Will you save money by producing backyard eggs from your own poultry?

Will you save money by producing backyard eggs from your own poultry? thumbnail
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Let’s cut right to the chase: No, you won’t save money by producing your own eggs from backyard poultry. It’s important that intending poultry owners understand this BEFORE they decide to move forward with getting poultry or they’re likely to have unrealistic expectations and/or end up abandoning or neglecting their animals once this realization becomes apparent. 

You can stop reading right here if you just want a high level takeaway. However, we’d encourage you to continue reading if you’re the type of person who also wants to know the WHY behind an answer… 

The fluctuating costs of commodity eggs

Let’s start with a high level view of the price of conventional/commodity eggs that you’ll find at typical grocery stores. Here’s a 10 year egg price index from January 2013 through January 2023, courtesy of Trading Economics:

10 year price index of conventional eggs in the US.

Conventional egg prices in the US over the past 10 years, via Trading Economics.

As you can see, egg prices fluctuate from month-to-month and year-to-year. While factors like supply and demand, feed prices, etc. help drive normal price fluctuations, two other major factors that can really impact egg prices are avian diseases and inflation. 

What’s causing high egg prices?

Look at the peak egg price on the above chart in December, 2022. Here you can see the result of a perfect storm of factors causing a massive increase in egg prices:

  1. inflation/higher interest rates which drive up costs everywhere and for everything;
  2. high seasonal demand (all those baked holiday goods take eggs!); and
  3. most importantly, the worst ever outbreak of a highly pathogenic avian influenza (influenza A).

Avian influenza: the biggest factor causing egg price increases in conventional eggs

As a recent Forbes article notes, when 57 million chickens across 47 states die or have to be slaughtered due to avian influenza infection, the price of eggs is going to skyrocket regardless of any other pricing factors. 

Here, it’s also important to note that this data pertains specifically to conventional chicken eggs, not necessarily specialty eggs and/or eggs from other species like ducks. As the Forbes article rightly notes:

“While the cage-free requirement has kept California egg prices high, in other states that have more lax rules for egg producers, organic or cage free might actually be the cheaper option. An earnings report from Cal-Maine Foods, a top U.S. wholesale egg producer, noted conventional eggs went from $1.15 in 2021 to $2.88 in 2022 while specialty eggs (organic or cage-free) went from $1.81 in 2021 to only $2.37 in 2022.”

The most expensive “cheap” egg

To illustrate a point, let’s take a worst-case scenario: specialty organic free-range egg prices (nominally comparable to the quality of eggs you might raise at home) shoot up and stay at $7/dozen over the next year. Over that time period, your family eats two cartons of eggs every week.

Under this scenario, you’ll pay $728 for eggs over the next year, or $0.58 per egg. That’s a lot of money! 

Nevertheless, as we’ll illustrate below, this seemingly “high” price of commercial eggs (conventional or specialty) represents the cheapest, most efficient egg that could possibly be produced today. Yes, the chickens in this system generally live short, terrible lives and the pollution generated by conventional farms is socialized/paid by everyone else.

Nevertheless, conventional egg production is a low margin, well-oiled machine that gets cheaper, more efficient, and more automated every single year.

Why your backyard eggs will be more expensive than store bought eggs 

When you get backyard chickens or ducks, you’ll likely only get a dozen or fewer animals, not hundreds or thousands. That means they’ll cost much more per “unit” up front.  

From there, you’ll have to:

  1. Buy a brooder system to raise chicks or ducklings (and an incubator if you want to hatch your own).
  2. Pay for high priced feed and other supplements because you’re only buying a few pounds at a time from a retailer, and it’s likely (hopefully?) to be much higher quality than what’s given to poultry at a factory farm.
  3. Pay for and construct a decent coop and possibly a run, unless you want your poultry and eggs eaten by other animals.
  4. Maintain fresh bedding in your coop (and possibly run), which isn’t free.
  5. Incur expensive bills from a specialized avian vet when/if your animals get sick or injured beyond what you can treat at home (unless you cull them).
  6. Plan for decreased egg production the older your birds get (unless you cull them).
  7. Pay for a poultry sitter any time you want to leave town or go on a trip.
  8. Dedicate countless hours and labor every year, which has a monetary value whether or not you recognize or account for it. 

Also, all of your poultry expenses will hopefully be paid for with cash — but if you have to pay with credit cards, you’ll be paying 15%+ annualized interest rates, further increasing your costs.

Meanwhile, those big chicken houses and expensive equipment at commercial operations? They’re most likely purchased with low interest loans amortized over long time periods. Work that has to be done by humans is performed by the lowest paid hourly workers and/or immigrant labor. And the economies of scale brought to bear on every expense a commercial producer pays means they’re paying much less for everything than you are. Plus, any sick or under-performing birds are quickly culled, not brought to the nearest avian vet. 

Sure, you might be able to offset the costs of raising backyard poultry by selling your eggs to friends and neighbors, but most backyard poultry owners don’t go that route. And if you do, you might be understandably disappointed in the prices those friends or neighbors are willing to pay you for your eggs given what people have come to expect at the grocery store!

Artificial light to maximize egg production

Finally, commercial/production poultry are given artificial light to keep them hormonally able to produce the maximum number of eggs possible over their short lifespans. (Once the animals reach the age of slower egg production, they’re culled.)

However, backyard egg producers like us want our animals to “turn off” egg production as daylight hours decrease during the cold months in order to:

  • remineralize their bones;
  • be as healthy as possible for as long as possible;
  • produce the most nutritious eggs possible during the laying seasons. 

We have 10 year old ducks in our flock who might only produce 30% of the eggs they did when they were younger. We view these elderly ducks as pets. They’re also important social members of their flock. Thus, we have no intention of culling them; we’ll either allow them to die naturally, or they’ll be humanely euthanized by our vet when their time comes.

Jackson the duck, our oldest female is still flying high at almost 10 years old (although she is technically flightless). She doesn't produce nearly as many eggs as she used to, and that's fine by us since she's also a beloved pet.

Jackson the duck, our oldest female, is still flying high at almost 10 years old (although she is technically flightless). She doesn’t produce nearly as many eggs as she used to. That’s fine by us since she’s also a beloved pet and flock matriarch. 

No, we’re not virtuous, we’re simply attending to our enlightened self-interest 

Does any of this make people like us virtuous and the commercial operations “evil”? We don’t think so. We simply operate in completely different paradigms with completely different goals in mind.

Our aim is not to produce the cheapest possible egg or to save money. Rather, our aim is to optimize our family’s health and happiness while operating regeneratively on the small patch of earth that we presently have control over.  

And as long as lots of people demand the cheapest possible eggs produced by someone else, there will be entities vying to produce the cheapest possible eggs. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop with both positive and negative outputs and tradeoffs. 

Are ducks better than chickens for avian flu?

A quick but relevant aside… We’ve written all about the reasons we think duck eggs are better than chicken eggs and why ducks can be better animals than chickens for backyard poultry enthusiasts, so we’re not going to rehash that here.

However, since avian flu is currently wreaking havoc on both commercial and backyard chickens around the country, it’s worth noting that ducks are much better suited to deal with avian flu than chickens are

Our ducks quack in the face of avian influenza, they don't quake. Even though ducks are much more robust and disease-resistant than chickens, we still take a lot of precautions to keep them from getting sick. Plus we optimize their health and happiness so they have a better chance of fighting off any illnesses they might get. Related: See how to build a self-cleaning backyard duck pond.

Our ducks quack in the face of avian influenza, they don’t quake. Even though ducks are much more robust and disease-resistant than chickens, we still take a lot of precautions to keep them from getting sick. Plus we optimize their health and happiness so they have a better chance of fighting off any illnesses they might get. Related: See how to build a self-cleaning backyard duck pond.

A quick dive into the research literature shows numerous studies with statements such as, “Compared with chickens, ducks are normally resistant to avian influenza virus without clinical signs while they harbor almost all subtypes of influenza A viruses.”

Why? According to researchers: 

“Ducks have been found to mount more active and robust cellular immune responses compared to chickens exposed to H9N2 AIV by the intranasal route [20]. Following infection with HPAIVs, ducks are able to initiate a faster but lower inflammatory cytokine response followed by the activation of major pattern recognition receptors (i.e., TLR7, RIG-I, and MDA-5) and a persistent cellular response, whereas chickens generate excessive but delayed inflammatory cytokine responses followed by inadequate cellular immune responses, which may result in a higher pathogenicity of the virus in chickens [16].”

Do note that an infected duck may be unharmed and asymptomatic, but it can still carry and transmit avian influenza to other birds. So be warned if you keep both chickens and ducks together!

So how much does it cost to produce a backyard egg?      

If you accurately account for your time, labor, and hard costs, the chicken or duck eggs you produce at home are likely going to cost 2-4 times more per egg than what you’ll find at a grocery store — especially if you’re giving them top quality feed, lots of outdoor time, healthy treats, etc. And if you ever have to take your poultry to an avian vet, any cost comparison analysis you conduct will be depressing.  

Annualized over the past 10 years, each duck egg we’ve produced likely costs in the range of $2/egg. If anything, that’s a conservative estimate.     

Thankfully for our ducks, they’re not here to save us money on eggs. Rather, they’re highly entertaining family pets who help control garden pests while producing fertilizer for our plants. They also happen to produce food for us during certain times of the year. 

Even if you won’t save money by producing your own backyard eggs, should you still consider getting backyard chickens or ducks? The answer depends on your goals and resources. For us, the answer has and will continue to be “yes.” It doesn’t make cents, but it does make sense. 

(Looks like we did bury the lede, after all!)



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