One of the most common questions I am asked is the price of our eggs. My response is usually followed with a "WHAT?!?" from my audience. Most people really have no idea what it takes in order for them to have eggs for breakfast.
Before I get into what it costs me to provide you with eggs, I feel that I need to mention that you can not under any circumstances ever compare my prices (or any other pastured poultry producer) to the price of eggs in the supermarket. Those eggs that you buy at the supermarket are from factory egg farms that are subsidized by the government. I won't get into that topic either, but feel free to Google it and find out for yourself WHY those eggs are so cheap.
It's really only been the last few months that I have seriously looked into how much it costs ME to raise chickens. I had a general idea by ball-parking my figures from memory, but it wasn't until my friend from Nature's Harbor Farm posted on the Earthineer.com website about her costs of raising chickens and selling eggs that I really got serious about nailing down the true cost of what it's costing me.
Heather did an outstanding job of breaking down her prices. I actually could have saved myself a lot of time by just using her breakdown costs since we raise our birds basically the same way with the same feed except for the fact that I hatch my own chicks from eggs instead of buying them from a hatchery. However, I wanted and needed to do it myself and it is slightly different than Heather's, plus grain prices have increased substantially since her blog post went up.
In order for me to provide you with eggs from chickens raised in as natural and humane way as possible it all starts with, well an egg. As I am still building up my breeding flock of French Marans, I am still having to buy eggs from outstanding breeders across the country. An average cost for me to purchase and ship 2 dozen fertile hatching eggs at a time is $83.00. This breaks down to $3.45 an egg. When I receive these eggs, they need to be incubated for 21 days before they will hatch into a beautiful chick. Just because I put 24 eggs into the incubator doesn't mean that all 24 will hatch. When shipping eggs through the mail, there is a very high chance that some of those eggs sustained damage and are not capable of producing a chick. A good estimate is that 80% of those eggs will produce a chick if, and ONLY if, everything goes perfect during incubation and hatching. One time, I had about 40 eggs shipped to me from a breeder in Washington State. These eggs cost me close to $150.00. The eggs didn't handle the shipping well and only about 1/2 of them went into the incubator. Out of those eggs, only 2 chicks hatched. Those were the most expensive chicks I ever had at about $75.00 a piece.
Anyway, I'm not sure why I went through all that - I'm not passing on those costs to my egg customers. It's my choice to raise exceptional birds. It's my choice to cull out the birds that don't meet my standards. To me - it's the cost of the start of an outstanding flock of birds that thrive on a pasture based system and that are a dual purpose bird that I can raise for meat and to produce eggs. My end goal with the Marans is to basically have several different flocks that are kept separate from each other: Breeding flock (to raise my own replacement birds and to also have birds for other breeders to buy to start their own flock), meat flock, and the laying flock. Once I get my breeding flock established, my initial expensive costs (that I am NOT passing on to my egg customers) will go down and eventually through the sale of starter flocks to other breeders, I will recoup my initial investment.
So onward to what it cost me to provide you with eggs. A simple breakdown of the costs will be the easiest way for me to show you on a per bird basis.
My hens are all heritage breed hens that grow slower than a hybrid production hen. They do not lay eggs until about 24 weeks of age. All my birds are fed a very high quality feed free of any GMO grains, pesticides, and herbicides, as well as being raised on pasture with access to unlimited greens, bugs, sunlight, and dirt. I also consider a hen's productive life to be 3 years. Most people will use 2 years and then dispose of the hen as she is considered "spent" and no longer productive. However, since I am working towards being certified for the Animal Welfare Approved program, my hens MUST have the opportunity to molt at least twice before they are removed from the laying flock. A hen will not molt the first year of life, so 2 molt cycles would make the hen 3 1/2 years of age. And just a side note - I do NOT dispose of my hens. They are free to live out their lives with us here on the farm. The older hens have a lot to teach the younger girls and even though they don't lay as many eggs as they get older, they keep me from loosing young productive hens by teaching them about safety from predators. Since I lose less young hens by keeping the older girls around - I feel that it works out pretty even. I may eventually need to process some of my older hens and sell as stewing hens before my numbers get overwhelming.
Feed prices are fluctuating a lot right now, but a good average per pound of feed is $0.42 - It is very important to know how much feed is costing on a per POUND basis - not per bag.
* Cost of my chicks to incubate for 21 days is based on water, electricity use, and MY TIME during incubation. $2.00 per chick.
*Cost of feed for a hen to reach laying age at approximately 24 weeks: $12.60
*Utilities and bedding for the productive life of each hen: $6.50
*Cost of feed for each productive hen for 3 years: $153.30 ($51.10 each year per hen)
*Egg carton: $0.19 for AWA approved egg cartons
*Assuming laying rate to be roughly 50% per year. This takes into account non-laying times such as molting and weather extremes. A heritage breed hen should lay roughly 546 eggs in her productive span of 3 years. (This productive span starts when the hen begins laying eggs)
Add all that up and you get: $174.40. Divide that by the number of eggs each hen will lay and each egg costs me $0.32. So a dozen eggs would be $3.84. Add in the egg carton and it's $4.03! This is just to COVER my cost of the egg! This doesn't include my labor, my TIME. If I didn't charge for my time, then I might as well not be doing this at all.
While feed prices have gone up, so has everything else. For the time being - I still have not raised my prices on a dozen eggs. Am I going to get rich off selling eggs? Absolutely not! Since I am still selling my eggs for $5.00/dozen, I am only making $0.97 per dozen sold. If feed prices continue to go up, then I will have to raise the price. I won't have a choice anymore.
By the way - if you are reading this and thinking I can do it cheaper! Go for it! You can raise your birds on cheaper foods if you want to. Most people that decide they want to raise a few chickens for eggs realize that the first egg really is the most expensive egg they ever had. One person I know added up everything it took them to get started with a dozen chickens. By the time they built a chicken house, got fencing, feeders, water containers, feed, supplements, etc, that their first egg cost them over $1000.00. But chickens are fun to raise and so the cost was worth it to them.
I really have a lot more that I would like to say about WHY you should choose pastured and GMO-free eggs over store bought eggs - but it really would get me going onto a whole other topic. While it is in line with today's post - I think I will have to save it until tomorrow.
Thanks for hanging in there today!!
Rising Phoenix Farm
14093 Madison Pike
Morning View, KY 41063