I’ve complained about the phenomenon of Rabbit Math, where a project principally undertaken for cost savings mysteriously grows in both cost and scale until it bears only a passing resemblance to the original plan. My rabbit condo has had a watering system and sun tarps added since it debuted on the homestead, and as a consequence, is now too heavy for my wife to move by herself.
Straining against the ropes attached to the condo’s skids, I couldn’t help thinking about the scene in Call of the Wild where Buck strained to break free the sled skids that had frozen to the ground.
If the thought of waiting five to seven months while feeding and protecting your brood is off-putting, you’re not alone. Much of my initial resistance to adding poultry was what I saw as an exceedingly long Return-On-Investment period. Just like when plucking a bundle of squirming, yipping joy from a box along the side of the road marked “Free Puppys” in shaking, handwritten crayon, my mind constantly churns and crunches the numbers associated with payback periods, anything “free,” or my personal favorite, “Look how much I saved.”
A rough reckoning of my chicken investment is $400 for the coop, fencing, and accessories. Of course, I’m getting this number from my wife’s recollection, so it may be…how do I say this without getting myself into Dutch? Unintentionally conservative? I remember paying that much to add the elevated platform when the coop flooded in May.
This whole Chicken Math thing becomes like figuring out the Federal budget. No two answers from different people and no two computations by the same person will ever match. The numbers will vary wildly, so you pick the one you like best. Ultimately, it’s a guess.
This guess also doesn’t include the time spent trying to save money by constructing the coop myself with a Frankenstein-esque collection of re-purposed, new, and stolen components cobbled together with screws left over from other projects, tie-wraps, and 16-gauge wire. Around my house, we put the “red” in “Redneck.”
My chickens lucked out and got an extra week or three of indoor living due to construction delays; some from scheduling, some from weather, and some from my incompetent construction skills. I console myself by saying these are lessons learned that will be applied to the Grand Chicken Palace I construct when I finally purchase my heavily fortified compound.
After the great chicken massacre this spring, we have a total of eight survivors. Seven hens and one rooster, as near as we can tell. This breakdown is per my wife, as I have just about no ability to tell a hen from a rooster without actually witnessing an egg pop out of its behind.
In fairness, my eggs should be compared to the fancy, hippie eggs sold at Walmart that go for $7 a dozen. I can’t hope to hit the $3 a dozen mark with mine, but those chickens are the ones confined to a cage all day with a trough constantly full of grain and light on nearly all the time. I simply don’t like my chickens enough to run electricity to the coop so they can stay up all night reading Stephen King.
I struggle with the definitions of terms like “Free Range,” “Cage Free,” “Farm Fresh,” etc, etc. My chickens are definitely free from caging, unless a fenced-in chicken run that has more square footage than my first apartment counts as a cage. I’m not sure if that makes them “Free Range” or not. I’ve heard that some “Free Range” chickens are let out of their coop less than prisoners confined to Administrative Segregation. I just don’t let my chickens have free run of the joint because I don’t want them crapping all over everything.
My chickens lead a pretty good life. Not only are their needs met, but my youngest treats them like pets. Well, at least, the ones that aren’t ornery. Those ones are on her list for the next butchering day.
The worst thing my chickens typically have to worry about is the dog herding them should they escape the run, since this big doofus can be convinced to eat neither chicken nor rabbit trimmings when we butcher. In a way, Zeus is a bit of a disappointment. I had imagined supplementing his diet with the less desirable bits, but he’s a snob that way.
He’ll fetch things back to me all day, but killing just doesn’t seem to be his bag. Which I guess is good because it’s one less thing we have to worry about killing the chickens.
Put the chickens in UPS uniforms, and the dog will turn into Jason Bourne. Either that, or be terribly confused. I haven’t found little brown shirts with which to test my theory.
Seven dollars per dozen going into $400, comes to fifty-seven dozen to re-coop (pardon the pun) my outlay. As I’m a big fan of individual responsibility, I am tempted to assign an equal share to each hen. I’m not counting the rooster in that computation, since unless he decides to go the Bruce Jenner route, I won’t be enjoying any ass omelets from him. Besides, in theory, he can produce me more free chickens, so that’s how he pulls his weight.
However, in the spirit of George Orwell, I will lean collectivist just this one time and allow my chickens of suspect loyalty to address this debt bondage as a team.
A fair assumption is five eggs per day from the seven girls, which works out to 150 eggs per month. That’s twelve and a half dozen, but I’m a product of an American public school, so let’s call it twelve to make the math easier.
Twelve dozen a month chipping away at the fifty-seven dozen ROI mark means I can expect to be back to zero, in terms of the initial outlay, in a tad under five months. That’s a lot of time before these creatures begin to pull their own weight, and I can use them to shame my sons for being lazy.
There are a lot of assumptions in that calculation, and a whole bunch of stuff I left out; time, future flock loss, daily feed, supplementary equipment, and for any accounting nerds out there, opportunity costs associated with a capital investment.
Did I mention the flock has yet to provide me with a single ova? Yes, I am an impatient man.
They are on the cusp of five months old, and have yet to release something from their butts that I would put in my mouth. So, there is another wrinkle of five months, so far, of carrying costs without production. I’m pretty sure these hens have never taken a consumer finance class, but they are about to learn the hard lesson that deferred payments only make the debt worse.
Truth be told, I think the total cost before I see my first plate of anything and eggs, will be closer to four figures once everything is taken into account. That’s a pretty stiff buy-in with a long payback that certainly isn’t for everyone.
If you’re unsure about diving into the chicken keeping pool head first, there is a way to dip your little chicken toe. Thanks to the free market and American exceptionalism, there are chicken rental services popping up all over the country with memorable, alliterative names.
A representative example of renting chickens is as follows. The random capitalization is theirs:
2015 Standard Rental Package – $400 (Deluxe Package – $600)
- Six month rentals – start as early as this month
- Delivery, setup, and pick-up of the contents
- 2 Egg-Laying Hens (4 in Deluxe Package)
- 1 Standard Chicken Coop that can be easily moved (Or Deluxe Coop)
- 1 Feed dish
- 1 Water dish
- 100 pounds of Chicken Feed (200 pounds of Chicken Feed in Deluxe Package)
- Quick guide for taking care of your Chickens
- A copy of “Fresh Eggs Daily” by Lisa Steele
Both the Standard and Deluxe Packages offer a non-GMO feed option (an additional $65 and $130, respectively), if that is one of those things you worry about in life. Considering the amount I smoke, drink, the amount of fried food I eat, and my blatant disregard for warning stickers on power tools, GMOs are probably the least of my worries on the list of things that will kill me early.
For a quick comparison, let’s assume the same five eggs a week per hen over the course of six months. Two rented chickens will net you about twenty dozen eggs over the term of the rental, 40 dozen for the Deluxe Package of four hens. The same $7 per dozen, hippie-approved eggs at Walmart I used as a benchmark earlier would run you $140 for twenty dozen.
Those are pretty pricey eggs. If you want to go the Rent-a-Chicken route for money savings, you would probably be better off just buying the birds, but I don’t think that’s the point. As cost inefficient as it may seem, the chicken rental route is viable for the segment of people who are unsure if chickens are for them.
It’s sort of like shacking up to see if you can handle being married to each other.
Set-up of your moveable coop and delivery within fifty miles of your chicken renter is part of the price, as well as replacement hens should one die, as long as you didn’t neglect it to death. At the end of the term, you send the chickens back or adopt them. Considering the retail cost of chicken tractors, rental seems to be the way to go, if you don’t know for certain.
None of these chicken renters has paid me for this article, which is really unfortunate because I am all too willing to whore myself out (hint, hint, chicken renters). So, short of an offer, maybe I need to look into getting on-board this whole chicken renting thing?