Our little flock of chickens is now 34 weeks old and we have had them at our place for 25 weeks. I thought now would be a good time to give an update as to how things are going and our feelings about chickens after having them around for 6 months. I’ll break this down into four areas: temperament, care, eggs and cost.
We didn’t choose to get our chickens as pets. They are a production flock and are here to provide us with eggs. Everyone in the family was clear on that to begin with. In fact we got a cat at the same time to keep the kids from getting too attached to the chickens. When the hens are done with their productive laying years they will be replaced.
After saying that, I can see how some folks could get attached to chickens. We are just trying to be attached to the idea of chickens, not the individual chickens. Until they started laying eggs they were pretty flighty. We would have to trap them in a corner just to pick them up. Now that they are laying they have really mellowed. They are much easier to handle and will even let the kids pet them.
We also enjoy their crazy chicken antics. They do some pretty funny things and are kind of a kick to watch as they wander the yard. Because we live in about as country of an area that you can live in forSaltLakeCounty, we still have to worry about predators. This means we don’t let the hens wander the yard for long unsupervised. That has meant we spend a lot more time outside keeping an eye on the chickens. I see that as a plus as well.
I have to admit we put off getting chickens for over a year because we were afraid of the time commitment. This turned out to be a non-issue. Chickens really don’t require a lot. We have a feeder that takes a 3 day supply of feed so we only need to fill it a couple of times a week.
Water is very important for chickens. Spring and fall all we need to do is fill the water every few days. We tried to change the water once a day in the hot summer so that it was fresh. Winter presents some added challenges keeping the water unfrozen. We chose not to pay $75 or more for a heated water station. Instead we have two unheated that we rotate outside each day so they always have fresh water.
Our coop is large enough that the hens have plenty of room and really don’t need to be let outside. Part of the reason we decided to get chickens is because we’re not really wild about the conditions that commercial layers are kept in. So we try to give the chickens at least an hour or two outside each day. We have found that it is best to let them out about an hour before sunset, that way when the sun goes down they go back to the coop to roost on their own and we don’t have to chase them around.
The coop also needs to be cleaned. During the summer when the hens are outside more we can often go three weeks between cleanings. Now that they spend more than 14 hours a day inside things get a little messier. We usually clean every week now. Cleaning the coop only takes maybe 20 minutes, including raking up and adding fresh bedding.
The total amount of time we spend caring for the hens is maybe an hour and a half a week. That includes 10 minutes a day for feeding and egg collection and cleaning time on the weekend. If you are thinking about chickens you need to keep in mind what to do about vacations. They will be okay if your only gone a day or two, but you will need to have a plan if you will be gone a long time. We are lucky that our neighbor just behind us also has chickens and we can ask him to help out.
You need to be prepared for a long wait for your first eggs. I had read about people getting eggs from their hens at 16 weeks and thought great! Turns out we didn’t get our first egg until 26 weeks and one of our hens didn’t start laying until just 3 weeks ago, so 31 weeks. Plan on being patient.
Think hard about your egg needs before you buy your hens. Our 6 hens are consistently producing 3 dozen eggs a week. Eating that many eggs is a stretch even for our family of 6. We have several neighbors who have offered to buy our extras, so far we have been able to keep up but we are starting to have a hard time being creative. Be sure you match up your flock size with your egg needs or be sure your neighbors like eggs!!
Fresh eggs are awesome to cook with. We wondered if there would really be a difference and there is. The eggs look and taste better. They are larger than standard grocery store eggs and really cook up well. If you like hard boiled eggs you will need to buy some of those “eggie” things you can get at most kitchen stores. Fresh eggs, hard boiled are impossible to peel.
My neighbor and I joke about how expensive the first egg we got was. Between the cost of the hens, supplies and a coop we spent about $300.00 to get set up. My neighbor built his hens a small palace so I’m sure his costs were much higher. That makes the first egg very expensive. In my mind we allocated all the set up cost to the first egg and all the on going costs to the following eggs 🙂
If you ignore the set up costs, the hens are more than paying for themselves. We are getting about 13 dozen eggs a month. I’ve seen people trying to justify having chickens by setting the cost per dozen at $4.00. “That’s how much free range organic eggs cost in a store” they say. Maybe they are right but we weren’t buying those eggs before we had chickens. I set our price at $2.00 a dozen so the value of our eggs each month is $26.00.
Our hens are eating a 50 lb bag of feed each month. That bag cost us about $20.00, add to that a small bag of grit that last about 3 months and some straw for bedding and our total costs per month is $22.00. So we have about $4.00 excess (or savings) per month right now that can apply towards the set up costs. Over all I see it as a break even deal and that doesn’t take into account the compost and bug control we get from the hens. We choose to buy a feed from a local mill that cost a bit more. I know we could get our feed for quite a bit cheaper if we bought it from Wal-Mart, but we have decided to support the local guy.
We have been super happy with our decision to get chickens. They have really integrated into our routine and are easy to care for. Believe it or not our 13 year old son has really stepped up and taken responsibility for the hens. I think he even enjoys it, although you won’t get him to admit it. So if you have been thinking about getting chickens get off the fence this spring and get a flock of your own.