Having Chickens – Frugal or Stupid?

October 8, 2013 by Kyle
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It seems having your own egg-layers is a popular frugal trend right now in my neck of the woods. Not sure if it’s the “free” eggs, or feeling like you’re living off the land somehow, but whatever the case may be, everybody wants a coop and their own egg layers. But is it really very frugal? Here is my own firsthand experience.

A couple years ago my wife and I thought it would be really cool to raise our own chickens and collect the eggs. My wife would say “Just think of all the eggs we wouldn’t have to buy!” And I would say, “Um, yeah, I like eggs. Plus the kids would get a kick out of having some poultry around the property.”

So I spent two entire weekends building a coop and fencing in a small portion of our 3 acres to let them roam and help “spread out” the amount of chicken crap. Before we ever had a single egg hit the frying pan I was in close to $600 on building material. I can remember thinking while hammering in a t-post for the fence, “These eggs better be pretty dam delicious, or with plenty of BBQ sauce, the chickens surely will be.”

Now that's a good tip!

Step 1: Find a Chicken

My parents have a small farm and gave us a dozen fertilized eggs and a hen to sit on them until they hatched. It could not have worked out better as my kids thought it was the coolest thing in the world to go and check on the hen in the garden shed.

Side-note: Did you know that a brooding hen will stay on her eggs for close to 24 hours of the day? She literally never moves and only gets off every other day when nature calls. She’ll get off the eggs, immediately blow out her bowels in an unbelievably HUGE pile, get something to eat and drink, then daintily climb back on the eggs. I’ll tell ya what, Beethoven would have been proud of that movement. Aside from the birth of my children, it still stands as the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed.
Now that's a good tip!

Step 2: Feed a Chicken

We then started feeding these things and it was amazing how quickly they started growing. It seemed like they turned from cute little baby chicks to enormous crap producers overnight. In a few short months they were close to the size of their surrogate mom and within 6 months all the hens were laying eggs. They were also strong enough to fly out of our fenced in area so I took to YouTube to figure out how to clip their wings to make them flight-less birds. Like I mentioned in the post, Frugal Hack #4: Use YouTube to Find Free Video Tutorials (For Darn Near Anything) you can even find a tutorial on what feathers to trim to render a chicken completely ground-bound.

Step 3: Collect Some Eggs

Oh my, with 7 hens laying did we ever have a lot eggs. My cholesterol easily jumped 150 points with all of the eggs infused into my diet. 3 egg omelets, poached eggs, scrambled eggs, easy over eggs, mountain eggs (cooked in some bacon grease), eggs benedict, eggs a la king, gut busters, whistling bung-holes, whistling kitty-chasers, egger daggers, huevos rancheros, breakfast scrambles. You get the point.

Step 4: Feed the Raccoons

For over a year everything was going great. We had more eggs than we knew what to do with and were actually giving them away to anyone that wanted them. Despite the cost of the feed and sawdust for bedding, it was not costing us much at all to keep the chickens. But we were troubled with reports up our street of other “chicken” families that were loosing some of their birds to predators. Namely bears and raccoons. One of our neighbors at the end of our street actually had a black bear climb over the fence and tear apart their well fortified coop to get to the poultry loot.

If I had to do it over again, it would have been at this point where I would have set up an electric wire across the top of our fence to keep all critters out. But being more of a reactive farmer, I simply waited and hoped our chickens wouldn’t be targeted. And for quite a while they weren’t.

But it finally happened. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice to say, apparently our chickens were finger lickin’ good. The culprit based on fence damage: RACCOONS.

Step 5: Feed the Raccoons Yet Again

We were left with only a couple hens after the first onslaught. Unfortunately, the raccoons really thought our chickens were delicious as they came back a couple nights later and dragged the rest of our flock off into the night.

It was a sad morning on the farm when I went out to check on them and all I found was unparalleled amounts of chicken crap. Apparently the raccoons had scared every last drop out of them…

Step 6: Net Cost per Dozen Eggs?

More than I care to figure out. Despite the relatively cheap cost of feed and bedding, the initial start-up costs were really hard to overcome. I ended up spending close to $700 on the fencing and lumber to build the coop. The rolled 5-foot fencing and posts were my biggest costs. If you already have a fenced-in area where you can keep the chickens you’re way ahead of the game.

The bottom-line: Don’t raise chickens because you think it’ll save you money on eggs! Do it because it’s a great learning experience for your kids and a great education into the circle of life. Cue Elton John….”In the circle of life, It’s the wheel of fortune, It’s the leap by faith, It’s the band of hope…”

Will We Do It Again?

Now that's a good tip!

Will we one day bring back our once-thriving coop? Not until I electrify the boundary to keep all raccoons out. Until then, we’ll buy the ironically cheaper grocery store eggs. The picture above is my daughter with one of the chickens. All three of my kids really loved the hatching of the eggs and having little chicks around. Like most things, the shine wore off as the chickens became bigger and uglier. Were they sad when the chickens became dinner for the raccoons? A little bit, but not nearly as sad had they been cute little baby chicks.

So these days our coop looks like something from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Nothing left but tall weeds, abandoned feeders, and a few incredibly depressing chicken feathers.

Ask the Reader: Have you ever raised chickens for the eggs? How about other “frugal” things in life that you think will save you money but end up doing the exact opposite?


By Kyle James

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DC @ Young Adult Money

I can definitely see how raising chickens would be more costly than purchasing eggs from the store. It’s cool that you actually gave it a try, though. We can’t have chickens in our city because of zoning, so it’s a choice I don’t have to make.

KK @ Student Debt Survivor

I’ve never raised chickens, but I did once walk a dog for a neighbor who was blinded by chicken poop. He was raised on a farm and apparently chicken poop got into his eyes as a puppy and it caused permanent damage 🙁

Aaron

Kyle – great post. We are actually starting up a site to help folks on this very topic 🙂 I’ll have to hit you up soon for some pointers/tips.

Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

Love this, Kyle!! We are actually likely getting chickens soon, so this is super good info for us! And plus, I’m helping Aaron and Charlie with the blog. 🙂 Fun stuff!

Charlie

Kyle, I had a similar type situation. I originally had 8 chickens and they all got taken out by raccoons too. I ended up having to build a large in domed cage and coop for my chickens out of reused wire. Now I have about 28 chickens and I’ve gone about a year without any raccoon incidents. The key has been that you can’t have any areas that a small baby could fit through which is a similar size to a raccoon. Now, like you, I have more eggs than I know what to do with so what I do is end up selling them to my coworkers. I get about three dollars per dozen and give one dollar to each of my kids who help me every day with the chickens. Great post Kyle keep up the good work!!

Tara @ Streets Ahead Living

are ticks a problem in your area? I’ve heard of certain type of chicken that loves eating deer ticks. can’t recall the name but if you ever decide to try again and can hang out with them in the lawn for a bit, it might work.

So sorry about the mean raccoons!

Jeff
Jeff

I’ve been thinking about having chickens myself. I have a large backyard and I have a lot of friends encouraging me to get started. Do you have any tips? I know they will be a bit of work and learning… Jeff

fran
fran

Wouldn’t getting some ducks from your local Farm Bureau feed store be a more financially rewarding farm animal endeavor?

Especially if sold for their meat? [I have no idea about duck eggs and if any market exists for their eggs. Can’t say that I’ve EVER seen duck eggs for sale in any groceries I’ve been to.

I have noticed that in the poultry dept at most every grocery store, a single frozen duck sells for $20+.
Whereas a run of the mill chicken can’t even dream of fetching over $6 to $10, [unless it is part of a bucket-o-chicken from kfc].

Plus, ducks [and/or geese] make decent “intruder alarms” , if and when the raccoons come calling.

 
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