|We watch them, they watch us. Entertainment for all.
I never expected my chickens to be economical. I mean, eggs at the grocery are pretty cheap, right? And around here, even farm eggs are reasonable (I can get local eggs for around $2/dozen. They aren't "organic" but they are from a small homesteader). So chickens fell firmly into the hobby category - something you do despite the cash flow impacts as long as those impacts aren't too terribly negative.
However I have sort of kept on eye on costs without stressing about it too much. Here's where we are, more or less.
In terms of startup costs you've got coop, birds, and equipment. We built the initial coop from an existing little building and added only a few items to convert it. Basically we spent around $35 on paint, floor tiles, and incidentals. Not a bad start. Then we totally lucked out when my friend bought a house that had a coop she didn't want. And she gave it to us! We were able to reuse most of the materials from that but had to pick up some stuff - around $150 for footers, 2x4s, 2x6s, flooring, and hardware cloth. In terms of equipment, the feeder was made from some PVC that we had laying around and I got a water cooler bottle from my brother so those were essentially free. Eventually I bought a water heater ($50) and a metal 2-gallon waterer to go with it ($25). Judicious use of coupons brought the actual cost down to $60. And I bought the birds from a local store for $3 each at 8 weeks of age. I know I got a bargain there as that's what new chicks typically cost so I got to save on the feed for those weeks. So that about $225 in startup costs. That's super low for a coop this size and really highlights the value of scavenging and scrounging.
Then the recurring expenditures started as I had to feed those little mouths for 5 months before they even started laying eggs. The good news is that they were soon old enough to let forage for their own food. Obviously we had the feeder filled for free access to pellets as well, but they ate an amazing amount of bugs, grass, greens, and whatever the heck else they found. I was filling that feeder maybe once a week or 10 days. It was awesome. Since I didn't really keep track I'm guessing here, but I remember buying four 50-pound bags of feed at $12/bag. And now that winter is here I buy scratch seed for them too, one bag so far at $15. So $65 in purchased food for 2016.
The hens started laying at the end of September. Well, some of them did. Others waited until late in October and one is still holding out. But I did finally start getting eggs and they were great. They gradually increased from an average of three eggs per day to five. And for the most part I'm still getting those five despite the shorter days (I do not light the coop). I didn't keep track at first but eventually enough people kept asking me how many eggs I'd gotten that I starting numbering the them. I hit 246 on December 31st but I'd estimate at least 300 since they started laying.
So on a "per egg" basis what has this cost? A lot. (225 startup + 65 recurring)/300 eggs is nearly $1/egg. Fortunately startup costs don't recur so if I ignore them that drops it to 22 cents per egg or $2.60/dozen. Not bad. And I expect that to drop even more now that production is up and running. We had a lot of growing months in that initial feed bill after all.
|Where is this going?
Are there things we're doing to mitigate the cost of this hobby? Yes! And we made some decisions along the way to make exiting a bit less painful as well. Such as making sure the coop could be used as a shed if we get out of chickens some day (in case you're wondering the original temp coop has already been repurposed once again and is now storage for garden tools and chicken related supplies).
Last summer I planted a chicken garden using free, old seed packets that I had acquired. So that provided some food for fall and early winter and helped mitigate the commercial feed bill. I'll definitely be doing this again.
And I've started to grow fodder. I had some cover crop seed and I sprouted it. After 8 days it looked like grass and I fed the entire seed mat to the chickens. They loved it. Green stuff in winter!
|Sprouted rye on day 2
|Chickens and Cooper grazing on sunflower seeds
And none of this cost discussion included the other benefits I get from the birds. Fertilizer from their droppings, turned compost, and just plain entertainment value.