah State University Extension. “You’re not saving money by doing it.”

Now keep in mind, I am referring to regular old eggs, not free range or organic. In either of those situations it may actually cost you less to raise your own. Let’s face it though, egg producers are so efficient at popping out eggs that they do it cheaper than you could on your own.

What else do you think the recession has scared people into getting, even though picking it up off the shelf would cost you less? Do you raise chickens and see a cost benefit in doing so?

Photo: (wwworks)


1 Amber August 5, 2009 at 12:06 pm

My parents raised broilers when I was younger. Chicken coops are smelly. I don’t want that in my backyard and I’m sure my neighbors don’t want it in my backyard either.

2 Paul @ FiscalGeek August 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm

We had a chicken coop as well growing up. Worse trouble I was ever in involved me, some pruning shears, the chicken fence and my strong desire to free the chickens.

3 Ashley August 5, 2009 at 6:30 pm

I haven’t noticed the recession scarring any of my friends or family into buying things they don’t need or could get cheaper at the store.

However, I’ve noticed a rise in my loved ones taking more consideration for the environment and their own health. Many of my friends have started growing their own fruits and veggies in order to avoid pesticide laden produce (organic isn’t always organic). Some now get their meat/eggs from local farms in an effort to end their support of factory farming.

Egg producers are more efficient at popping out eggs than us, but the benefit of producing your own is connected to the environment and the quality of food you’re consuming.

4 Carrie August 10, 2009 at 1:50 pm

i’ve had 1 or 2 chickens at a time for eggs at various times in the past and my experience was keeping the chicken cost the same amount as buying eggs at the store. but it’s fun and you know what conditions the chicken is living in and there’s nothing more local so it has it’s benefits above pure cost.

5 Mr. Not the Jet Set September 11, 2009 at 10:59 pm

We have 4 laying hens in our back yard, so I can tell you a lot about this.

1> The economy didn’t ‘scare’ us into this. We made the decision years ago that organic milk and eggs were non-negotiable in our grocery shopping. Do the research, the difference is jaw-dropping. Locally, organic eggs are ~ $3 per dozen. We also have a desire to be more connected to, and for our kids to be more connected to the food they eat.

2> We only have 4 hens as it is the most the township will allow. Yes, we live in town and our neighbors had no idea we had chickens until they saw me building the coop. Speaking of which, I was able to build our coop mostly out of scrap materials. Total cost was $110.

3> Our hens eat a lot of mosquitoes and ticks, which is a nice side benefit, as they have free run of our fenced in back yard. We haven’t found a tick on the dogs since we got the hens.

4> We feed the hens an organic feed (locally grown and milled, just not certified organic). It’s $12 for a 50 lb sack. It lasts us about 2 months.

5> A well ventilated coop has little to no smell. We’ve held gatherings in our back yard, and no one has turned up their nose once.

6> The birds are quite entertaining. This is tough to describe, but they are quite fun to watch.

So lets do some math. Our four hens, when all are producing, will pop out about 18 eggs per week (conservative). Since we bought them young, lets say we get 3 years out of them. Over 156 weeks, we’ll get 2808 eggs, or 234 dozen. Times $3 per dozen, gives you $702.

We’ve got $110 in the coop. The chickens themselves cost $10 for the four of them. Feed over the 3 years should run $216. Putting the majority of our costs at $336.

So the math does actually work, at least the way we are doing it. Our cost per dozen is $1.43 for organic, free-range eggs. Coming from chickens that eat a ton of bugs, produce great fuel for our compost, and are really quite fun. Plus at that cost, we can easily sell what we can’t use, and turn a profit.

6 Chris Koloc March 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm

Wonderfully said Mr Not Jet Set, Ashley and others. I have three hens and love knowing where my eggs came from. Did’nt need to watch Food inc. to know I better raise my kids on better quality food. I do also recommend the book “Seeds of Deception” if anyone still has questions about those industrial egg producers. I have found my sunflower patches and extra pumkins in my S.F gardens as well as kitchen scraps save alot of money on feed.

7 Kathy Hayward October 22, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Reasons to keep chickens…

a) According to Mother Earth News, eggs from free-range chickens have 10 times the vitamin and nutrient content of store-bought eggs

b) Store eggs can be over a month old by the time you buy them, maybe even older (especially if they’re on sale)

c) Chickens eat ticks, bugs, grasshoppers, and so on

d) Chicken poop is one of the best fertilizers you can buy

e) Chickens will go broody and hatch a new flock for you

f) All chickens are fun to watch, although certain breeds are very inquisitive and friendly, which makes them great pets

g) It only takes a few minutes a day to gather the eggs, and then feed and water the chickens

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