Are Chickens Worth it? Let’s Count the Cost!

Chickens!

Are chickens worth it?

Are the eggs and meat you get worth the cost of a coop, the cost of feed and the cost of time it takes to manage a flock?

I’ve been keeping chickens for almost a decade now and, despite my best attempts, thus far the answer is…

Well. I’ll let you decide for yourself, but I know my answer. Here are the big problems.

A Coop Costs Money

If you have predators, you can’t just throw up some 2 x 4’s and chicken wire. No, you need hardware cloth, impregnable walls and roof and maybe even a concrete floor.

If you’re lucky, handy and a good scavenger, you might spend about $200-$300 for a solid little chicken coop. If you’re not, you spend a couple times that.

I can buy farm eggs for $3.50 USD per dozen – but hey, I get them cheaply because I live in the third world. You’re likely to pay $6.00 per dozen.

That’s fifty cents an egg. That means the chickens in a $250.00 coop must produce 500 eggs to pay off their real estate.

But wait… there’s more!

 

Chicken Feed Has a Price

A 50lb bag of commercial chicken feed costs around $16.00. Each laying hen will consume around a 1/4lb of feed per day. In 200 days, you’ll need to buy another bag. If you have one bird, that is. It works out to about $0.08 cents of feed per bird, per day. That’s not so bad.

But…

 

Your Time Also Has a Price

What is your time worth? $7.50 per hour? $15? $50?

If you were Donald Trump, it wouldn’t make sense to keep chickens unless you wanted to do so as a hobby. Chickens are certainly better company than Congressmen and have higher IQs, so I could understand if he did decide to raise a flock.

But we’re talking about your time. Let’s say it’s worth $15 per hour.

You need to build a coop, buy feed, let the chickens in and out, collect eggs, feed and water the birds, plus hunt predators.

Taking care of a flock doesn’t take all that much time, usually. Maybe a quarter hour a day.

That works out to 1.75 hours per week, or $26.25 of your time at $15 per hour.

At that rate, you could easily buy a dozen eggs every two days from an organic chicken farm… and keep your time.

 

And This is in an Ideal World!

You might decide keeping chickens makes sense for you even after these numbers… but what about deaths from predators?

Going out to the coop in the middle of the night after being woken up by the dying squawks of a murdered rooster isn’t fun. Discovering the fox that killed the cock has also murdered all your pullets is even less so.

At our place rats dug into the coop and killed our chicks:

A lot of people suggested building a stronger coop, poisoning the rats, raising the chicks off the ground, etc.

Yet that costs more money. Why would I spend the time and effort when I can just buy eggs from down the road for a few bucks a dozen?

I answered some of the commenters in this follow-up video:

So – are Chickens Worth It?

I’ve raised chickens for eggs and meat and I appreciate the manure and the work they do with composting; yet overall…

commodus

No. Heck no.

The “ideal” of chickens has always failed to mesh with the reality of chickens.

If I let the birds freerange, they’ll wreck my newly planted gardens and often end up as predator droppings.

If I box them up in a Gallus gallus gulag, they need more feed and produce lower quality eggs.

I’m sure there’s a way to keep birds that makes monetary sense, but I haven’t found it. I’m no Joel Salatin and we don’t even own our homestead here, so… considering tractors, coops, chicken runs, hardware cloth, feed, time… the numbers don’t add up.

A lot of us love the ideas of birds – or we like chickens the way we like our dogs.

I don’t want pets. I want eggs that are higher quality and cost less than the ones I can buy locally.

That isn’t happening, so the birds have to go. I’ll bet if you crunch the numbers on your own homestead, you’ll see the same monetary drain I do.

 

Enjoy this post? Pin it to Pinterest!

keeping chickens worth it pinterest image

Related posts:

David-the-good-books-revised

40 comments

  • My Mom grew up in the depression in Canada. They had a farm and chickens of course. Sold the eggs, butter etc to the rich city folks in Montreal… this was very profitable during the war when things were rationed. However, after that she quickly came to the conclusion that chickens were not a profitable venture…. and of course in the fall you ended up butchering and canning the chickens… By the way, home canned chicken meat is excellent for making chicken and dumplings…..

    When I got chickens, quite a few years ago, she presented the same arguments you just laid out…. I came to agree with her… lol I haven’t had chickens in many years.

    Thank you for “flash back”…. I miss her dearly.

    After watching your last you tube regarding poisoning rats I thought you might enjoy Tom Lehrer’ Poisoning Pigeons in the Park… lol

    It’s a slippery slope lad…. rats today pigeons tomorrow….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhuMLpdnOjY

  • I have no chickens, one day maybe, but right now it is just not feasible. I have read a few articles, and all (that I have read) came to the conclusion you have come to. Joel Salatin has a system, not just a system, a system that works, his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” is a great read, and outlines the finer points of his system(not to mention, he is yet another genius in the ag community). He is able to spread the cost, as a homeowner, you are not. In a grid down situation is the juice worth the squeeze? What is an alternative? Is this why community is so important, because it would allow the cost to be spread out? If you could focus on nothing but growing chickens, would that make the difference? Doing things yourself is the most satisfying thing in the world, but at what cost? You list the monetary value of time, one of the reasons I follow everything you do is because you realize the importance of this. I wonder if money wasn’t a thing or we lived in a world where it no longer mattered, how would we come to the same conclusion, it is just not worth it? Sorry to ramble yet again, when I read your posts, my mind rattles off a bunch of questions and thoughts, and I spew some words into your comment section, not really knowing if that is what you have intended it for. Thanks for making me think everyday.

  • I have 6 kids, a suburban home with no predators other than hawks that leave full size hens alone. Chickens free range in a backyard, and sleep where they want, usually on top of the never closed coop. With trivial child labor, plus the kids need to be working household chores like feeding chickens anyway, it is definitely worth it for me to have my 5 hens, even if our 4 year old didn’t carry them around and love on them.

  • My coop cost me around 500$, I have 9 chicken already laying and 6 other that should start soon so 15 chicken that cost me 300$ (heritage breeds). So 800$, chicken and coop. I expect my hen to lay an average of 10 eggs per day (right now we get an average of 6-7 eggs/day for 9 hen). So at 10 eggs per day, it will take me 192 days or roughly 6 months to get back on my money on at a value of 5$ per dozen. ($800/$5 = 160 dozens, 160 x 12 eggs = 1920 eggs, 1920 eggs /10 eggs per day =192 days). We sell 4-5 dozens per week at 5$ and keep the rest for ourselves, so let be conservative, let’s say 20$ per week. This money goes to buying feed, straw, shaving and unplanned expense. To me, in my situation, it makes perfect economic sense.

  • Joel Salatin would disagree https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgVFmfibjeE

    Me thinks you may be doing it wrong.

  • Yeah, there is no one size fits all Farming solution or in this case chicken solution. In my experience in suburbia with four production hens, it was worth it to get four eggs everyday. I was also only out maybe a 1/4lb total in feed each day for the four because they free ranged extensively and got kitchen scraps. I can’t wait to expand into meat Chickens in the country.

  • If you don’t care about money, then you will be so much better off. We want a relationship with where the eggs come from. We want higher quality eggs from less stressed chickens who have a s—– life. You can always get cheaper, but you sacrifice so much for that lower cost.

    • Chris,

      Yes – there is a good case to be made for raising your own eggs from happy birds. I just have to keep it in budget. When I get a chance to design a solid paddock system, I will try again. Right now, they just don’t fit the budget. Thanks for stopping by.

  • I also agree they aren’t worth the cost. My husband disagrees ( he enjoys having them around.)
    But he doesn’t clean the poop off the porch, didn’t lose his cold frame to scratching chickens – we reinvented it as a chicken turned compost pile, a choice I’m still not happy about, – and lost more than one flock to weasels, bobcats, foxes etc.
    I’m with you Dave the Good

    • David The Good

      Yeah. I really got ticked at the birds for getting into the garden and destroying my seedlings recently, too.

  • I have piss poor soil and I can only produce so much compost. I’m using them to improve soil quality and create much more compost than I would otherwise. I also double the coop as a chicken tractor to raise meat birds.

    • David The Good

      That’s a good use. We raised meat birds a couple of times and they were worth it. And the soil prep is very good.

  • Elizabeth Hart

    I agree – 100%. I raised hens for a couple of years because my son was going through a dozen eggs a day (weight lifter) . . . by the time you add up the costs of building a coop, organic feed and my time – definitely NOT worth it. I think it’s the idea of raising chickens and harvesting your own organic eggs that is so appealing. But cost wise? Yeah, not so much. Funny though – a rat or two got in their coop and those hens made mince meat out of them. Nothing but blood and tails left. Of course my dogs (avid pet lover here) also made mince meat out of a flock of hens once or twice two. Bottom line – $5.99 per dozen at Publix looks pretty good now . . . especially since the son flew the coop.

  • Chickens don’t have weekends

  • chickens are dinosaurs

  • My flock of 28 birds goes through about $20 of feed per week. I bring them a 5-gallon bucket of weeds from my garden each morning and kitchen scraps each evening. Their coop/pen is located in the middle of my goat pasture, so the guardian dogs keep them safe from predators. I sell at least 4 dozen eggs each week at $5 per dozen so their feed costs are covered. That leaves me with 2-3 dozen eggs for personal use, plus lots of manure for the compost bin.

    As far as the cost of my time goes….I’d rather shovel chicken poop and goat poop, and pull weeds, and any other farm chore than deal with the crappy stress and aggravation of a “real” job! LOL

  • We finally gave up and gave the girls away. I was okay with the cost because I loved the eggs, and enjoyed watching the chickens. The deal-breaker was having to get up every morning bright and early to fight my way through two feet of snow to break the ice on their water (they wouldn’t drink out of a heated bowl) and then needing to check for eggs all day long so they didn’t freeze. Winters are rough on chicken owners! And then there is that poop on the porch scenario . . .
    The chicken coop (I won’t tell you how much we spent on that!) is now a kitty condo.

  • Traditionally chickens would be kept alongside a grain farm and/or a dairy. They are designed to absorb excess or low quality grain and milk, leverage that nutrition through free ranging to increase the return, and produce a different and more marketable form of protein than meat (easier to transport). If you don’t produce your own excess grain or milk and have room to range them then it isnt worthwhile. Even the idea of feeding them supplements year round to lay year round is a very recent idea. Typically they would just lay when they could be fed enough of anything surplus. Pigs serve a very similar role. If you are buying feed from someone else to support them then they will never pay for themselves (unless industrialised agriculture is running so cheap that the grain to feed is worth almost nothing….and how likely is that looking in the future?)

    • You’re right. If you have enough livestock together, they start to balance. Burds will happily pick worms out of a manure pile or go through used produce.

  • We bought a metal shed, placed it under the shade and most protected part of our garden where other stuff would not grow. We do not eat meat so all of our compostable materials went to the chickens along with there feed. We raised black australorps for their meek nature and 300-350 days of large brown eggs (even laying in winter with a heat lamp). Our coup was on cement pylons the kind you use to raise a deck with a wood floor a ramp to the door and a sliding door cut into the side of the coop. We built a cattle panel greenhouse as a rain shelter for them. It kept their food free of contaminated mold. Also so they would have a place out of the rain and provided hay for keep things clean and sanitary. In fall and spring we thew in leaves which the chicken would turn into mulch quite effectively and what they did not break up the worms would do the rest. We loved our chickens but two raccoons moved into our oak tree and killed one of our chickens. From that time on we had to lock them up at night placing a perch high enough in the coop so they were safe…it worked!

  • Given you don’t own the land, it’s hard to take those kinds of financial losses. If you own the land, you know the price you pay for a decent coup, recoups, over the years. And you don’t suffer losses to predators. Rats and snakes, are why I did all my own incubating and raising chicks, inside the house. We haven’t lost one chicken to predators. So if you have the security of knowing you’re staying put, investing in a good coop, pays off, over time.

    Don’t write off chickens completely as a financial disincentive. It just doesn’t suit your present location. Which is fair. The benefits of our chickens are really appreciated, in their talent for waste disposal. We feed them the food scraps from my husband’s workplace – some of which is bread. The bread soaks up the roasting pan fats from our dinner, the night before. So we don’t have to pay for kitchen towels to wipe the trays out. We have septic, so fat can’t go down the sink. They pretty much get all our scraps, and we get soil for the garden.

    I think what would be a better waste management tool in your present location though, are having worms. Being smaller, you can build a worm farm, rats can’t break into. You can put all your food scraps in, and have worm castings and wee for your potting culture. It would still deal with what the chickens provided, only more portable (can move with you) and more affordable.

  • Keeping chickens really does depend on many things and sometimes the economics just are not there. In my case, if I just looked at expenses it is just below breakeven. But there are other factors that tip the balance for me —

    * I have not had my small acreage sprayed, or the house, in years. Just having the house ‘debugged’ by a ‘professional’ costs $400/year.
    * That they fertilize an area keeps the chemlawn people at bay. A suburban friend I know was paying $1000/yr for that service.
    * They till the garden for me in the spring and fall.
    * They are great compost-a-matics, they turn that for me too.
    * Alarm system, when they are awake they detect everything before you will even know it. But you have to be alert to their calls.

    If I add those incidentals into the mix, then it becomes sensible for me to maintain chickens.

    • Wow – I had no idea chemlawn was so expensive. You are right – there are many functions birds serve that can be taken into account. I like “professional debugging” as a description. Thank you, JohnMc.

  • Excellent article! We spent $1,000 on building a very sturdy coop with hardware cloth under the ground to discourage predators. My birds get non “organic” feed. Organic has changed meanings so I mean it was probably grown with gmo corn and harsh pesticides. I buy direct from the manufacturer at $10 for 50 pounds. The birds also get human food scraps and graze in the grass a few hours per day. Every 3 months of so they get a $14 bail of costal hay. We sell only some of the eggs for about $12 a month. If the coop lasts only 5 years the coop cost is .55 a day. After 6 months of free loading the hens earn enough to feed us all the eggs we want and pay for their feed. They make compost which is “worth” about $5 for 3 pounds at the Big Box Store. I soon figured out that we needed to add more birds to the coop to make this cover the cost of the coop. 4 birds added. One appears to be a rooster and headed for a crock pot. That’s disappointing. So 3 hens were added.
    If the SHTF we’ve got a fallback. Education for the kid: priceless!
    The labor is unpaid, but it’s fun and takes hardly any time at all. We needed a power washer for the porch anyway so I’m not counting that cost. It’s currently break even at best. They ate 60 watermelon seedlings. I need better garden protection. More money to spend! Scale must be everything!

  • Great article. My family has been growing chickens for ages. There are good times and difficult times. We ate our homegrown eggs and chickens. Got great manure and learned to kill them ourselves, until I became vegan.
    We kept cats around to keep away the rats and mice.
    People grow chickens for lots of different reasons. More than a million people in the world, more than a million reasons to want to grow chickens.
    I am interested in growing my own peanuts. I had a small batch two years ago and it did so so. want to try it again. But am looking for chemical free peanuts.

  • If I had back all the $ I spent on chickens and their trappings I could retire now!!! But I love keeping them and will continue to do so… Yes, they are agravating and don’t ‘free range’ all or even most of the time… I also must count the fact that I’m in my mid 50’s and have only needed a dr for accidents and injurys… All them yard birds and fresh eggs ive ate must attribute something to the equation………..

  • We started with 4H chickens as total beginners. Yes the first coop was scrap lumber & since has been replaced with a 10×12 run with 2 eggs box areas. We let our chickens free range until we began to lose them to bobcats Now we have 16 having sold 3 to bring down our flock size. Currently we sell all the eggs we can produce and it covers the cost of food. We have started distributing the runs “compost” to our plants and see an immediate response We are trying to get a food forest started and the chickens are a help and yes an expense at times. The initial startup & the gap between production & sales was the hardest. It may take a long time for the chickens to “break even” but i consider it all a good learning experience for the whole family.

    • You are using those birds well – they may not break even completely but you’re right: the learning experience has value!

  • Hi David
    Enjoyed the article. We too found that chickens were not worth it. Quail though… Once you have a way to keep them safe and sound they better checkers in almost every way. Doing the math, the numbers are good (at least in my part of the world). Definately worth considering 🙂

    All the best

    Dan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *