Should you’ve been interested by getting a number of hens throughout quarantine, you would possibly wish to assume once more.

For one factor, chances are you’ll not be capable of discover any. There’s been a little bit of a run on child chicks. Cackle Hatchery, a Missouri-based hatchery, reports business has doubled this year over last, and wait instances for chicks are a number of weeks lengthy.

However even when you will get your fingers on a number of birds, it’s value interested by why, precisely, you’re pondering of elevating hens.

“Should you go into [keeping hens] pondering you’re going to get monetary savings, you gained’t. You can not produce eggs cheaper the trade can,” mentioned Jacqueline Jacob, Ph.D., the poultry extension undertaking supervisor on the College of Kentucky.

Jacob mentioned that that is partly as a result of business rooster farms use specifically developed breeds, which produce extra eggs than conventional, heritage-breed hens.

It’s additionally as a result of economics of scale. An enormous poultry home should buy feed by the ton — or by the hundreds of tons. Typically the poultry firm owns the farms that develop the feed. Which means what they pay per pound for feed is less expensive than what you’ll pay when shopping for it by the 50-pound bag on the feed retailer.

There are, nonetheless, different causes to maintain a yard flock. For one factor, it affords a teeny bit of food security, which seems like a consolation in an period of naked grocery store cabinets. It additionally permits these involved about animal welfare a path out of the manufacturing facility farming system. Plus, chickens are humorous, curious creatures that present a stunning quantity of amusement.

Lastly, chickens eat bugs. One paper discovered chickens ate a median of 81 ticks a day when out with tick-infested cattle (and the most important tick gobbler ate greater than 300 bloodsuckers). That must be value one thing — even when the precise greenback quantity is tough to quantify.

Earlier than impulse shopping for chicks, although, think twice about all the prices related to rooster maintaining. And be trustworthy with your self: Are you actually getting into this interest to economize — or since you need a new pet?

Right here’s what you should know before you purchase — and the way to keep away from pricey errors for those who resolve chickens are simply what your yard wants.

Chicks Are Low-cost! (It’s a Lure!) 

Your native farm retailer might supply chicks for as little as $2 apiece. That’s virtually free!

Right here’s the factor: The most affordable chicks are “straight runs,” which means they’re female and male chicks blended collectively. Which means solely half the birds you purchase are going to put eggs. The opposite half will turn into roosters, and for those who stay within the suburbs, you’ll have to search out some option to, ahem, dispatch them. Should you purchase simply feminine chicks — known as pullets — anticipate to pay a minimum of a greenback extra per chick, and far more in the event that they’re uncommon breeds.

It’s not simply the chicks you want, although. You’re going to want particular tools to lift these infants. Except you propose to sit down on them like a mom hen, anticipate to purchase a warmth supply, like a warmth lamp ($25 for the lamp and bulb).

Warmth lamps, nonetheless, are a hearth hazard. A a lot safer possibility is a brooder plate — however that can set you again $50 or extra. Then there’s the bedding, the feed and water containers, and the particular chick feed.

Lastly, you need to plan for losses. Child chicks are fragile. Typically it seems like they die for those who take a look at them the mistaken method. With each chick you lose, your eggs turn into slightly dearer.

Daniel Pineda, 3, plays with one of the family chickens, Egg, in St. Petersburg, Fla. His mother, Lisa Pineda, let the chickens roam in the yard to train them in preparation for moving from a temporary space to a permanent chicken coop. Chris Zuppa / The Penny Hoarder

These Tiny Velociraptors Are Hungry 

Hens won’t start laying for about 20 weeks — but, of course, you have to feed them as they’re growing. According to a University of Kentucky publication on elevating pullets, it is going to take about 17 kilos of feed to get a chick to egg-laying age.

Rooster feed isn’t that costly. It should price you about $6 for 17 kilos of feed for those who’re shopping for the most affordable stuff on the feed retailer. Should you plan to make use of natural feed, nonetheless, be ready for practically double that price.

As soon as your gals begin laying, Jacob says you may rely on them consuming a couple of quarter of a pound of feed every day. At most native farm shops, a 50-pound bag of mid-range (not the most affordable however not the fanciest) feed prices about $16.50. That works out to about 8.2 cents a day to feed every chicken.

However earlier than you get too enthusiastic about that, know that hens don’t lay an egg day by day. The ovulation-to-egg course of takes about 26 hours, and it doesn’t start till half-hour after a hen has laid her final egg.

With correct diet, you need to get 4-5 eggs every week from a hen. To get a dozen every week, you’ll want three birds. If it prices $1.12 to feed a hen for every week, you’re basically paying $3.36 for a dozen eggs. Whereas that’s cheaper than the pasture-raised eggs at Complete Meals, it’s dearer than the bargain-basement choices at Walmart.

Lastly, laying depends on hens getting sufficient daylight. Relying on the place you reside, your yard birds might cease producing over the winter. Business egg farmers normally cling lights of their coops, however this provides one other price, plus an ongoing electrical invoice.

Nonetheless: Chickens eat all winter lengthy, whether or not they’re laying or not.

Welcome to Henopause 

Bill Bilodeau puts the finishing touches on a chicken coop in St. Petersburg, Fla. Chicken coops can range in price. One way to save is to use reclaimed materials. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Hens are most productive in their first two years. After that, egg production tapers, sometimes drastically. Heritage breeds (which generally eat more feed) will continue to lay, but at a slower rate, into their third and fourth years, and sometimes beyond.

Many hybrids meant just for egg production give up the ghost and never produce another egg after their second year, which means you need to invest in new chicks — and figure out what to do with your freeloaders. They truly will be freeloaders too, because according to Jacob, hens continue to eat about the same amount of feed, even when they’re not producing eggs.

For maximum return on investment, you should send your hens that stop laying to “crockpot camp.” Of course, that’s easier said than done when your birds have become beloved backyard pets.

Still want backyard birds? Here’s how to not make any costly mistakes.

  • Check your neighborhood regulations, then check them again. You can’t return 6-week-old chicks to the feed store.
  • Reuse whatever you can to build your coop. Housing is a huge startup cost. If you can reuse or repurpose an old shed or even a children’s playhouse, your total cost per egg will be much lower.
  • Predator-proof your setup. Unfortunately, everything likes the taste of chicken. Losing your entire flock is costly — and heartbreaking. Make sure your coop and outdoor areas are secure from hawks, weasels, raccoons, dogs, and, well, pretty much everything omnivorous.
  • Read up on chicken health. Hens are fragile and can get a range of diseases and ailments. The more you know about potential health problems, the faster you can spot them and hopefully fix them. Also, you’ll need to decide whether it makes sense to take your chicken to the vet, should she need treatment. For most farmers, it’s simply more cost-effective to cull a sick bird. When a hen becomes a pet, though, sometimes the math in that equation changes.
  • Wash your hands after handling your birds and refrain from kissing them, Jacob warns. She expects to see an uptick in salmonella cases as backyard hens surge across the country. An unexpected ER bill would quickly make your eggs the most expensive eggs of all time.

A.C. Shilton is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. 

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