Urban chickens and irresponsible spending

My family has been increasingly motivated to integrate homesteading practices into our unapologetically urban life.

This Spring we have added five chickens to our 50′ by 90′ urban homestead.

Here’s the deal, despite all the sentiment out there about “all the money we will save” through homesteading practices, the reality is that it just doesn’t pencil out. I hate to bust the myth.

Our five hens will lay between 10-20 eggs a week total.  An egg from the store costs around 20 cents.  Now, it is true that it costs us less than $5 per chick.  But they cost around $20 dollars a month in feed.  Also, the start up costs for materials to build our urban coop (we chose a tractor design.  photos to come) was over $100.  And we haven’t even discussed labor hours (dozens, with more added each week).

It doesn’t take a PHD in mathematics to figure out that the whole process will never be a financial windfall.  In fact, we will most likely lose money, compared to just blowing through 12-holed-cartons like self-respecting Americans.

Here’s my point:  I DON”T CARE if it doesn’t pencil out.  Money is not the only economy in a life of meaning.

Here is what my family gains:

  • Rhythm
  • A hobby that even my 3 years old can fully participate in (how often can you say that?).
  • Integration with the creaturely world
  • Integration with historical/rural human practices
  • Greater connection to food production and supply (do you know where your food comes from?)
  • More excuses to be out in our yard together
  • More excuses to be near our neighbors (even provide regular oval-shaped gifts to neighbors)
  • Little featherly assistants in the art of “slowing-down”
  • Glorious piles of chicken-poop for our vegetable-friends
  • Have you ever had a fresh-egg?

Seeking a life of meaning.  Sometimes it is a pleasure to waste a little time and money.

4 Responses to “Urban chickens and irresponsible spending”

  1. You answered my question, thanks Tony. Good to see you tonight, I always appreciate the time and spaced shared with you.

  2. wannabe urban homesteader July 12, 2010 at 21:32 Reply

    Tony, i did the math on our three and it starts to pencil out a little better over the long run, so as your’s start laying hopefully the economics more closely match the values and experience of why you are doing it!

    Our experience:
    $5×3 for chicks
    $25 food/water trays
    $30 better water tray for bigger hens
    $170 for materials to build (I’ll discount the time for now since it was therapeutic to construct the coop)
    total start up = $240 ($100 of which could have been avoided with an experienced guide, but worth the lesson!)
    (Note, to keep production up in winter we used the same lamp/timer that we have for our seed starts, so I didn’t include that cost)

    Local organic feed = $15/mo or $180/yr

    First year cost = $420
    First year production (8 months laying w avg 2 eggs/day) = 486 eggs
    First year avg cost (start up costs included) = $10.32/dozen
    Second year production (full 12 months) = 730 eggs
    Second year avg cost (feed only, start up not included) = $2.95/dozen
    Total average cost (start up included) = $5.92/dozen
    After three years (I’ll assume eggs start tapering off after that), total average cost = $4.80/dozen

    By comparison, equivalent eggs at New Seasons cost $2.69-3.49/dozen, or $160 less over 3 years for our case, but it’s not as close as your back yard, the kids wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience of having chickens, and perhaps a huge side benefit…we’d have to buy organic fertilizer for our garden!

    The big take away is that the start up costs are what wrecks the per egg cost. Someone who recycled materials and only paid for feed could quickly get to more of a “market” cost ($2.95/dozen).

  3. Tony, Ooh, you should be on myth busters!

    However, I wonder how the economics would change in your cost/benefit analysis if nutrition were factored in.

    How many eggs would you have to buy in the average market to get the same nutrition as an egg you and your offspring have helped to raise?

    Did you also factor in other, hidden costs when working your analysis? With the feed etc required, it may be a wash, but getting grain say, 4x a year vs. going to the store 1-2x a week incurs additional transportation costs. Given that the average American family forks over $14k a year in automobile related expenditures, it might make the difference in the price of eggs a bit more poultry, I mean paltry.

    From a risk point of view, diversification of the food supply is essential. Where would the price of an egg settle if a disruption were to occur to our highly efficient food supply, (oil shortage, war, pestilence, epidemic, blight, etc). What is the value for that security?

    Chicken-omically speaking, the benefit of not having their legs and beaks chopped off so that more of them can be squeezed into a cage to enable us to have eggs for $.20 ea is worthwhile expenditure.

    Economics are important – but only insofar as they provide a window through which our values become visible.

  4. After mentioning diversification of the food supply and raising eggs as a hedge, this is a bit freaky…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/19/business/19eggs.html?src=busln

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