Friday, March 20, 2015

Is It Cheaper to Raise Your Own Chickens for Meat or Eggs?

In a word, No.  At least, most likely "No."  There are some systems that you can develop that can feed the flock to a great degree without having to buy commercial feed. We will be talking about some of those systems later. I am working to develop one here on our Homestead.
But, in reality, chicken you buy in the grocery store is cheap because of the way the animals are raised.
That's a topic for another post.

But, for those who decide they might want to raise their own backyard chickens for eggs and/or meat, the real question is not, "is it cheaper?" but rather "why do I want to do this?"   For most, the answer is something like "Because I want to know where my food comes from, and have control over how it is produced."

And that's a pretty motivating reason, regardless of time and cost.  With reports like this:
Salmonella in Chicken
Legal to Sell Tainted Meat:
or this:
Arsenic in Chicken

Any reasonable person might question whether they want to continue to purchase these mass-produced, grocery store products.  For those concerned about GMO's, (Genetically Modified Organism) understand that commercially raised chicken (and just about every other animal raised for meat) are fed vast quantities of GMO corn and soy. That is the basis of almost every poultry food out there. or pig ration. Or Cattle Feed.  Or Turkey Feed. You get my drift....Besides the questionable long-term safety of GMO;s, what comes WITH those GMO is extremely high percentages of the pesticide  Roundup. The GMO corn was developed to withstand this pesticide, so that farmers can spray the entire fields, drenching them with this herbicide (which is, if you want to know, basically the same as Agent Orange from Vietnam fame) . Every weed or other plant dies, and it makes it easier to grow the corn.  The active ingredient in Roundup, Glyphosate has been shown to have some very detrimental effects on human life and health.
Is Glyphosate Safe?
Roundup Ready Soy
and this:
Glyphosate and Autism

So, with all the indications that chicken (and thus eggs) produced commercially are not the healthy choice you may have been led to believe, despite those commercials showing green farm fields and happy animals, then the choice to grow your own begins to make more and more sense.

So, it may not be cheaper to raise your own (there ARE ways to mitigate costs) it might just be the best thing you can do for your family.  This goes for vegetables too, by the way.
But, for those who want an idea, here's some breakdown in costs. Let's say you want to raise 6 laying hens.

chicks: This is a bigger expense than you might think. Day old chicks from the hatchery cost around $3.00 apiece.  If you purchase "straight run", which is just chicks out of the incubator with no testing for gender,  they are a little cheaper, but you will end up with approximately 50% roosters. If you are growing for food, then that might be okay. But if you want layers for eggs, you will  need to order pullets (females) and that's a bit more expensive.
Pullet chicks: $18.00 plus shipping.(which could be $20)  If you buy from a hatchery, there is usually a minimum order of at least 15. So you will have to get these from a local feed store or other if you only want six. You might pay $4 each in that case.
heat lamp - from $10 - $80 depending on what you get. You will add in some electricity costs as well.
Crate or cage to keep babies in - this doesn't have to be fancy. Could be a big box, or a plastic tote, or a wire dog crate.
Food and water dishes.  Also, can purchase poultry specific dishes, or just use some shallow pans and bowls from the kitchen. so anywhere from $0- maybe $60, especially if you get full size automatic waters or feeders.
A coop for the grown hens, plus fencing if you want to keep them safe from predators like the neighborhood dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks, and even bears.   Again, you can spend alot of money for  one of these, or build your own out of scrap lumber, or maybe find a used one on craigslist.  Prices are all over the map here, but know that you need to provide a secure and safe shelter, watertight and windproof. from $0-$1200
Heated water dishes. If you live in a northern climate, I highly recommend one of these if you dont want to be chipping ice out of the bowl 3-4 times a day.  $25-$50
Feed:  This is the biggie. Especially considering that you will need to feed laying hens for 6 months before you see a single egg, and meat chickens for anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months, depending on breed.
And, considering the above articles on GMO's and pesticides, you will likely want to buy organic feed.
That's going to run you about $35 for a 50 lb. bag.(could be even more, depending on brand)  From the time they are chicks until they are grown (6 months) you are going to average 50 pounds in a month.. a little less obviously when they are small, and more when they are grown,but this is an average.
Feed cost:  $35 x 6 = $210 before you ever see an egg....
Calcium - you need to provide some form of calcium - the usual is Oyster shells ground up. This isn't expensive, but count on $10 for a 5 pound bag, which will last you maybe 4-6 months, depending on what else your chickens eat, or if they have access to pasture.(ah, and that's the secret, which we will talk about later)
And, egg production goes way down after a couple of years, so some people decide to start over with a new brood of chicks....

So, you see this is not  a cheap operation.  And why you might now appreciate the price tag on those local organic eggs at the natural food market.
but what do you get in return?
Eggs, wholesome and healthy.
Wonderful manure for your garden.
A way to dispose of all those kitchen scraps.
No ticks in your yard! (if you free range them)
A bug-free garden! (way to do this so they don't eat your PLANTS too)
And free entertainment!  hens are  entertaining, no question. and peaceful, I call it "chicken therapy" - great way to de-stress is to walk down to the chicken yard, sit with a cup of tea or coffee and just watch. Feel your blood pressure go down.
And a relationship with a living creature that teaches you, if you pay attention, alot about life in general and the natural world.  
and maybe most important of all. the knowledge that you are, in your small way, contributing to a healthier planet for the next generation, providing a good life for your birds, and feeding your family the best that you can provide.  And that is no small matter.

Day 11A The Chick Flicks -  chicks in a box!

Today, I clean out the cage.  At first, the chicks were very traumatized by being in the box. Then, they didn't want to leave. And yes, those are pajama pants I'm wearing. It's still morning! :-)

Day 11B - The Chick Flicks - a clean cage! And reluctant return!

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