Sunday, June 07, 2009

The price of birds, the price of bees

**When I first posted this I erred in my chicken calculations. Anyway, it's been fixed.

Slate ran a story a few weeks ago in which the author asserts that "keeping chickens is a filthy, time consuming, and expensive way to keep the pantry filled with eggs." 

I expected keeping chickens to be all those things, but have been rather shocked by how easy and cheap the whole experience has been. So far. For us.

In terms of cost, we had a head start:

1. we have a big yard that was already well fenced to exclude deer 

2. we had a ramshackle playhouse that everyone avoided because it was funky and filled with spiders. This was converted to a henhouse in one afternoon with an $18.99 roll of chicken wire. 

Here are our out-of-pocket poultry expenses as of today:

wire, water bowl, chick feeder, feed, bedding  $68.54
 bulbs & clamp lamp $18.24
the chicks themselves $35.00

Total $121.78

That's a steep down payment on eggs we will not get until August at the earliest, assuming nothing goes wrong. Alberta Einstein comes from a breed of bad layers and our bantam's eggs will be puny, so I'm going to assume those two losers will contribute nothing. Let's say the ten other hens (we're hoping they're all hens) lay 3 egg a week. Thirty eggs a week are worth $6.98 at the rate I've been paying for moderately fancy supermarket eggs. Will the chickens ever earn their keep? Don't know. But it seems at least conceivable. I'm keeping track and will report back.

As for labor, the chickens require 10 minutes a day. Filth is a non-issue now that they are outside. 

The bees, on the other hand: MONEY PIT. We won't get any honey until next year:

Here's what I've paid so far: 

sugar for feeding the bees in early weeks   $13
bees themselves (2 packets)         $188
equipment, boxes, gear, books, smoker, paint         $733.69
Total             $934.69

That is one freaking expensive hobby. Interesting and noble and all that, but holy hell.


  1. wow. the chickens have really grown. they look wonderful. i think having chickens poking around is a great addition to the year...
    as for the bees....well. it is a miracle of nature (i think) that they make honey..otherwise...

  2. Consider in the cost/benefit analysis of the chickens the amount of fun the family has gotten out of them and I think you are already in positive territory. Who'd have thought that chickens would be so much fun?

    As to the bees---a very worthy contribution to the community environment, an example for others to follow if we are to save the bees. I, for one, thank you....

    Just can't wait for the eggs and honey to start---all a bonus....


  3. Fresh eggs are so much better than fancy store-bought eggs. But I am anxious to hear what it's like to gather them.

    As for saving the bees. Well, that's just magnificent.

  4. don't forget you're going to be able to sell the eggs, to me, and we eat a lot of eggs. and i've seen organic, free range eggs for $5/dozen at the farmers market so you're going to make that money back fast.

    and the honey, that's tricky. i paid $16 for a pint at the farmers market (and couldn't believe i was doing it) and it'll take me a few months to get through that. So, just feel noble about it. maybe you can write it off on your taxes as a charitable contribution.

  5. I raised chickens in the '70's. It was everything you say. But, have you thought of the day coming when your hens are too old and don't lay anymore? I know what I had to do, and it was laborious and unpleasant. Just a heads up. granjan

  6. we do very much the same thing as you do with chickens. there's no way we save money doing it, but it's a fun, inexpensive hobby if you like animals and care about where your food comes from.

    as for what happens when they get old, our chickens have tenure. in return for their egg services, they get to live with us until they expire naturally, usually between 6-9 years. they keep laying, just less and less.