Egg-onomics: Do Backyard Chickens Help You Save Money on Eggs?
Egg prices are sky-high right now, and economic forecasters say that's not likely to change anytime soon. In New Jersey, where I live, a dozen organic brown eggs is about $9 — almost $3 more than what I paid two years ago. Though I can't ditch eggs entirely, the dent they put in my wallet has led me to "think outside the supermarket." How can I get the eggs I need to cook at home without spending more on them than I would on takeout?
One option I'm considering is raising backyard chickens. This is, admittedly, a more extreme idea than clipping coupons, but it eliminates my reliance on grocery store eggs entirely. That said, maintaining healthy chickens requires a substantial time, energy, and financial investment. It's a long-term play — I'll save money on eggs over time — versus a short-term solution. To find out whether raising backyard chickens is a viable alternative to buying commercial eggs, I spoke to several people who've been doing it for years.
The Present and Future of Egg Prices
Egg inflation is here. The question is: For how long? Lisa Steele, a chicken keeper and the author of The Fresh Eggs Daily Cookbook (Buy from Amazon, $15.39), notes that egg prices spiked at the end of last year for a number of reasons. One of these was avian influenza outbreaks, which dramatically decreased US egg production. This caused demand to outstrip supply and resulted in a reported 60 percent jump in prices in December 2022 compared to the previous year.
These steep prices have stayed with us in 2023, but Steele predicts they’ll decrease after Easter. “Once that added [seasonal] demand pressure relaxes going into summer, egg prices should significantly come down — although I don't know that we'll see prices quite as low as they were pre-2022,” she says. “I think prices will settle somewhere in the $3 to $4 per dozen range for store-brand eggs, and $7 to 8 for the free range, organic eggs — once flocks ravaged by avian flu are back up to normal production capacity. It takes five months after hatching for a chicken to start laying eggs, which will help rebalance the supply and demand ratio.”
While reduced egg prices may be on the horizon, our susceptibility to fluctuating egg costs remains. So how much does it cost to raise chickens? And would it be financially beneficial in the long run?
The Cost of Raising Backyard Chickens
Prices for chicken coops, baby chickens, and feed vary based on your setup. Below, Kristen Kilfoyle Boffo, director of strategic partnerships at Walden Local Meat and a self-described "chicken enthusiast,” calculates the approximate cost of raising backyard chickens based on her experience with her own backyard flock.
Chicken coop: A small chicken coop suitable for housing four to six hens will retail online for around or above $200, and will need to be assembled. You’ll also need other implements including feeders, waterers, and — in some cases — fencing. This expense depends on how elaborate you want your chicken coop to be. For estimation's sake, plan to spend at least $400 on infrastructure.
Baby chicks: Baby chicks generally retail for slightly less than $5 per chick plus shipping. They’ll need a heat lamp and an area safe from predators with shavings, food, and water until they’re about 12 weeks old, when they develop more feathers. Your new hens won’t start laying eggs until they’re four or five months old. You can avoid this delay by buying a starter pullet (a 16-week-old hen) from any local farmer. But, starter pullets tend to cost over $20 each.
Feed: Depending on if you'd like organic or conventional feed, it starts at around $.67 per pound — with a 45-pound bag costing about $30. Full grown chickens eat about ¼ pound of feed per day, which is about $62 per bird in feed yearly. Expect your hen to lay around 250 eggs per year at her peak, but that amount will decline as she ages and during winter when there’s less sunlight.
Boffo estimates that spreading these costs across five hens over a year amounts to $.60 per egg, or $7.20 per dozen. Therefore, the cost of collecting a dozen of your own organic eggs versus buying them will likely be the same. “You're not necessarily saving money, depending on the type of eggs you’re buying [at the store],” Boffo adds. “Plus, chickens are a daily responsibility — but they can be quite entertaining, and many people enjoy having them as part of their family.” While you’re probably not saving a ton by raising chickens, the experience can definitely be egg-cellent!
Additional Tips for Having Chickens
Beyond the costs, having backyard chicken also requires planning. To have a successful flock, follow these four tips from a backyard chicken community called City Yolks:
Check local laws. If you live within city limits, check local ordinances for having backyard chickens. Many cities limit the number of chickens you’re permitted to raise and allow hens but not roosters.
Research various breeds. Do your homework on beginner chicken breeds that best fit your needs. Amanda Terbrock, poultry expert at Manna Pro and founder of City Yolks, tells Woman's World that your local area's climate should dictate your breed choices. If you live in an area with harsh winters, prioritize cold-hardy breeds. In contrast, look for hot weather chickens if you live in a warm region.
Designate adequate space for the chicks. Since chicks grow big quickly, set up your coop before buying the chicks. Each chick should have 3 to 5 square feet of space in the coop, along with room for roosting boxes, water containers, and feeders. Chickens also need about 8 to 10 square feet of free run space per bird.
Be aware of the commitment. As with any pet, being a responsible chicken owner is a commitment. Healthy eggs require healthy chickens. This entails proper nutrition and fresh water each day, treats, a clean coop, safety from animal predators, and so much more. Be sure you're willing to put in the work before making the purchase.
Raising backyard chickens comes with its own set of expenses, and it isn’t an instant money-saver. It may, however, be beneficial over time. Just be warned of the commitment. Regardless of whether you set up your own coop or continue shopping in stores, Steel doesn't think eggs are likely to disappear from our diets. “[They] are still the most economical and nutritious protein source, not to mention the most versatile," she says.
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.