Related video: Why are egg prices so high?
WESLACO, Texas (KVEO) — With the national average price for a dozen eggs at nearly $4, people are becoming more inclined to buy chickens to raise at home.
But is raising chickens all it’s cracked up to be, and do the savings add up?
Before you shell out for hens, we sought as much insight as we could from Leroy Moreno, the owner of Moreno’s Feed & Pet Stores in Weslaco, Texas.
At Moreno’s — “The best place in town to pick up chicks” — 5-month-old hens are sold for $25 and 2-day-old baby chicks are sold for $3.
Moreno said chickens begin laying eggs at six months and do not require the fertilization of a rooster unless baby chicks are desired. Otherwise, hens will continuously lay five to seven eggs a week without any work on your end, other than feeding, housing and cleaning.
Some might think it is more economical to source eggs at home by purchasing a $3 chick or $25 hen. But in six months, how much will that chicken eat?
Based on the national average ($4 per dozen eggs) and estimating that a family of five eats about a dozen eggs every week and a half, that family would spend about $72.8 on store-bought eggs over six months. And they will have purchased just about 200 eggs in that time.
If someone purchased three hens that were ready to lay eggs (at around $25 apiece), then that household would be producing about 21 eggs a week.
But, according to Moreno, three chickens — on average — would go through a 50-pound bag of feed in 20 days. A 50-pound bag of feed is marketed at about $18 in Weslaco, Texas.
A household with hens on a proper feeding schedule, therefore, would be shelling out about $163 every six months just on feed in order to produce 546 eggs, which is significantly more money, and more eggs, than just buying 200 at the store. Having fewer hens will bring your cost down, naturally, but the above estimate ($163 every six months) doesn’t include the price of the chicken or the cost of care, including the coop and fencing. And prices on eggs, feed and materials for care will vary depending on where you live.
Depending on how many eggs your family plans to consume, the work may be worth the investment. But Moreno admitted that even commercial farms would have trouble turning a profit on egg sales alone.
“The large [farms] have government subsidies; they cannot survive selling dozens of eggs for $2 or $3,” said Moreno.
“So, either you’re a big boy, or you get out of the business.”
Cost aside, there may still be advantages to harvesting your own eggs. The founders of Coop, an Austin-based business that offers beginners’ courses in raising chickens, recently told Nexstar’s KXAN that homegrown eggs can boast more beta carotene and vitamin B, and less cholesterol, than store-bought.
Customers are also lining up, they said, to pre-register for Coop’s “Intro to Chickens 101” courses, hoping to learn the basics of caring for hens of their own.
But what these beginners should know, Moreno added, is that hens don’t produce a consistent volume of eggs throughout their lives.
Baby chicks, for instance, will not lay eggs for six months and they require a great deal of care. For the first four weeks, when chicks cannot fully grow their feathers, they must be in a box or cage with a heat source such as a lamp or heater.
In the cold months and during their molting period, chickens do not lay eggs either, Moreno said. The molting period is when a chicken loses its feathers and grows in new ones, much like a snake that sheds its skin. This is typically in July and August.
Moreno said the chickens cannot eat just any grain, either. Moreno said healthy chickens require mineral grit and oyster shells to provide calcium. For the best results, hens need greens and filtered water, as well.
“And during the day, the healthiest thing is to get them out into the yard for an hour or two hours or all day just eating grass and eating bugs out in the yard, which is the healthiest way to raise chickens,” Moreno said.
Not to mention the installation of a chicken coop. While every city has its own ordinance regarding livestock, Weslaco allows residents to own six chickens at once, the feed owner said. Those interested in investing in chickens should be sure to check their city’s ordinances before purchasing.
According to Moreno, there is no land restriction required to own the birds because most cities require that chickens be in a coop to not disturb neighbors.
After a few years, chickens may stop producing as many eggs, and owners could be left with barren hens. During this time, folks who simply wanted to invest in fresh, homegrown eggs typically need to decide whether to keep the animal as a pet or use it as poultry.
While the idea of having fresh eggs every morning may sound enticing, it is also important to weigh the pros and cons, and factor in the responsibilities of raising healthy hens.
From a cost standpoint, those thinking about buying a few chicks may also want to think about why they’re undertaking these responsibilities. For hobby? For health? For profit?
The latter, Moreno indicated, is pretty tough for farmers, let alone the average homeowner.
“I don’t know how [small-time farmers] could survive unless they’re living on something else,” he said. “Not many are doing it small-time for a full-time living. There are some, but very few.”