My post “Are Chickens Worth it?” has picked up a lot of interest since I posted it a few months back.
Liz commented recently:
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.”
I actually prefer plants to animals, but Liz does have some good points.
Scale makes a difference, too. If you design well and raise enough birds, you can reach profitability on chickens.
I’ve fought with a variety of systems and have still been burned again and again, but at some point I’ll get my own land and build a better setup for chickens.
After I plant a nice, stable, non-noisy, low-maintenance food forest, of course.
The question of whether chickens are worth the trouble is interesting. I have had chickens for 5 or 6 years. It wasn’t my idea to have them. My father in law built a nice chicken coop and I thought “why not?”. Now he is gone but we still have the birds. After letting them free range for a couple of years, one of the birds got killed by a predator…either a hawk or a raccoon during the day. I now have them (12 birds) in a small run. I don’t mind “much” taking care of them. My only beef is the pay back of eggs over feed.
I have several times daydreamed about one day raising crickets and or mealworms for the birds and letting them get their veggies from the yard. I have never found out if raising enough crickets/mealworms for chickens is a practical idea or not… if anyone has any info on whether or not anyone does this as a main source of food for their chickens .. it would be appreciated…. right now I have way to many logs in the fire for another project… but one day… one day…
and welcome back Mr. Goodman… you have been in our prayers.
If you want to make chickens profitable you need to look towards Joel Salatin. But Joel isn’t really a chicken/turkey, pig, or cow farmer; he is a grass farmer.
If you want to know more about farming grass, I suggest you read Joel’s books but also check out, ‘The Stockman Grass Farmer’.
Joel’s work in farming is based on, ‘Holistic Management’ by Allan Savory.
Don’t bother trying to ‘buy’ land in the United States (possibly other countries); renting is where it’s at and using portable infrastructure (electric netting, electric wire, chicken tractors, etc.).