When you think of a homestead, you generally think of frugal living. After all, growing your own food and raising your own livestock is exactly what they did back in the days when things weren’t so plentiful.
But industrial agriculture introduced a new set of variables, that if not fully understood, can easily lead you to an inaccurate conclusion.
If you were to take things at face value, then industrial eggs and meat will generally be cheaper than raising your own chickens. However, the product you purchase from the store is probably not going to be on the same level of product that you’ve nurtured in your own backyard.
This is a crucial detail to remember when considering numbers.
Industrial Vs. Backyard Egg Cost Comparison
The following is a graph for local egg costs at the time of writing this article. It does not include any infrastructure or time investment on the part of the consumer. Also, for the Backyard Flock, I have used three Barred Rocks as my egg producers.
|Egg Type||Cost per week||26 Weeks Cost|
|White shell industrial eggs||$0.49 per doz||$12.74|
|Store bought brown shell eggs (organic & cage free)||$4.29 per doz*||$111.54|
|Backyard Flock – commercial feed ($16 for 50lbs)||$3.36 per doz**||$87.36|
|Backyard Flock – free-range, table scraps and sprouts ***||$1.18 per doz+||$30.68|
* Local sale price
** Consumption at 8 ounces per day, per bird (3 birds).
*** 50lb bag of wheat, grown to 125 lbs of sprout (local price $14) ~Consumption at 8 ounces per day, per bird (3 birds)
For the record there are a great number of variables that can swing cost numbers one way or the other (sales/promotions, amount of foraging available, oyster shells, ect.). And it should be repeated, that there are no infrastructure costs in this equation.
But, with regards to daily costs in an established system, even when paying more for commercial feed, your backyard eggs will be less expensive than the store bought equivalent.
The cheapest of all, however, is the white shell industrial egg. This is the product that most people are accustomed to. So when they ask, ‘is it cheaper to raise your own eggs’, then we can see that the answer is obviously ‘No’. However, the Backyard Flock provides an arguably premium product in comparison to what they are referring to.
Industrial Vs. Backyard Flock Meat Cost Comparison
The following is a graph for meat costs, based on a ‘whole chicken’.
With regards to the Backyard Flock, the Cornish Broiler was the breed of choice as this is most comparable to the industrial chicken. I chose to raise 20 birds, purchased at $2.61 per bird ($52.20) – off-season as to include free shipping.
Also, a dressed weight of 5 lbs is assumed. This is probably conservative, but it made it easier for numbers.
It should also be noted that there are no infrastructure costs factored in for the Backyard Flock.
|Meat Type||Cost Per Pound||Cost For 100 lbs.|
|Industrial Whole Young Chicken||$1.00 per pound **||$100|
|Free-range Premium Whole Young Chicken||$4.25 per pound ***||$425|
|Backyard Flock – 20 Birds On Commercial Feed*||$1.16 per pound||$116.20|
|Backyard Flock – 20 Birds On Commercial* & Free-range/Sprout Supplements||$0.98 per pound||$98.20|
* Commercial feed at $16 for 50lbs.
** Current sale at my local store
*** Online Supplier
Again, it’s worth mentioning that variables are never constant. There will be sales/promotions, as well as, fatalities on the part of the Backyard Flock. These can all swing the numbers. Also, we should remember, that there is no labor involved for the consumer who bought their chicken at the store.
However, you can see by this chart that raising your own chickens for meat can actually be less expensive than meat on sale at the store.
### Important Note ###
Any comparison regarding store bought chicken and chicken that you have raised for yourself, must take into account the practice of ‘plumping’. This practice of injecting meat with fluid, will impact the weight of the meat (anywhere from 15% to 30%).
So, much like the egg comparison, the meat you grow for yourself is generally a higher quality product than what you might typically find on sale.
Chicken Infrastructure Costs
When it comes to chickens and infrastructure, things are limited only by your imagination. Have an old shed on the property? Wrap some chicken wire around it and you’ve got all you need.
Live in a nice neighborhood. Then a ‘chicken castle’ might be in order. In this case, you can easily spend thousands of dollars.
However, for the average person starting out with a flock of chickens, you can realistically expect to spend between $300 to $500 for infrastructure. This applies to both birds that are kept for eggs and birds raised for meat consumption.
For your egg laying birds, you will need to provide a chicken coop in order to keep them safe at night. A fenced in area to play in will discourage predators, but there are those who do without. Electric fences are great, but they can cost as much as the coop itself, so a frugal budget might defer this.
For your meat laying birds, a chicken tractor is typical as this keeps your flock safe while allowing you to move them on a daily basis (think waste accumulation). This will also be around the cost of a coop, but does not require a fence.
There are, however, additional costs to consider when choosing to butcher your own birds. This can be as little as $50 for a knife and restraining cone or it can go up to several hundred or even over a thousand, depending on whether or not you purchase a plucking machine.
And let’s not forget that you will need the freezer space to store dozens of chickens at a time.
When it is all about the numbers, then you can see why industrial food is so readily accepted. They do all of the hard work and they do it with a high level of efficiency. This provides consumers with a great deal of ease at an affordable price.
However, I can tell, from my own personal experience, there is a lot more to backyard chickens than numbers!
When caring for a flock, I’m not just providing for a potential food supply, but rather engaging with nature in a way that can never be experienced in a grocery store. In short, I am nurturing not only my environment … but myself!