So, I got to thinking again the other day and you know how once I ask a question I have to find the answer. If you haven't guessed most of my questions are posed to me through conversations with Mountain Man. He is always asking me to prove to myself whether it is best to do things one way or another and since I love to learn it works out great for both of us. Today's question is this. How much does it really cost to feed chickens in return for eggs, is it really worth it or should I just buy them from the store or a neighbors.
My first thought is that it's a no brainer. I know eggs from free range hens are much healthier than anything store bought and I love having chickens around. Their funny antics keep me laughing and they produce wonderful high protein food for my family. What's not to love?
However as I try to set aside emotion to analyse this I keep coming up with more questions. Did you purchase the chickens full grown? As one day olds? At about 5 or 6 weeks of age? Or were they hatched out on your homestead by a broody bird? Each age has a different price tag attached to it. The cheapest is to allow one of your hens to go broody and raise some babies for you. Barring that, the least amount of work is to purchase 5 or 6 week olds from a neighbor for about $4 or $5 each. For the sake of making it easier lets assume you did the last option and purchased 3 hens. If you want babies you will need a rooster as well which will add to the cost but if you don't the hens will lay eggs just fine without one. Lets just concentrate on the hens for now and if you decide to add a rooster the cost can be added on later.
Each adult chicken will eat approximately 1/4 pound of feed per day. A bag of purchased layer feed is 50 pounds and costs me approximately $35 (you may be able to get it cheaper where you live). That is about 17.5 cents a day per chicken. The average multi-purpose hen will lay approximately 260 eggs per year at peak performance. It works out to $63.88 spent per chicken per year with a return of approximately 21.66 dozen eggs if you purchase all their food from a store. Remember this is also at peak performance without taking into consideration the feed to raise them to this level or for when they start producing less.
So, how much do you spend on eggs? The cheapest I can purchase them at the store is about $2.65/dozen which is $52.14 a year for the amount of eggs 1 hen will lay. So, if I was to have chickens and purchase all their feed I am actually losing money to the tune of $11.74 per chicken. Of course I am getting all those lovely eggs and they are much better for me than the store bought ones. Also, since the chickens are free range they eat a lot of bugs etc in the summer thereby eating less purchased feed, and I give them all my kitchen scraps. Maybe in the end it works out to fairly even? But don't forget the extra's purchased such as oyster shells etc. Sigh.... OK. It's not going to work out cheaper this way, so lets look at alternatives.
There IS a cheaper way to do it. I found this out while talking to my local merchant at a feed store. Most feed stores have a mix you can purchase that is specifically for supplementing and adding protein to grains such as wheat, corn, oats and barley. It is mixed in at a ratio of 7 to 1 depending of course on what type of grain you have on hand. One scoop of the purchased mix to 7 scoops of your mix of grain. While it is a little bit more expensive ($45/ 50 lb bag) it has a concentrated protein and is a LOT cheaper if you have farmers around who don't mind if you clean out the bottom of their grain bins for them. Free grain is always a good bargain and the hens certainly don't mind the leavings! By using this method I cut my cost down to just over $9 per year per chicken for feed. Not bad! Of course this depends on finding farmers who will allow you to clean out their grain bins for free. If I have to purchase grains in bulk from a farmer my cost goes up.
But wait! Can't you make your own mix? Sure you can, but it isn't always easy to find the grains necessary. Laying hens need about 18% protein in their diet. The grains grown locally here don't have the protein needed. Wheat is 12.5 % protein, corn is 9 %, oats is 14 %, and barley 12.3 %. So if you were to feed only grains they would not be getting enough protein except for in the summer if they can find a lot of bugs. However, if you have a worm farm and can supplement their diet, as earthworms are about 28% protein. Don't forget the whey! If you make cheese this lovely by product is loaded with protein. There is a great list of grains and their protein levels here as well as a wealth of information about creating your own chicken feed. Maybe you have farmers in your area who can supply you with cheaper alternatives.
The first eggs my chickens gifted me with. Yum!
So, what to do? Myself, I can easily get grain for next to nothing or for free but if I didn't live here I'm not sure. It works out to balancing what is good for you versus what is less costly. Myself, I will take the goodness every time if I can. But it sure is worth considering the options and doing a lot of research before just deciding to do it.
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