Just in case you ever find yourself wondering why I include our fun little family projects like the one I’m about to dive into here, let me explain. I think it’s important to show you that we actually live by what we write.
We don’t just say “oh hey, save money and spend wisely” while we’re jetting away on a private yacht just for the hell of it. (And we don’t have that kind of money.) We live this stuff and our projects are perfect examples of that. Most of our projects tend to be a bit unconventional but end up saving us money. … Most of the time.
Take this post for example: most people who wanted to guarantee that the eggs they are buying from the store come from happy, healthy, free-range chickens would typically just buy the “Free Range Eggs” or “Cage-Free Eggs.” But torture-free eggs are expensive. So we went out and bought ourselves some chickens. And two ducks. Now we get farm fresh eggs for free.
The Initial Problem
If you’re like me, then you’ve refused to buy what my dad calls “torture eggs” for a long time. But Dave (and I, to be honest) hated how expensive those eggs were. And as I did some extra research – never a good thing – I found that labels like “cage-free,” “free-range,” and “organic” didn’t necessarily mean what we all think they do.
Here is a link to a great article by The Humane Society of the United States on how to decipher egg carton labels. Please read at your own risk, it’s a little stomach turning and now I need to go hug one of our chickens.
This all illustrates the problem that we came up against: how do you get quality eggs, from chickens with good lives, at a low cost?
I spent many hours on YouTube learning about the cost and maintenance of chickens before I even brought up getting chickens to Dave. I’ve learned it’s best to be able to justify my crazy if I want to get him on board with my crazy.
Have you ever considered getting chickens? Am I alone in my crazy? Or are you put off by the potential cost of raising and keeping egg-laying birds? Fear not if so. There’s a price breakdown coming up.
What I came up with is that chickens, aside from the initial set up, are very low maintenance and quite cheap to keep. And once we got the hang of things, we could always sell any extra eggs out of our house under Idaho’s Cottage Law.
Each state’s Cottage Food Law is different, so if you’re thinking about joining us in our bird-craze, please take a look at your particular state’s laws before taking any bird-acquiring steps.
Dave would also have to build a brooder box, a chicken coop, and a chicken run. Dave like building projects. It’s so much easier to get him on board when my crazy means he gets to build things.
Preparing for Chickens on the Cheap
The brooder box was built out of scrap lumber and hardware we had lying around. As was the chicken coop. We went to Home Depot to find some chicken wire, cheap landscaping poles and lumber, and paint. (See the price breakdown below for more details.)
I’m not sure if you handy-man (or woman) readers know this, but Home Depot has what we call “Purple Wood.” Our purple wood isn’t actually purple, it’s just marked with purple paint to show that it’s not the best of wood to use for things. The wood isn’t straight. But it’s cheap and perfect for projects like chicken runs.
Painting the inside of the chicken coop makes cleaning super easy. Glossy paint allows you to spray out the coop with just the pressure of a hose. But paint is expensive, especially when you are buying it for chickens.
Good ol’ Home Depot to the rescue again! The paint department has a throwback paint section for returned paint. We found a pastel purple paint in a high gloss. Perfect for cleaning, and really, who cares about the color? It’s for chickens.
The Chickens…and Ducks
After everything was set up, we were off to the D&B Supply to get some chickens. We settled on two Americaunas (for the green/blue eggs) two New Hampshire Reds (for their hardiness), …and two Rouen ducks (they are so freaking cute!).
A few months into collecting eggs from all of our feathered friends, our neighbor brought us two more chickens. They were a little older than ours but we were saving them from becoming dog-dinner so what could we do.
In the end we raised six birds from babies, acquired two more, and house them in a nice large run for less than $150. Not bad.
They Now Pay for Themselves
The ongoing costs of the birds include straw for bedding, food, and water. Here’s how cheaply we keep them:
The straw we get from a local ranch called Big D Ranch for $5 a bale. We go through about 3 to 4 per year and the used straw (poo and all) gets used as compost for our gardens. $20 a year for chicken bedding and nitrogen-rich compost is hard to beat.
We purchase layer pellet from The D&B for $15 a bag and we supplement this with fodder that we grow from wheat, barley, and peas purchased from Big D for $5 per 50 pound bag. We just sprout the seeds and give them to the birds. They go nuts for them and it’s cuts back on how many layer pellet bags we need to buy.
That’s pretty much it. That’s their ongoing cost.
Like I said earlier, once we got the hang of things (i.e. our eating of eggs could not keep up with their production of eggs) we started to sell them out of our house.
On average, we get 2 to 3 dozen chicken eggs a week depending on the time of year and about 1 dozen duck eggs per week. We charge $3 per dozen of chicken eggs and $3 per half dozen of duck eggs. The chicken eggs sell much faster with people buying 3 or 4 dozen at a time.
That one sale almost pays for a bag of layer pellet by itself. We get a dozen every two to three days. It takes them a few weeks to go through the layer pellet. That puts us in the green when it comes to those chicks and ducks.
A Quick Cost Breakdown
Chicken wire – $75 (we’ve only used half so far)
Landscaping poles – 6 poles for $4 each
Purple wood for the run and gate – $6 total (see below)
Paint for the coop – $9 (also see below)
Total for the initial set up – $114
Baby Chicks – 4 for $4 each
Baby Duckling – 2 for $7 each
Two Two-Year Old Chickens Saved from Becoming Dog Food – Free (yay!)
Total Cost of the Birds Themselves – $30
Straw for Bedding – 4 bales for $5 for the year
50lbs Bags of Wheat, Barley, Peas – $5 each
Layer Pellet – $15 per bag at one bag every three weeks or so (~15 bags per year, rounding up for good measure)
Total Upkeep – $260 per year or $22 per month
Total Initial Cost / Cost per Dozen of Chicken Eggs
$144 / $3 = 48 dozen eggs to sell to break even on the initial setup and the birds themselves
Total Upkeep Cost Per Month / Cost per Dozen of Chicken Eggs
$22 / $3 = 7 dozen eggs to sell to break even monthly (approximately)
Monthly Average Dozens of Chicken Eggs
10 Dozen Chicken Eggs minus 7 Dozen for their monthly cost = 3 Dozen for us or for extra money
Seven dozen eggs pay for the chickens’ upkeep, leaving another three dozen for us or to use to payback the initial cost of the girls. And these numbers do not include the duck eggs, which we do sell periodically (and I eat daily).
A quick note on duck eggs: The duck eggs don’t sell as easily. I don’t think people give them enough credit.
Duck eggs are freaking fantastic. They taste so rich and are basically the equivalent of two chicken eggs in one shell. And they make baked goods really fluffy.
The duck eggs we typically save for our neighbors and of course, me. I eat one every morning. We hard boil them and give them to Dave’s mom, who loves them too.
Seriously, if you have a chance to try a duck egg, do it.
One of the Best Projects We’ve Taken On
Having these chicks and ducks in our lives is so much fun. In the summer we keep them in a large fenced area in addition to the large run we’ve built (to keep them out of the gardens). In the winter, we give them the run of our quarter-acre backyard.
I can literally spend hours watching them run around the yard. They are amazing at foraging for bugs and weeds, which means there are fewer bugs and weeds for us to worry about. And they’re always excited to see us since they’ve associated us with food and treats.
We strive to make sure that our chickens and ducks are treated the way we believe they should be treated making their eggs everything that I wanted those “cage-free” eggs at the store to be. And those eggs make us money as opposed to costing us money. Not enough to make us rich by any means, but they do provide us with free eggs and an extra bit of cash.
Anyone can set up a quick operation like this if you find that it’s worth it. If you want eggs like ours and are okay paying upwards of $7 per dozen, then that’s perfectly fine too. Just don’t read that Humane Society article we linked to above. Even the treatment of the chickens that lay “Organic” eggs makes me cringe.
Now, onto convincing Dave that we need dairy goats. I may need some help with this one. Anyone have any advice?