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.”
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.
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?
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