Now that spring is coming, and chickens are in the plan, here is my self-promised report on chicken egg production and costs.
One Year of Chickens: Report
On 10/14/2013, I purchased two Leghorn and one "Red Star" (hybrid red sex linked) hens which were reputed to be just maturing and less than one year old. I don't know much about judging the age of chickens, so had to take the seller at her word. (I had no reason to doubt her.) The relative youth of the chickens was proven when the second leghorn only started to lay about a month after I got her, and only got up to full production in January (see chart below).
I purchased a 40-lb bag of chicken feed every month and a half, at $13 per bag. I purchased a bale of straw every two months (for bedding), at $8 per bale. I purchased one bag of oyster crumbles, of which I've used only 1/3 of the bag, for $24. So, all totaled, I spent about $176 (plus tax), give or take how much hay we want to count as "theirs" for bedding and scratch materials. The three chickens cost $75, which is rather expensive, but I wanted reliably healthy and young chickens for my first attempt. So let's call the investment of chickens and feed to be $225 in hand-waving numbers.
We had the chickens for 355 days, or 50.7 weeks. In that time, we received 460 good eggs, plus a handful of shell-less eggs. Over the entire period, we got an average of 9 eggs a week. At their peak production, we were getting 20 eggs a week.
I kept a chart of daily production by the chickens, separated by egg color and quality (shell-less eggs got their own line). With practice, I could tell the two white egg producers apart, but did not consider it worth the effort to train everyone else in that judgment, so simply counted white eggs as one production number.
Weekly egg production graph (click on the image for a larger version):
460 eggs is 38 and 1/3 dozen. A dozen eggs at the farmer's market costs about $4. So if we are considering our eggs to be of the same quality, we can assign $153 dollars of offset egg costs. It's worth noting that we didn't consume 9 eggs a week (much less 20!), so ended up giving away about a quarter of the harvest to friends.
As far as net income, $225 in direct expenditure gained us $153 in eggs. Rounded, that's about a $75 loss over one year. (This does not count the cost of the coop or of our time in taking care of the chickens every day.)
Was it worth it? Despite the reported financial loss, I think it was worth it for the "nifty cool" feelings about it. It was fun to watch the chickens scratch and fluff in the yard, and it made me feel good to watch them eating bugs and worms in the pastures and garden. I don't know if we had any major reduction in pests, so can't give a quantitative report about them. We found a few ticks on the dog, but not the volume that I expected. I didn't find too many ticks on the goats, either.
Would I do it again? Yes. I'm actively plotting a re-chickening of the yard. I'm glad that we didn't have chickens this winter, because digging out the coop from the snow was no fun, but I'm looking forward to having more chickens soon. I'm considering having just two chickens this time, since we didn't consume all of the eggs from three hens last time. We shall see.