The true cost of an egg

Out here on the ranch, we are at the peak of our egg season.  Most of my fully grown hens lay an egg a day during the summer, which equals 5 to 6 eggs per day.  In the fall, my little ones will start laying as well.

In the winter, they lay far fewer eggs.  We have chosen not to artificially light our coop, which means our girls take their natural “break,” molting and slowing down their egg production for the season.

Next summer, I will be swimming in eggs.  With a dozen chickens joining our flock this year, hopefully all hens, I will be getting well over a dozen eggs a day.

Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.
Beautiful, fresh eggs from spoiled rotten chickens.

Many of you know that eggs are at a premium right now, with the avian flu taking out millions of commercial birds at a time.  Additionally, California is finally legislating more humane conditions for laying hens; if you ask me, that’s a step in the right direction, but it will also require an increase in egg prices.  (God willing, other states will follow suit.)

All of this is just to say that, for the first in any sort of recent history, commercial egg prices are starting to creep up close to organic prices.

Today, while scrolling through Facebook, I noticed an article about the decreasing egg supply on my favorite backyard chicken keeper’s page.  She quipped that it was “time to raise prices” on eggs and a number of people really just freaked out on her.  Some of the freakouts were from chicken owners who said that they wouldn’t raise prices until feed prices go up (they will).  Others were egg buyers who felt that local farmers were “gouging” in the face of the shortage.

I don’t actively sell eggs.  Occasionally, I have someone who wants to buy some, and when they do I charge $3.50-$4.00 a dozen.  Generally, I don’t bother trying to sell them because most people think $3.50 is outrageous for eggs, and I would rather give them away to people I care about than have to justify charging more than the grocery store.

It’s not that the extra $2.00 really matters to me, or that I think I can offset the price of keeping chickens.  (It doesn’t, and I can’t.) It’s more that I don’t want to sell at a price that undercuts the people with a similar product who are trying to eek out a living as a small farmer.

And here’s the phrase that gets me, over and over.

“But, they don’t cost you anything!”

Just this summer, I’ve spent around 120$ on additions to our flock.  Granted, I have an affinity for rare breed chickens and multi-colored eggs.  This number would be somewhat smaller if I bought run of the mill, feed-store chicks.  But, none the less, I would have to sell over 400 eggs at $3.50 a dozen to recoop my initial bird cost.

Our coop was a retrofit of an existing building on the property.  We put on a new door, built an overhead pergola for shade, fenced in a run (that we ag-limed for a cleanable surface), insulated the interior of the building and put up new walls to cover the insulation.  This year, we need to repaint it, and I would like to add a washable surface to the floor, so it can be power-washed.  We call the coop “Cluckingham Palace”; it, admittedly, has some unnecessarily posh features.  Also, for fewer chickens, you can get by with much smaller coops.  However, our initial investment into the coop was over $1000.  At $3.50 a dozen, I would have to sell well over 3,000 eggs to get back my initial start up cost.  (And this summer alone, we’ve put an additional $300 (1,028 eggs at $3.50 per dozen) into increase coop security, including an electric fence around the perimeter.)

Every few weeks, we make a run to the feed store for chicken feed.  We buy stock feed, nothing fancy.  The fifty pound bag costs roughly $12.00 for layer feed, about $14.00 for the higher protein food we’re now feeding our younger birds.  Oyster shell, which we feed to supplement calcium for our hens (who need it to produce strong egg shells) costs about $16.00 for a 50lb bag.  Scratch grains (a treat) is sold for about $11.00 a bag.  Mealworms (a treat and protein supplement) sell for roughly a dollar per ounce (we don’t always keep those around as they are costly).  Our chickens free range, foraging on bugs and weeds, which cut the cost of feed somewhat during the summer.  They also eat kitchen scraps, which are also free.  A conservative estimate?  Our hens probably eat $50-$75 a month (approximately 200 eggs at $3.50 a dozen).

Shavings for the coop cost about $8 per bag.  We use about three bags per coop every cleaning.  That’s $24 in shaving replacement every two to three weeks.  (I would have to sell over 80 eggs during each shaving cycle to break even on that.)

I’m not even going to try to calculate the cost of power or water or man hours taking care of them.  Let’s just assume all of that is free.

Also, lets not consider the fact that my hens are not culled when they stop laying eggs.  They get to keeping on eating and living (and costing) long after they stop being productive.  (My own choice, I know, but it’s mine to make.)

If I sold all of the eggs my hens laid every month at $3.50 a dozen, I would make around $50 dollars a month during laying season; almost nothing in the winter. If I sold all of them, I would have roughly a $50 loss per month in our productive months before trying to recoop costs of birds or infrastructure.

Guys, those gorgeous, free range eggs we chicken keepers have in abundance are anything but free.

Even with all of this, I absolutely think chicken keeping is worth it.  I thoroughly enjoy my hens (and even the free-loading rooster), and I love using those wonderful eggs.  I truly enjoying giving them away as well and hearing back from friends that they were some of the most delicious eggs they’ve ever had!  I regularly hear that store bought eggs just can’t compare.

But…guys…please don’t tell me they’re “free,” because I know better.

And while we’re at it, those backyard keepers and small farmers?  They definitely aren’t gouging you.


28 thoughts on “The true cost of an egg

    1. Absolutely! Though, beyond just the eggs, there are benefits. They are constant entertainment. They eat nasty insects (like ticks, which we rarely see out here these days). And they munch up all the leftovers I would otherwise toss, so I no longer feel guilty about wasting food!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great piece and a reminder what it takes to get our food. This reminds me of a guy I heard about some time ago. I decided he would grow tomatoes. He found that a tomato ended up costing him $60. Man, that must have been a tasty tomato. But he said he was glad he grew the tomatoes.


  2. This is an interesting subject and one that should be, I think, taught in schools. I do not think most people think about the entire process – or know how food actually gets to the table. I love our chickens (you’re right about the entertainment alone!) and it doesn’t matter what the bottom dollar is on a carton of eggs, I would still raise my own chickens – just as I do raising produce in my garden. It does cost a lot overall to raise anything homegrown. But we know what it took to grow it and we know it’s not GMO and it was never exposed to pesticides.


    1. This year I slacked on the garden. (Hopefully next year when my roof and foundation are no longer leaking…) But I am a frequenter of farmers’ markets. You cannot beat fresh, local food.


  3. I cannot have chickens where we live but if I could I sure would as nothing better than fresh eggs and willingly pay the price. It is well worth it.


    1. My uncle and cousin are dairy farmers; I asked.

      Apparently, feed costs about $1 per gallon of milk. That’s before labor, electricity, vet bills, land cost, etc. Their margins are pretty darn slim.


  4. Well written, right on point….I too keep a small flock of hens just for us. I sell eggs once in a while, but like you, prefer to give them away to folks who have never eaten a fresh egg. Poor “sheeple” have no idea where food comes from other than the store. I’m good though, I love this farm life that I get to live. I also like to educate people who do not understand. Keeping the animals, growing food for them and my family, making maple syrup and working draft horses…just makes me smile all day long! …. oh yes, and sleep well ay night!


  5. Originally, I began raising chickens to sell eggs at a local farm market. I never made back any of my initial investment on the chicks and the coop or the feed and egg cartons. People thought I should sell them eggs for way less than the grocery store. No one considered the time involved in daily tasks of feeding and watering, checking the fences and repairing holes (chickens love to dig) or keeping the coop and yard clean and sanitary. Now I just keep enough chickens for myself and try to cut feed costs by growing some extra garden produce for the hens. I doubt I’ll ever get my money back on the coop I built from scratch but I find raising eggs for myself a lot more satisfying than having to compete with cheap grocery store eggs.


      1. Chickens are great to have and over the years keeping them will pay off in fresh food. Plus they do a good job of mixing chewed over hay from my sheeps’ mangers into good soil amendments.

        I held back on getting new chicks this year because of the avian flu outbreak- worried it might come with the new birds. Most of my hens are my own hatchlings but next year some new stock will be bought to keep the genetic diversity high.


  6. How I agree with everything you have written .
    I have had chickens for 5 years and the eggs are just wonderful. I would much rather give them away than sell them although I sell a few to recoup their food bill.
    I have to allotments and grow my own vegetables and what really annoys me is people who ask if I have any free vegetables saying ” well you must have too many veg as you only had to plant the seed.” ..the same as people saying ” well the eggs didn’t cost you anything “


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