Is it cheaper to keep chickens or buy eggs?

I just received this article in my inbox from ChickenKeepingSecrets.  They send a regular newsletter which always answers two questions.  As it pops into my inbox during the working day it always brightens my day as I remember the joy of keeping chickens whilst I’m at my computer.  Having said that, it can be a bit pushy salesy which I definitely don’t like – so I just ignore that bit and read the articles.  Anyway, thought I’d share this one.  It’s interesting but does bring home the point that having chickens is not about cost-savings, it’s about the experience and fun!

Mind you – I’m also shocked that shops can keep eggs for 45 days.  I always feel that our eggs are getting old after a week!

Enjoy!

“Is it more economical to raise chickens and eat their eggs than to purchase them at the market?” ~ Mira VosbergMira, I’m glad you wrote but I’m not sure you’ll like my answer.

If you have to feed your flock only on commercial feed, you may find that it costs more to keep your chickens than it would if you were to buy fresh eggs locally.

You will certainly pay more to house and care for your chickens than you would spend to purchase regular eggs at the grocery store that come from a battery operation.

Not even taking into consideration the conditions in which the eggs are laid in a battery operation, you may remember that eggs
are allowed to be on the shelves of the store up to 45 days after they are processed. So no matter how cheap they are, store bought, regular eggs are my LAST choice.

If you want a lot of eggs and do not have a preference in color, Leghorns are the most economical breed because they do not eat as much as larger breeds. Their eggs are white and they are the breed of choice for commercial egg production for the reasons I just mentioned.

If you have to feed commercial feed only, look into discounts available if you purchase in bulk. Keep in mind that feed does not last indefinitely and should be used within a few months.

Any amount of diet that you can provide through forage and home rations will help to make your chicken keeping more economical. Just remember that what you put into your chickens will determine the quality of what comes out of them.

Refer to Vol 2: Issue: 1 – Wednesday 21st January 2009 of this newsletter for an in depth discussion on home rationed diets. For now though, the basics are Grit, Grains, Greens, Protein and Calcium.

To really determine if it’s economical to keep chickens, as always, I’ll encourage you to do the research in your area. If
you have a neighbor who will sell you their surplus eggs, you’ll probably be able to get them cheaper than if you raise the chickens yourself.

If you must buy your eggs from the store under the label of “Free Range”, they might not be fresh and you’ll pay a lot for them.

Check into the cost of building or purchasing a coop.

Find out what feed will cost in your area.

Even if your flock can forage for most of the year, chickens need more food to maintain their health in the winter and in most places, forage is limited during the winter so you’ll probably have to supplement with commercial feed during that time.

Finally, I’d like to suggest that keeping chickens doesn’t have to be about money only, or even about the superior nutritional quality of the eggs; keeping chickens is also about “keeping chickens”. It’s an experience and a process. It’s a way to connect to our food and to give it meaning. It’s an opportunity to work with animals in a world that spends much of its time working with computers.

It gets us outside into the sunshine and fresh air.

So whether it is or isn’t more economical to keep chickens than to buy our eggs, for our family, it’s worth it.

Table manners

Chickens have absolutely no able manners…it’s first come first served for my girls. The minute they see the shadow of one of us in the kitchen they start pacing up and down expectantly. I nearly always have a small bowl of leftovers in the morning for them, so they’re attuned to seeing us carrying a bowl. I usually try to take it out with me when I let them out. So I’ll place the bowl in a corner and then ‘hide’ some other treat somewhere else.

I honestly don’t know how big a chicken’s brain is and how much they need entertainment. For example, I’ve seen a chicken gym advertised online. Now I’m a strange balance of sceptic and consumer – I hate being sold to but I do tend to believe that people will only sell me something that does what it says on the tin. It’s a good job I have my super cynical salesman for a husband! He keeps me on the straight and narrow when I’m tempted by such things as a chicken gym! You see, it looked great. It had ladders and things to peck and I think a mirror to admire their chickenly beauty. Thank goodness I kept my sanity (and my money) – even I thought that it would just end up as a launch pad and another muddy article to trip over in the dark.

So instead, I put old plant containers in the run to entertain the girls. The flowers have died and I need to empty them out and clean them for next season anyway, so I place them in the corner and let the chickens dig away. It usually means that on the first day I get a light coating of compost scattered around the pot but thereafter they have the odd dig, perch on the side to get a different view and generally make it part of the furniture. As such, it’s a great place to hide treats. A scattering of beetroot leaves, a corn on the cob, an old cabbage past it’s sellby date- they all go in for the chickens to discover and devour later in the day.

And devour they do. Chickens attack anything you take in with a gusto. Pushing each other out of the way to get the choicest pieces they take no prisoners. In fact they leap merrily to try to get into the dish first. As I’ve said before jumping chickens are quite the funniest things.

I can’t make out the pecking order any more – it seems like it’s more down to personality.  Luna is still the friendliest and as such has no fear of us and always gets in first.  Cho is crafty and being bigger can often use her ‘muscle’ to get the others out of the way.  I’ve seen her push under and through Luna’s legs to get to food first – a funny sight given that she’s taller than Luna.  Ginny is quite fast and will run in and grab choice morsels and then run away to digest them.  All in all, they just don’t care as long as they get a share.

Different Tastes

Who’d have thought that chickens would have different palates?  Let’s face it, they’re not the most refined creatures in this world.  In fact when we appear on the patio they’re so desperate to get to us (and any food we may or may not have) that they step over each other.  Cho being taller can usually barge her way to the front but Ginny and Luna will employ dastardly tactics to fight their way to the front.  I’ve seen Ginny pass underneath Cho’s legs.  She heads between Cho’s legs forcing her to lift a leg and let her pass.

Having fought to get to us, it’s interesting to see who likes what.  Luna was the first to go for the larger snails.  The other two couldn’t really be bothered.  However, Ginny has now taken to finding big slugs and running around the coop with these in her mouth.  (Go Ginny – eat as many as you like!).

They all love cabbage type leaves and boy, do they love mealworms – dried or fresh.  These definitely create the biggest frenzy and a handful disappears within seconds.  Talking of handfuls, we’ve not been feeding them by hand so much recently and I think they’ve gone on this method of feeding.  Can’t say I’m too worried as they were getting quite vicious.  Luna has always been the most gentle.  Ginny would open her mouth and pinch your hand.  Cho pecks that bit more and with her bigger beak can nip your hand.  It’s not like it’s a pain that dwells but you definitely feel it when you withdraw your hand!

I give the girls Verm-X once a month and Luna just doesn’t like the pellets so she ignores them.  I put a few in the food container so that she gets some inside her but she won’t take them from your hand.  Cho and Ginny gobble these pellets straight from your hand.

Oh, they all love yoghurt and have the funniest time slurping it up.  They stick their beaks into the bowl and end up with white lipstick.  They then flick their heads upwards, spraying yoghurt everywhere and, I guess, getting some down their throats.  Mind you, what else can you do without a spoon and opposable thumbs!

As for things they don’t like, we’ve discovered they’re not keen on dried fruit.  I’ve given them left over porridge and cereal and everything but the sultanas or raisins is consumed.  They’ll also tend to leave courgettes and cucumbers, and an orange tomato but they ate the red ones!

Potatoes remain a firm favourite – probably ranking in the top 3.  Any form of cooked (they can’t eat raw ones) potatoes is rapidly demolished and fought over.

Lastly, but defiitely not least is salmon skin.  I think I’ve already told you about their antics as one chicken grabs the skin and trys to run to a peaceful area to consume it, only to have it snatched away by another greedy chicken.

Given the fact that we’ve had some soft shelled eggs, I do try to only give them scraps late in the day.  My aim is to make sure they get enough of the formulated layers pellets before they get the less well balanced treats.
That’s the same as I try for myself but sometimes you just need treats mid morning!

What do you put in your water?

In my bid to keep the chickens healthy – and in particular to get Ginny laying good strong shelled eggs again I’ve been researching different additives and remedies.

On my current shopping list for the girls is:

– Verm-X: a natural remedy for internal parasites.  No idea if it helps but Ginny and Cho love these pellets.  Luna on the other hand turns her beak up and walks away.

– Poultry Spice:  I’ve only recently brought this and sprinkle it on their food.  No idea if it helps.

– Garlic Clove: I put a single clove in one of the water dispensers with the water and let it ‘stew’.  The container sure smells good now and the girls drink the water but does it do any good?

– Apple Cider Vinegar:  I’ve brought this from various outlets and add it to the other water container once a month and when the girls are stressed or under the weather.  You won’t be surprised if I say – I don’t know if it helps!
Yes, there is a running thread here.  I’m buying extras to supplement their diet but it’s impossible to tell if they help the chickens and keep them healthy.  I’d like to believe the advertising but I have a cynical streak (and a very cynical husband who keeps my consumerism under control – occasionally!)  I want the best for the girls and Ginny’s eggs have finally returned to normal – hurrah!  Did the combination of supplements do this or was it just the passing of time and her ability to fight off the bugs?

I’ll never know and I think that’s the most annoying thing about chickens – you feel like you’re in the dark much of the time.

Settling in a new chicken – the good and the bad.

We’re into Day 3 of New chicken and it’s wierd!  After the ridiculous rude awakening on the first morning, we made a separate area for the new girl Cho.  This way, they could all see (and smell) each other but not actually get violent.  Cho is in an area roughly 1.5m sq. and the other two have an area with the coop.

It all gets quite complicated as we try to fashion a separate area out of a 21m long piece of netting with one gate.  My brilliant daughter managed to figure that one out for me – I had a brain burp and just couldn’t see it.

Once we had the separate area we had to decide who goes where.  The older girls need to get access to the coop to lay their eggs, so they got the coop.  They also take themselves to bed so they can do that whilst I catch Cho and then place her into the top of the coop just after.  Trouble is, Cho then has no shelter and the weather this week has been horrid again.  Fairly constant drizzle and some wind – I know they’re hardy creatures but they look so sad and bedraggled in the rain.  So, we’re trying to fashion some kind of shelter so that a/ her food stays dry and b/she has somewhere to hide from the weather.

Anyway, I digress (as usual!)  I was going to tell you about their confusing behaviour.  If we let them all in the same area they will wander around in two groups but when they randomly bump into each other the older girls will peck and hound Cho.  Having said that she did some great step-over moves yesterday – hoping up onto Ginny’s back and out of harms way.  She can then speed off whilst Ginny and Luna get distracted by a bug or something.

This hounding obviously stresses Cho and it’s horrid to watch but equally she doesn’t seem to like being on her own.  They are social creatures and so I’m really not sure if it’s more traumatic to be separated or to be pecked at.  Cho has been pacing up and down the netting next to the other two, as if she really wants to get out.  But if we do let her out, reality hits and she ends up cowering behind the food box.

To add to the confusion, I caught the girls all snuggled up together today – OK, there was a net in between the Ugly sisters (Ginny and Luna) and Cho but they were still in contact and lying down together.

So, I’ll continue to separate them during the day and physically take Cho in and out of the coop as required and hopefully within a week they’ll settle down and the house of Rowden will once more be at peace.

A great memory – the escape plan…

A day or so after we put up the netting the girls started to plan their escape. Despite the fact that they now had more space and longer outdoor freedom they just wanted more.

I guess it was too much temptation as I wandered out to the shed to get some tools.  They know only too well that the shed houses treats and that us large beings go in there and return with goodies.  Hence as I moved around the garden, they really wanted to come and say hello.

Luna went first, jumping up onto the handles and then up onto the top of the coop.  She’s done this before so I wasn’t surprised.  Ginny then took her first step to upward flight and hopped straight up and joined her.  Tonks being  pro flyer didn’t want to miss out on the action and so she joined them.

Hence, we’ve got the photo of the escape committee planning their next move.  I just love this pic.