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Egg-onomics: The real cost of raising backyard chickens

Two white hens in front of a chicken coop on a sunny day
August 19, 2015

By Allison Videtti

When my husband and I moved from a one-bedroom, high rise condo in the city to our home in a Chicago suburb, we immediately started looking for ways to make use of our yard. We planted a vegetable garden in the three raised planter beds, and even constructed a fourth to make room for some squash. We were in heaven (and saving money on produce).

My husband was especially thrilled. Growing up in a bustling New Jersey city just a 30 minute train ride from Manhattan, his backyard was a 10-by-15 foot concrete slab, and his garden was a pot of flowers on the front stoop.

As far as he was concerned, we were living in the country. Which is why, late one summer evening, he proposed to me the idea of getting backyard chickens. It would be so much fun, he said. And, as an added bonus, we’d save money on eggs!

I was not convinced. The smell, the mess – it just didn’t seem like “fun.” And, despite reports that the price of a dozen eggs could go as high as $6 due to the avian flu, I wasn’t entirely convinced we’d actually save any money.

But before I squashed his dreams of becoming a chicken farmer, I promised my husband I’d do some research. After all, a few of our neighbors have chickens, and some local residents have other “urban livestock,” including goats and rabbits.

In my quest to discover how much it really costs to become an urban farmer, here’s what I learned:

Chickens need their own house. To keep the coyotes, foxes and neighborhood cats away from your chickens, they’ll need a coop. If you’re handy, you could probably build one on the cheap using recycled wood – but we’re not handy. So we’d need to spend roughly $500 on a retreat for our flock.

Egg-laying chickens aren’t cheap. Unless you know someone who has a chicken surplus (I do not), you’ll need to pay up. Baby chicks can cost between $3 and $5, and egg laying hens can cost between $20 and $50. If you want a fancier breed of chicken, you can expect to pay a premium for both chicks and hens. Since chickens are social, you’ll need at least two chickens. If you eat a lot of eggs, you’ll want three, according to MyPetChicken.com.

Roosters are cheaper – they cost between $5 and $15 – but of course they don’t lay eggs. And, in some urban areas, they’re not allowed.

You can RENT a chicken! Not sold on the idea of owning chickens? No problem! You can rent a chicken (or multiple chickens) and a coop by the month. Rent a Coop will rent you a hen and coop for four weeks at $180, and charge $140 for an additional four weeks. A full 12 weeks will cost $360. They’ll drop them off at your house in the spring and pick them up in the fall.

Are backyard chickens really worth it?

To me, that’s the big question. Here’s how the numbers shake out:

  • Chicken coop: $500.
  • Egg-laying hens (purchase): $60 – we eat a lot of eggs, so we’d get three chickens.
  • OR, rental chickens: $360 – we’d want to give it the full 12 weeks!
  • Food: $15/month.
  • Chicken-related “extras”: $10/month (This includes things like wood chips, repairs to the coop and water bottles).

So, to start up, we’re looking at $560, with ongoing costs of roughly $25/month (or $385 if we opt for the rental). Of course, this doesn’t include vet bills, which would likely come up at some point. According to the message boards at BackyardChickens.com, owners report vet bills ranging from $25 up to $100.

At my local grocery store, a dozen eggs cost $3.50, and my husband and I buy a dozen eggs per week – or $14/month. If the price of a dozen eggs does go up to $6, we’re looking at $24/month.

In the end, we decided that it’s more cost-effective to just buy eggs at the grocery store than to raise a flock of chickens in our backyard – even if a dozen eggs aren’t nearly as fun to play with.
 


Sources: Slate, Rent a Coop, Rent-A-Chicken, MarketWatch and backyardchickens.co