Saturday, August 08, 2009


A recent New York Times article about self-reliance and chicken keeping got me thinking about my own chickenomics. The article's angle is that in tough economic times, chicken-keeping may fulfill a desire for greater self-sufficiency. But really, if you're trying to stave off financial insolvency, the Thin Feathery Line will not shield you for long. Between the costs of building a coop and the price of feed, it's cheaper to buy your eggs at the store. That's what the Times tells us. Our own chicken finances are organized via cash and receipts kept in a tea tin (above), and a spreadsheet kept on Google Docs (not pictured).

Here's how our chickenomics break down: Friends at work buy our eggs for $1.50/half dozen. (The hens can reliably deliver about 6 dozen salable eggs a week, and there is a waiting list.) Proceeds cover the costs of the hens' sundries (oyster shells, DE, bedding) and feed. Between kitchen scraps and the giant 'pasture' over which they forage, the hens' feed costs are not as high as they would otherwise be. The ladies are even managing to stay ahead of the curve and buy feed for the teenage chickens, who get copious garden weeds delivered frequently from our giant, weedy garden, but do not have access to forage. They are eating enthusiastically, as teenagers will, but it will be a few months before they are old enough to lay. And as fall and winter approach, the rate of laying will decline--and therefore revenue will decline--and the availability of forage will also decline--making feed expenses increase. So we are unlikely to cover costs over the winter. But in the Spring, laying will resume, augmented by the current crop of teens. We'll be able to whittle down that waiting list for eggs.

So, day-to-day costs are covered for now, but what about overall costs? The main chicken house (which is big) and the teenagers' house (also pretty big) were built mostly from free materials. BUT. Since we want to keep the hens separate from the garden, and from the dogs, plus separate the adults from the motherless babies/teens, separate sitting or ill hens, etc... we needed fencing. That means chicken wire, and a lot of it. The hens' giant chicken enclosures were far more costly than their actual chicken houses. Then there is also the initial cost of the chickens, which is a few dollars each. If a rooster is available, the chickens will take care of future chickens themselves... except that you probably don't want to line breed your chickens year after year after year. We just have the one adult rooster, Rooster Boy, who obligingly produced many motley offspring for free this summer. He IS the Boom King; I take back what I said before. We also ordered babies of a few different breeds--the current teenagers--from Randall Burkey.

I really like having the chickens, and their eggs are much better than grocery store eggs. I like that I can provide the tasty, local eggs from pastured hens to my friends, too. And if we got hit hard by the economic downturn I suppose it is a consolation that we could eat eggs indefinitely. But, the greater danger to our self-sufficiency would be that we would quickly be out of a place to live. So my plan for that eventuality is...{drum roll} go out and live in the chickens' big house. See? Pay no mind to the New York Times--the chickens will save us after all.

1 comment:

AeFondKis said...

I am inspired by you having all those chickens!!! Fresh eggs taste gorgeous!