Extension Educator, Consumer Economics
When you work for University of Illinois Extension you receive interesting questions. "My latest unusual question was "Is it cost effective for a family to raise backyard chickens?" Like many questions about money, this is a more complex question than it might initially seem," says Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator.
To determine the answer, we need to consider our costs as well as benefits (savings) from raising chickens. We could calculate how much a family spends on eggs in a month, and then subtract the cost of raising chickens. Eggs produced locally cost about $4.00 per dozen. According to the American Egg Board, people eat about 250 eggs a year (although they may not all be eaten at home). This is a potential savings of $83 annually per person before costs. One of the most significant costs, according to Cooperative Extension researchers, is feed costs.
However, rather than listing detailed costs, let's stop and consider this decision. There is much more to this than just adding up costs and savings. "People make financial decisions based on values and goals. Money helps us do things that we enjoy and find satisfying," Kathy Sweedler reminds us. What else do we need to know for a cost/benefit analysis of raising backyard chickens?
Sweedler's University of Illinois Extension educator colleagues represent a wealth of research-based knowledge and she went to them for help. She was reminded that raising chickens provides not only eggs, but also potentially chicken meals too.
"Poultry is a versatile source of high-quality protein. It can be enjoyed hot or cold and in a variety of dishes: casseroles, soups, stews, salads, and more. Most of the fat in chicken is found in the skin, so remove the skin before eating," recommends Leia Kedem, Nutrition and Wellness Educator.
"When butchering your own chickens, it is important to follow food safety guidelines. Regardless of the source, always cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Looking for juices to run clear or for the meat to get opaque aren't reliable ways to know if it's safe to eat," says Kedem. If someone else butchers your chickens, then you need to consider this expense.
Could there be other cost savings? Horticulture Educator, Diane Plewa assures us that "Chicken manure can be used as a fertilizer for home gardens (a money saving opportunity), though it MUST be composted first. Fresh manure can damage plants, but after composting it can be added to soil to increase organic matter and water retention." Sandy Mason, Horticulture Educator, is wise and reminds
us "everything poops. According to University of Missouri Extension (depending on numerous factors) six chickens will produce a range of 175 to 700 pounds of litter per year. So what is your chicken poop plan?"
Sandy Mason also says, "I see backyard chickens much like backyard gardening. Do it because you love the lifestyle and the life cycle; not just to save money. It is a way of life to cycle through too much and too little; to go from toting baskets brimming over with fresh tomatoes to dreaming of next season's bounty with not a fresh tomato in sight." How do we place a dollar value on this?
Chelsey Beyers, Family Life Educator, shares, "In households with children, another value in raising chickens is an educational, family project: a time for the family to bond and work together. Also, a family could gift eggs to friends and families." Youth Educator Jamie Boas points out that "raising chickens can lead to a 4-H project and the opportunity to show at our local fairs."
"Raising chickens at home creates a multiple opportunities for youth of all ages in the family to develop skills that can help them excel in other settings such as school and work," adds Alvarez Dixon, Educator, 4-H Youth Development – Metro. "Besides a good work ethic developed from the many physical chores required to maintain a backyard chicken coop, youth can partner with their parents and practice decision-making, setting goals, and even experimenting with different methods. It is important to note, however, that the development of these skills does not occur by accident. Parents who wish to raise chickens as a way to engage their children in positive youth development will need to be diligent and willing to spend time and resources in support of the learning experiences their children will have as a result."
Our backyards lead to our neighbors. Zach Kennedy, Community Economic Development Educator, reflects, "From a community development perspective, backyard chickens may strengthen a sense of community and bring neighbors closer together. A recent article in the Napa Valley Register highlighted how neighbors already raising chickens helped a family new to the neighborhood construct their henhouse. On the other hand, there are also examples of backyard chickens as the root of conflict between neighbors, as reported in Brooklyn, NY by the New York Times last fall."
Steve Ayers, Local Food Systems and Small Farms Educator, suggests, "First check local ordinances. Then do your homework and research to determine if the effort fits into your lifestyle and budget. Chicken producers say it only take about 20 minutes twice daily for a backyard flock, but remember that is 24/7/365." University of Illinois Poultry Specialist Ken Koelkebeck assembled an information packet; contact Steve at 333-7672 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like one.
Clearly there's more to this decision than can be decided by a simple calculation. In conclusion, Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educators says, "Perhaps the most cost effective plan is to be a friendly neighbor to someone who raises chickens! Then you can benefit when the chickens are in high-egg production mode without the costs of raising them."