Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Price of Free Range Eggs

Trying to put a value on our free range eggs is almost as difficult as finding out what free range really is. The USDA defines free range poultry as any that has been allowed "access to the outside."*  Well, it doesn't get much broader than that, does it? All of my chickens have access to a little run outside their coop. But I don't consider them free range until they are outside the run since the run has been picked and pecked and scratched bare.

Is there a difference in free range vs cooped up eggs? Yes. It really is simple to compare the look and taste of the eggs. As far as nutritional value? I don't have a lab on site to test them, but I know what we prefer to eat- the dark orange tasty eggs not the pale yellow bland ones. Confining our birds to the run for 3 days is all it takes to see the stark difference. How much are they worth?

After the coop is built and the feeding and watering equipment is purchased, other costs can sneak in. We run a light in the coop during the months with shorter daylight hours. And we purchased an automatic door opener for the days when we are unable to lock up the coop at night or open it in the morning. Our waterer sits on an electric base in the wintertime to keep the water from freezing. Besides all the electricity to run these things, time and money was spent installing them. How much was that worth?

Last month our flock was attacked twice by a neighborhood dog. All totaled in the end? We lost over half our flock. Most of them were 4 month old pullets, young birds that were going to start laying in the next 8ish weeks. How much were they worth?

Some we had bought as chicks and some I had faithfully turned every day in an incubator (because our mama hen had been taken by a hawk) for 30 days til they hatched. I had started out all of them on non-medicated chick feed and carefully monitored for illness over the long summer of bird flu. I cleaned and replaced the low allergen bedding regularly. I taught them to trust me and come when I called with scratch grains and treats. They had learned to eat their fare share of the store bought feed when it was too rainy or unsafe to venture out for their daily diet of bugs and sunshine. How much were they worth?

I don't think there really is an answer to their true value. To me, they were priceless. But now I'm finding myself questioning my next move. Do I replace them? Can I face the thought of starting from day 1 with a tiny peep just to know I may be picking up its dead carcass before it even reaches laying size? Do I keep the remaining birds forever on lock down (as they are right now?)  Do I want to put good money into raising birds that are going to lay eggs  I wouldn't even want to buy at the store for a much lower price? How much ARE they worth?

These are some tough questions I'm asking myself. But that is part of this homesteading venture, finding what is right for us and sharing our experience with others.

*USDA Food Safety Information


  1. Thats why I resisted getting chickens as long as I did. I waited until I had a large area cleared of tall grass and over grown fence rows and we had a dog that kept all the predators away. Even then I decided to pay a bit more and just buy full grown birds rather than raise chicks. So far I have only lost two hens and that was to the dog and he now has figured out they belong here.

    Of course someday somethign will figure out how to get to them so I may be singing a different tune then.

    1. I'm glad you finally got you some birds! I enjoy the pictures, too.

  2. I came here because of your response to Mama Pea's 20+ questions!

    We have 26 (maybe it's 25) chickens right now, ranging from a less less than a year (the current crop) - 4 years. The oldest ones are getting the axe soon. We're currently getting about a dozen eggs a day (this is with extra light and a heat lamp in the coop), and have regular customers -- plus others who would love to be regular customers (and get eggs whenever we've got extra).
    We charge everybody $3.75/dozen, though I've been known to swap them for things, or just give a dozen away. People with cancer have to be very careful about what they eat when they're going through chemotherapy -- and natural eggs are perfect for them.
    Our chickens are in a chickenyard, with a coop door that closes automatically a little after sunset. That, plus a water heater insert (looks like those coils that used to heat up soup in college days), are the smartest things we ever did. We used to tear home at night in order to shut the coop door in time -- no more. It's easier to hire people to look after them, as well, because they only have to make one trip daily to do it (and collect eggs).
    We also have a 5-foot chainlink fence around our about 1/4 acre backyard. The chickens used to have the run of the entire yard -- until I got sick of them tearing up and eating everything, including my garden and perennial beds. We did cover a library table with chicken wire -- it juts out from the chicken yard. They love to hang out in this area...it must give them a sense of "seeing" the rest of the yard.

    Do you have a dog? One of our two dogs takes his guarding responsibilities seriously. (The other dog could care less, except when it comes to eating chicken feet -- which she loves.) I would think that a dog would help protect your chickens well. How in the world did that neighbor dog get inside the coop area? And I really hope you have had a serious discussion with your neighbors about replacement costs...because they should.
    Over the years, we lost two chickens to a fox (on the one night our 'guard dog' was inside at dusk), one to a bird (hawk? owl?), two to sheer idiocy (one got her head stuck in a loop of wire, and didn't know how to pull out -- the other got her foot stuck in a roost, we found her dead hanging upside-down), and one to ?? (old age, I'm guessing). Oh, we lost a chick, too, but that was my fault. (Too rough a cleaning of her little backside.) I'd love to know why is it that when you do lose chickens, they're always the young, tender and just-laying ones!?!
    My opinion: if you don't mind chickens, sure, get some more -- but wait until spring, when it's warmer and they have access to greens more easily. We generally get ours in April, nurse them under a heat lamp for a month -- then put them in a smaller coop inside the chickenyard for a few weeks, until the older chickens get used to them. Then we release them into the general population.

    1. Wow, you raised a lot of points! I'll answer what I can.
      First, the dog- I don't know whose dog it was or even if it was the same dog each time. And it didn't get into the run, the chickens were free ranging in my un-fenced yard.

      The run- was originally built to keep our rabbits safe at night and to keep the chickens penned up during the few days of planting and harvest. (We don't want them foraging in the neighbors' fields.)
      The eggs- are just for us. We do give away the extra to the needy friends we know but there are two farms within a mile range that sell eggs for $2. Plus I've never taken the time to get an Indiana egg license.

      As for getting a livestock dog- my yard is not fenced. And I fear the amount of training it would take to get one to stay on my little acre. I for sure don't want to have a loose dog (and be a bad neighbor myself.) Indiana does have a leash law. We do have a Beagle and a Pointer/Lab mix but they have their own fenced yard to prevent chicken snacking. LOL

      New chicks- We still have a few pullets left and since I filled up the freezer in November with the old girls, we probably will wait til next fall to see if we are going to get more. I prefer fall just for the economic reasons. Why raise them through a whole laying season with no eggs when they will come into lay just when it is time to slow down for the year? I like to get the growing done during the late fall and winter. :)

      Great discussion! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. Our egg sales have easily paid for the chickens' upkeep, and a good share of their coop and fence costs, as well. (We were pretty frugal with the last two, reusing materials when we could, and getting everything else from Craigslist.) So basically we get our eggs and meat for free.
    It also gives me great pleasure knowing that I don't waste any food -- whatever gets old, crunchy or spoiled just goes out to those voracious beaks. Some of our neighbors get produce discarded by the local grocery stores, and they occasionally share with our chickens -- including the mice trapped in their rabbit feed bins. (Our chicks LOVE these, and will chase each other around to get one.) So we make good use of that, too. The chickens are currently lunching on a lot of spoiled or soft Halloween era pumpkins from other neighbors.
    I guess what I'm saying -- you don't have to put a lot of money into this. And it can pay off...but you have to be patient. You've gone through some trauma, losing such a big share of your flock so terribly. Don't let it get you down.

    1. Maybe I'll rethink selling some eggs. We have a lot in common with the expense side of things, reusing materials and feeding frugally. I even had a post on my Facebook page, begging for the discarded pumpkin decor!
      Thanks for the pep talk! Unfortunately this isn't a "new" trauma. It happens about every year- and some years more than once. I don't mind the occasional wildlife predators, it's the way of nature. But the roaming dogs are a different story. They kill for the sport and leave the carnage behind. So it's time to reevaluate the chicken situation. I appreciate your advice!

  4. We decided to get our poultry this fall as they will be laying ready come spring. With 15 acres we have room for them to free range and we will be fencing the garden areas. We want chicken that has flavor and healthy eggs. Plus to be honest they are a delight to watch. Supplementing your feed with things like stale dated bread and vegetables that are being thrown away is a help.
    Happy Chicken keeping!

  5. They are surely entertaining! And I'm jealous of your 15 acres!


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