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Should I Raise Egg-laying Chickens or Just Buy Eggs From the Store?
Everybody thinks homesteading is for them. We all daydream about having a patch of land, growing our produce, and being more self-sufficient. So what’s stopping most people from actually doing it?
The honest truth is that self-sufficiency is a lot harder than most people realize. The initial cost, upkeep and maintenance, and sheer amount of learning you need to do to produce your own food are all huge obstacles.
But are those obstacles insurmountable? In this article, we’ll talk about what it takes to get started with the most common “home farmer” practice: raising chickens for eggs.
Not just what you’ll need to buy, make, build to get started, but the benefits of raising your own laying hens. That way, you can make an educated choice on whether the “small time homesteader” lifestyle is really for you.
Keeping Chickens as a Lifestyle Choice
What It Takes to Keep a Coop
The most glaring issue for most people when they consider starting a garden, raising a coop, or keeping bees, is space. Each of these sustainable practices takes land.
While other practices like worm composting can work in an apartment, you’re going to need a yard to raise chickens. This can be tricky for a couple of reasons.
First, it might be impossible if you’re a renter. Landlords commonly prevent rental tenants from making permanent changes to the yard, not to mention keeping animals. And then there’s the issue of how much yard you have.
This applies not just to renters, but homeowners as well. Many states, counties, and cities have rules about where and if you can keep chickens.
This mostly depends on space. Coops typically have to be 25 feet from any house (including your neighbors’). As usual, check your local laws and HOA rules to find out. If you don’t have enough space, you might not be able to keep a coop in your yard.
Maintaining Your Hens
In addition to space, there is the issue of time. Chickens are similar to household pets in that they need regular maintenance. But luckily, they are much less time intensive than a cat or dog.
Chickens don’t need to be let out every day, for example. If your hens are set up with a warm coop inside a larger cage, they will be perfectly happy for a weekend or longer.
Like any animal, they do need food and water. But you don’t need to hand feed them daily. There are lots of DIY solutions for building or buying automatic chicken feeders. As long as they have access to water and food, they will keep clucking along happily.
So for weekend trips up to weeklong trips, you can get away with leaving your girls alone. You may need a neighbor to come by and collect their eggs, but this isn’t an everyday necessity.
However, if you’re the kind of person that likes to move around regularly or travels a lot, chickens may be a no-go. They won’t stop you from getting out of the house, but you do need to take care of them regularly.
What Does It Cost to Keep Egg-laying Chickens?
There’s a lot to consider when unpacking the cost of keeping chickens. Yes, you could build a ramshackle coop for almost nothing. And yes, feed is fairly cheap.
But consider these questions:
- Where are you getting your chickens from? Will you be raising them from chicks or buying them as adults?
- Do you need to shell out extra for protection from coyotes and other local predators?
- Will you need to buy or make an automatic feeder for when you’re away?
Like with any new enterprise, there are always unexpected learning curves and costs. If you’re new to keeping livestock, expect the unexpected. Here is an inventory of basic costs and upkeep.
Feed, Water, and General Care
For starters, there will always be the cost of food. It’s safe to estimate a single laying hen will eat about a pound and three quarters of food per week. By this math, a 50-pound bag of chicken feed will feed seven chickens for one month.
Like we said, chicken feed is cheap. One 50-pound bag of feed will range anywhere from $15 to $25. You can always supplement your chickens’ diet with scraps from the kitchen (which they will love).
Or, if you’re an overachiever, you can feed your chickens black soldier fly larvae from your compost bin! Worm composting is the most cost-effective option long-term. Composting with black soldier fly larvae produces an unlimited supply of feed at zero cost to you.
Beyond food, you’ll need to give your girls a dust bath and some water. You can set a dust bath up for $20-$50, and a tub for water will cost another $20 or so. Then, you’ll need a steady supply of sawdust to put down in their coop. This will help with cleaning. Sawdust isn’t expensive, but it isn’t free either.
Setting Up a Coop
The largest cost involved in raising chickens always comes from building a coop. This can be done a ton of different ways. People build coops and cages out of everything from reclaimed shiplap to old trampoline frames to gutted-out washing machines.
For our purposes, let’s ballpark the cost and say you could get it done for anywhere from $500-$1,500. This includes the cost of materials for a coop and an enclosed run.
The reason for the variability here is that there are an infinite ways of constructing a chicken coop. Consider a middling possibility, made of standard lumber. You need:
- Structural beams to keep the coop off the ground
- Framing for walls and roof
- Plywood for siding and flooring
- A wooden ramp for the chickens to get in and out
- Some kind of weatherproof roofing material (think corrugated aluminum or even shingles)
- Hardware for the main door and trapdoor above where the hens lay
Then, to build the run, you’ll need:
- Lumber to build a skeletal frame for the perimeter and roof/ceiling
- Roughly 150 yards of chicken wire (assuming a 6x12’, relatively small enclosed run), which should be double-layered, for walls and a roof
- Hardware to make a gate, which could be anything from an old screen door to a framed wooden gate
The amount of lumber you’ll need adds up quickly. Screws, hinges, wire, staples, and other hardware come at a premium too.
Adding extra chicken wire for a roof to keep predators out and automatic feeders (which range in price a lot) will obviously increase this cost.
Raising Your Birds
Last but not least, we can’t forget the cost of the chickens themselves. The cheapest way to get chickens is to buy some as adolescents or adults from a local farmer. You can also buy chicks from us and raise them.
Raising chicks, either as hatchlings or eggs, takes a lot of equipment and time. You’ll need an incubator, a brooder, special food, and a lot of your own time to make sure they survive to adulthood.
The total cost of equipment to raise chicks (on the low end) is around $100. Medicated chick feed (or crumbles) will run you around $15 per 25-pound bag.
Add It Up
As you can see, this all adds up quickly. To set up a coop, you could easily spend $750-1000. Getting birds to put into it will run you another $250-300. And keeping them fed, watered, and happy will cost another $20-50 per month.
The Benefits of Egg-Laying Chickens
Now that we’ve looked at the costs of setting up egg-laying hens, let’s explore the benefits. It will take a while for your eggs to offset the cost of raising your birds. But there are far more than just economic benefits to keeping hens.
Better For Your Diet
One of the biggest reasons people raise their own eggs is their health. And while it’s not as cut and dry as we might like, there are some real benefits to raising your own eggs.
For one, farm-fresh eggs do have a higher nutritional content than store-bought. Studies have found freshly-laid eggs to contain twice as much Vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Side-by-side taste tests have also conclusively shown farm-fresh eggs to be better tasting. They often have richer, thicker yolks which work well in baking. And they’re usually a lot larger than store-bought eggs, too.
But the biggest health benefit to eating farm-fresh eggs is that they won’t pass on antibiotics. Cage-raised chickens are given a steady drip of antibiotics to keep them healthy in the unsanitary conditions they live in.
Lucky for you, your chickens don’t need any of that. So you won’t get the standard low dose of antibiotics that are commonly passed along in store bought poultry products.
A Cleaner Planet
Another major argument for raising chickens is sustainability. If you weren’t aware, chickens are fantastic composters that can turn your kitchen scraps into edible eggs.
This reduction of waste is critical to cleaning up our environment. Furthermore, when you raise your own eggs, you’re depending less on the meat industry, which is one of the largest polluters on earth.
By starting to live the homestead life, you’re practicing what we call circular agriculture [https://www.ifpri.org/blog/circular-agriculture-vision-sustainability ]. This means that instead of creating waste and purchasing food from a third party, you can use some of your waste to make food.
Circular agriculture is the gold standard in living a greener life. It reduces waste across the board, from the amount of trash you put into the landfill to the plastic packaging your food comes in. It also reduces how much water you consume and helps to keep harmful chemicals from leaching into our soil and waterways.
More Eggs Than You Can Shake A Stick At
And of course, who can forget the biggest benefit of all to raising chickens? Once you get a small flock of hens going, you will have more eggs than you know what to do with. Your farm-fresh eggs will keep for a very long time without being refrigerated and are top quality for cooking.
But what should you do with more eggs than you can eat? Easy! Trade them with your neighbors. Chances are there is someone in your area who keeps a garden, makes honey, grows fruit, brews beer, or produces some kind of tasty goody.
Eggs are a perfect token to trade for other homemade products. You can use your extras to trade with your neighbors, or even just sell them outright. Farm fresh eggs go for a pretty penny and there are lots of people who will gladly buy them.
Creating a small bartering community in your neighborhood improves not only your life, but the lives of everyone around you.
Putting It All Together
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Raising chickens is a deeply fulfilling lifestyle that has a ton of benefits. But like anything worth doing, it can also be an expensive headache.
At the end of the day, if all you’re after are cute pictures for instagram, raising chickens probably isn’t for you. But if you want to live a healthier life on a healthier planet surrounded by a healthy community, then raising your own chickens is a fantastic way to start.