Record egg prices of late have people flocking to social media posts about raising chickens, in hopes of saving money.
But a closer look at the economics involved suggests it’s probably not a slam dunk for the average consumer — though experts who raise their own chickens do say there are still some good reasons to consider the idea, even if the eggs themselves might not be less expensive than what’s available in grocery stores.
Melissa Hempken raises chickens in the Lander area, while Michael Jordan raises them in Cheyenne.
Hempken estimates that chicken feed readily available to most consumers in the Lander region costs about 47 cents a pound. For five chickens, feed at that price would cost roughly $25 a week for two dozen eggs, assuming each of the five chickens lays one egg per day.
That would make a dozen eggs worth roughly $12.50, in just feed costs alone.
Hempken, of course, has been able to reduce her costs by buying in bulk and supplementing feed with table scraps in winter and pasture in the summer. She estimates that all her costs for eggs are around $9.11 a dozen with these extra measures in place.
Jordan, meanwhile, estimated his costs for feeding six chickens at $60 every two weeks, or about $120 a month. If each hen lays an egg per day, that’s 42 eggs a week, which works out to about $8.57 a dozen in feed alone.
Egg prices at the grocery store, meanwhile, have risen 70 percent year over year according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — but have still been generally below $9 a dozen.
With egg prices recently on their way down, it’s not likely that most consumers, particularly someone inexperienced in raising farm animals, can beat the grocery store on the cost of eggs alone.
Not Just Feed
Chickens also require more than just feed to get along well. They require time and attention more or less every day, or at the least, every other day, Hemken said.
In winter, Jordan said, they also require a good winterization plan — or you’ll be feeding chicks who are laying no eggs at all.
“Without at least 16 hours of sunlight, they will stop producing,” he said.
The birds also need to be kept warm, which for most likely means a higher electric or gas bill.
Chickens do need a source of food and water daily, Hemken said, while Jordan suggested the coop should be cleaned out at least weekly.
That’s similar to the requirements of a pet, but chickens are not like the family pet when it comes to vacations.
“There’s not an easy, you can take the dog on vacation or a camping trip, but you probably don’t want to take your chickens,” Hemken said.
There are no chicken kennels either — though good friends or neighbors who don’t mind looking in on chicks could be one solution to that issue.
Jordan said he knows of neighborhoods that chip in on caring for a flock of chickens. That both increases the economy of scale, making it less expensive per egg, and means there’s always someone to step up and care for the birds when it’s vacation time.
More Than Price
Hemken and Jordan don’t necessarily raise their own chickens just to beat grocery store prices, though.
“Keeping chickens in the backyard, yes, does have more expensive eggs than (grocery store) models,” Hemken said. If that’s the deciding factor, money out of your wallet, then you probably should just buy it at the grocery store.”
But if one is interested in a higher quality egg from a healthier chicken, Hemken added, raising chickens can be a great way to go, so long as one is prepared for the work and understands what the chickens need.
Chickens do play well with gardens, Hemken said. In fact, that is why she initially wanted chickens. There was a grasshopper outbreak in Lander. She bought some chickens to using pesticides to rid her yard and garden of them. For her, the Farm fresh eggs were just a welcome byproduct of keeping chickens, and the bird droppings also help with fertilizer costs in her pastures.
Jordan, meanwhile, said studies have shown watching chickens run around is calming for people and can slow the heartbeat down. He believes that exposure to raising chickens can help teach children responsibility.
They’re also a way to be more self-reliant, for those interested in off-grid living. They are probably the easiest entry point for agricultural production as well.
“There are a lot of clubs and organizations where you can get help,” he said. “In most areas, the local vet will help you when it comes to any type of parasitic or viral outbreak in your production habitat.”
But for beginners, or for someone who really wants to beat grocery store prices, Hempken has an entirely different recommendation. Quail.
More specifically, Texas A&M quail. These are a relatively large breed for quail, with white feathers, that begin laying eggs early in life. While larger than most breeds of quail, they are still much smaller than a chicken, and thus require a lot less space. They’re also quieter than chicken roosters.
Even apartment dwellers can keep quail, Jordan said.
“You can have quail in your closet,” he said. “You can produce 20 to 40 eggs a day with quail in a closet.”
Texas A&M birds are typically advertised as for meat, but make good layers, too, Jordan said. They start earlier than most other breeds of quail.
Ten quail will produce around 10 eggs each day, Jordan said. They would need to eat a 30-pound feed bag each month, which costs around $40. That puts the cost for feed for a dozen birds at around $1.72.
The eggs, meanwhile, do have higher protein density than chicken eggs, Jordan said, making it a more cost-effective egg in that respect.
Quail eggs have about 1.2 grams of protein in each egg, according to USDA stats. Quail eggs have more vitamin B12 than chicken eggs, according to USDA nutrition stats, though they don’t have as many omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Nutrition sites suggest it takes about 3 quail eggs, which are smaller in size, to equal one chicken egg.
Quail, like chicken, can be culled on a regular basis for meat, too, which keeps egg production fresh.
“It’s extremely fun to make miniature, tiny deviled eggs,” Jordan said. “And it makes a great eggnog, with higher protein and better flavor.”
One thing both Hemken and Jordan both recommend for beginning chicken — or perhaps quail — growers, is to seek out mentors.
“Join a club, or some forum somewhere where you can ask questions,” Jordan said. “People get going with chickens, they can be a lot of fun. If you have kids, they sprung good responsibility.”