Raising Egg Layer Chickens in the Backyard: Profit or Joy?
Many owners of hobby farms and even some home owners have probably have thought about whether to raise a few (1-100) egg laying chickens for their own use and then batted about the idea that a real profit can be made along the way from having them. Chickens are relatively easy raise and can provide eggs and meat when done. Along the way, chickens also can provide a fair amount of amusement in watching their antics. Unfortunately, the economics of having a few chickens in the backyard with the idea of making a financial profit off them is just never going to happen for most hobby farmers. At best, it is a break even proposition.
Raising chickens in the backyard involves a number of steps that will cost most owners something. Depending on whether you have existing facilities or not the first cost involves the coop. The second cost involves getting the birds. For egg layers, birds can be bought as 1 day old chicks or can be bought much older. For egg layers most breeds don’t start laying eggs until 18-24 weeks of age. This means that hobby farmer will have to feed those 1 day chicks for up to 24 weeks before eggs start appearing and any money could start coming in instead of going out.
The biggest relative cost in raising chickens is in the feed. This is especially true if the hobby farmer is raising the birds from 1 day of age. It can be slightly cheaper to buy older birds that at near ready to lay eggs as economy of scale has typically already kicked in for these older birds. However, the continued feed costs are going to outweigh the relative price that most hobby farmers can get for their eggs. The other aspect is that the egg laying capacity slows down after about one year of laying eggs. That means feed costs continue with diminishing returns on eggs after about a year. That means culling the no longer productive birds and getting replacements.
The above issues are also basically true if the hobby farmer thinks that by becoming certified organic farmer will help matters. While organic eggs sell for about twice as much as “normal” eggs, unfortunately, certified organic feed costs at least twice as much as “normal” feed. The only real way to overcome these economic realities is to have the economics of scale that commercial chicken egg farms have. Even then, the actual profits per egg are measured in cents. Commercial egg farms make their money by multiplying those cents by hundreds of thousands of eggs.
So where does that leave the hobby farmer with delusions of profit from raising a few chickens? This really leaves the hobby farmer with the other part raising chickens: the joy. Chickens can provide considerable amusement in watching what they do. Young children usually find chickens quite entertaining. That alone can be worth the price of having them. Having egg laying chickens that are thought of as useful pets is probably the best way to for hobby farmers to think about them. While hobby farmers can dream of making profits, a few egg laying chickens are probably not the best option. On the other hand, those chickens will provide the farmer and family a certain level of amusement.