We finally got the chickens! It took a while but it was worth the wait. I had wanted to get chickens last year, but my roommate Lauren thought it would be a bad idea. Imagine my surprise when I returned from India this summer and one of the first things she said was, "Let's get chickens!".
Plans: I spent most of August looking at plans for chicken coops and researching chicken breeds. My parents came to visit in early September and my dad was kind enough to bring me a bunch of tools that I don't have here in Massachusetts. We were able to get some of the wood and all of the chicken wire from freecycle and additional wood from a fencing company in Northampton that gives away scraps. We did have to buy some sheets of plywood, the insulation, screws, staples, insulation glue, and hinges.
Costs: The total cost for the whole project was $175.68. That's $10 each for the chickens, $11 for feed (which should last for 3+ months), hay for bedding and food, and building supplies. The eggs we usually buy from the store are $2.99 a dozen, which is $.25 per egg. That means the hens will have to lay 702 eggs for us to recover our costs. They can lay up to 3 eggs a day (one egg each) and have been averaging 2 eggs a day. So if they continue to lay 2 eggs a day, we should hit 700 eggs in just under a year. The hens will lay for 2-3 years, so in the end we should get back at least twice the cost we put in.
Food: We really didn't do this to save money though. I am increasingly invested in understanding where all of the food we eat comes from and knowing exactly what it is we're putting in our bodies. We've had a farm share for the past two years, which is really great for June through October. The winter months are harder, but we might get a winter farm share this year. Winter farm shares are primarily root vegetables and greens (lots of kale!). That's all an aside. I am a vegetarian and rely on eggs as a near daily source of protein. I hate standing in front of the egg case at the store and debating over organic feed, free range, hormone free, etc eggs. The fact that these labels aren't regulated by the FDA pisses me off. Anyone can put "free range" on their egg carton. "Cage free" eggs might just mean that the chickens get a few more inches of cage space than some of their less fortunate counterparts. Additionally, free range doesn't necessarily mean that the chickens are eating any better than if they were in cages.
The fact is that what the chicken eats, I eat. If the chickens are cramped into a tiny space eating manure and sawdust along with their hormone laced feed, then that's what's being transferred to the eggs I eat. I'm lucky enough to live in an area in which local eggs from farmers I can talk to are readily available. I could go see how the hens live and what they're eating before I decide to purchase their eggs. I'm incredibly fortunate to have that. However, those eggs come with an increased price tag, sometimes upwards of $5 a dozen (which is the case at our farm share). That's incredibly expensive to me! Even though I am an advocate of spending more money for quality whole foods and probably spend a larger percentage of my income on food than your average 24 year old, I'm not willing to drop $5 for a dozen eggs. Keeping my own hens requires a little bit of labor on my part and ensures that I know exactly what's going into my chickens, and thus into their eggs. I also know if they're healthy, happy, and being treated well. That and they're pretty fun to have around. So it seemed like a win win situation.
Work?: So how much work is it to take care of hens? Not a lot really. Building the coop took a while. We did it piecemeal, an hour here and there after work before the sun set. In the end, the coop we have may not look as fancy as some of the ones you can buy, but it was a lot of fun to build! And it works just fine. Comparable coops available online or from farm supply stores in this area start at about $1000 if you can believe it, with most in the $1500-$1700 range and some even more. That's insane. Insane. Day to day care for the chickens involves raising and lowering the ramp to their coop (optional really until cold weather sets in), collecting the eggs, refilling their water dish daily, refilling their food dish when it's empty, and cleaning out the manure/putting in clean hay. All in all, maybe 5 minutes a day and another 15 minutes every few weeks. Not much in the grand scheme of things. Way easier than having a dog or a cat. Also, cats don't lay eggs. Too bad.
Pictures to follow. The end.
P.S. Now I just need to work on convincing Lauren to move to a house where I can have goats!