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.
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…
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.
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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….
You bet. And wow – that song is sick!
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.
Only hawks! That’s not bad. Kids do love the birds, too.
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.
That is a decent return. Predators ate my returns.
Damn chickens won’t lay every day. They shut down during molting. They shut down during the cold months. They shut down during the very hot months. They shut down if they’re starteled. They shut down if they’re stressed. They shut down if the friggin wind blows from the wrong direction.
(9 months now) . I have 5 Rhode Island Reds and 1 Buff. They lay 6 eggs a day. I give them a large bowl of oatmeal every morning as well as their feed, treats and water. Honestly caring for them in below zero weather has been very stressful. I am out there 4 times a day caring for them. They are comical and sweet creatures but between the cost of everything and the work and the worry . . . I don’t know that it is worth it. The eggs are great, I share a lot of them but really I did not know what I was getting myself into. Still refining my system. Cheers.
Joel Salatin would disagree https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgVFmfibjeE
Me thinks you may be doing it wrong.
Salatin has scale in his favor, plus flat ground. Plus he’s a genius.
If you have an acre of grass you can raise chickens. And you sell youself short, you sir are a Genius.
Fruit trees just do a lot better for me.
You could also raise a grass fed cow. 1000lb animal will yeild around 600lbs of meat @ across the board price of 6.00/lb. Average processing of hung weight is around 400.00. you stand to make $3200.00. “oh, but what about all the other overhead? Mineral, hay for winter, bla,bla,bla.” When you take your animal to butcher, remind them that you want the bones, orgins and other parts. You can average another $2 to $3 / lb for dog and soup bones. Plus the orgins. Looking @ another $500 bucks.
Yeah, a cow is a decent return. I have a big chest freezer, too.
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.
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.
Since you don’t care about money, where may I pick up my free eggs. Or even better just ship them to me.
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
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.
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.
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
That’s not bad. And yeah, I’d rather farm than work in an office any day.
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.
That kind of time expenditure is no fun. I didn’t think about the problem of freezing water!
My coop is in a 15 x 18 foot run outside my back door. I knew I would not want to trudge through snow to care for them. Mine don’t like the heated water dispenser so I have a smaller plastic pan inside a larger one and fill 2x a day when it is cold.
Amen, When I read this post I really agreed. Its not so much the cost as I only have 3-5 hens at any one time. and at least right now feed is not too costly. And its been years since my initail investment of about 650 dollars on a coop. What kills me the most is going out to the coop twice a week in ankle deep mud here in lovely W.V. during the winter. Also the upkeep on the coop is a pain.
In addition we just dont eat many eggs. Also did anyone here ever think if shtf ever happend how would you feed your chickens?????? So you think the stores would sell out of everything but they would never sell out of chicken feed? Also chicken feed is something that goes bad so you cant stock pile it.
Yeah, it’s true. I’ve tried to make it work many times.
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!
That was a good idea. I would love to see photos of your setup.
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.
I bought my peanuts from Bakers Creek. They’re delicious if I can keep the rodents out of them.
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!
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
Thank you. I’ve never tried quail.
I appreciate your reflections on chickens and yes, for many, they are not worth it, but I would like to point out some of the other “non-monetary” advantages I’ve calculated into my flock which are often overlooked and worth their weight in gold.
Note: I have a movable electric mesh paddock system on a little over 3 acres with 30 layer birds. We are planning to scale up to 75 for an egg coop.
-bug gleaning- the birds get set on the garden beds when they are “turned” (we don’t till) in the fall. The birds comb through all the soil picking out bugs and their eggs. We’ve kept our soil clean of pests for years using this method and get a boost of poo for spring planting.
-manure- we bought the place with an intact old coop where I catch our roosting poo in large tubs and flip them into future raised beds for added fertility. They also fertilize the fields where they roam, improving pasture without any amendments.
-compost- I take the old straw from nest boxes and use it in our composting systems. Sometimes I add the poo tubs too for more nutrients.
*note-my birds are fed a USDA Organic loose grain mix, the cheaper pellet grain is cooked, and will not have the rich nutrients you want for your soil.
I’ve never had to buy soil amendments (besides lime), new potting soil, or costly herbicides to treat my gardens.
I’d say the biggest issue with chickens is the feed. We use far less grain on our birds because of our movable pasture systems. I raise layers, so the egg production does require more grain. When I did a season of broilers, we pastured them and let them slow grow a little, but the pay back on less grain for more grass was worth it.
Time is money, but smart design can make chickens easy and profitable. There is a lot of material out there about how, and how many birds to take on for that profit to flow. Small backyard bird pets are not about profit, so for those of you in the backyard systems, no, chickens are not profitable, and should be seen as luxury pets. Personally, I count my bird time as an enjoyment, and do consider the enjoyment factor I get out of my engagement with the chickens as another hidden profit.
Livestock will always take more time than vegetation. That’s the truth. But my direct engagement with a living animal is a being to being exchange I do not experience with fruits and veggies. Plants don’t gaze up at you with quite the same stimulating glance. lol, guess I’m a bird brain. 😉
Very good post, Liz – thank you. The scale really helps and good design is paramount.
Several of my friends have also faced the same issue of deciding if the cost was worth keeping chickens. Some have are now buying eggs from small farms and a few still have a flock. I live in an area where the tick population is pretty high, so keeping poultry is worth it. Thank for all of the time you invest in educating others.
Thank you, Lisa. Yes – tick removal is a good reason to have birds.
Sorry you spent so much on your chickens.. if you did it differently you could saved serious money. These b—— pintrest articles really suck and do nothing but advance the factory farm culture. Thanks alot!!
We tried plenty of ways, Doug. It doesn’t work out for everyone.
The value in chickens in not just in meat and eggs but also the manure and in some cases you can sell feathers for a small amount. They enrich your own soil and are perfect for clearing out fall beds for a spring planting. Those beds will go on to be much more productive after a few years of chickens. Even without a garden/fruit trees/berry bushes of your own home gardeners absolutely will buy local aged chicken manure for their own gardens.
Hi David, thank-you for this realistic article which helps support my inclination to “let them go”!!! This is my twentieth year having chickens on and off. I raise them from chicks – which has completely lost its charm for me. What is different in these decades is that I am a serious grower of herbs, veggies and flowers. Though we have field production beds, I started no-digs beds for the kitchen garden. My hard worked has gotten scratched away with these current girls and I don’t think my garden and these nine hens can ever be compatible. And I don’t want to fence my beds in. Frankly, I am going to leave the coop open and hope that nature takes its course – foxes have to eat too 🙂 Thanks again for the confirmation!!!!!
Thank you, Lory – that is funny.
I just came across this and watched both videos. I am sad for you. You probably realize that if you had started by building a predator-proof coop and run, the rats would not have been a problem. When you resorted to poisoning the rats for your own selfish reasons you jeopardized the life of any animal or insect that will eat the dead rats. Runs the ecosystem completely. I think if you care about money, chickens are not for you. If you care about the environment, poison should not be in the equation. I will step off my soapbox now. Enjoy your little piece of paradise wherever you are surviving but to me, David the Good is not all that good.
What you don’t realize is that I had nothing to do with the design of this coop – which was bad. We were renting. However, I have no need to justify myself.
I don’t know how David got these numbers, but they are ALL almost twice as much as they should be. I have been raising chickens for all my life and, although the resulting answer is the same as I would give, it isn’t reflective of real numbers.
So who wants to get rid of their coop. I would love at as my first! I’m in St. Louis.
In my opinion you are wrong. Why onearth is someone making a business with egfs if it is so bad in $$$?
In such calculations even cooking is bad and mcdonalds is best.
Family is also a huge loss esp kids.
Watching tv is a 15usd liss a hr. Aleeping also. Toiket also.
But im not saying the article is poor quality. But you did not count the time ine must spend shopping and much more. Freshness. Car wear and tear. Etcetc