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.