Either everyone is fibbing, or I’m doing it wrong.
It might be a combination of both. While I was doing my taxes this year, I found a shocking amount of money spent in the “Pets” category. All of the charges I make at the local feed store for my flock’s needs fall into this category; this includes purchases of food, bedding, and the occasional extra goodie like a day pen or waterer. Holey macaroley it was a lot of money. Certainly nowhere near justifying the 1-2 eggs I get per day from the girls.
My flock consists of 3 hens, one goose, and 5 drakes. Now, one thing that I’m obviously doing wrong is my ratio of drakes to hens. Boys don’t lay eggs, and aren’t necessary for the hens to lay eggs. I love my boys and it just worked out that way, but they do increase the food bill.
Another, perhaps less obvious economic angle is considering my flock for meat. It’s not going to happen with them, but I’m open to the idea with chickens.
Age: the older the hen, the less productive she becomes. On a traditional, old-school farm, that meant the old ladies went into the stew-pot and were replaced by their daughters and grand-daughters. After their second year of laying, most hens produce significantly fewer eggs, and it just lessens each year.
Now, I’ve heard some crazy, slightly disturbing notions out there about supplementing a bird’s feed with table scraps and forage.
Don’t kid yourself. Answer a few of these questions first.
- Is the breed specifically know for foraging? Some just aren’t very good at it. All my ducks, aside from Napoleon, are the same breed. Some are far better at foraging than the others, but on the whole, they rank pretty low. Thus my reliance on commercial feed.
- How is your backyard?–green grass doesn’t cut it. They need a variety of seeds, greens, bugs, worms, etc., but they also burn energy searching it out. Chickens and ducks are not ruminant animals, therefore “just salad” doesn’t work for a healthy diet. Mother Earth News claims you can cut down your feed 90% if you give the flock good forage. Show me someone who does that–with healthy birds. I don’t believe it, and neither should you.
- How about growing food for them? You can work on permaculture, pasture, and even raise crops for your birds, but consider the numbers first. In my next post I’ll include a breakdown of just how much you would have to grow to feed your flock.
Some Poultry Math
A dozen organic free-range lovely large eggs goes for somewhere between three to five dollars, depending on where you live. Down the road from me they are four dollars. Calorically speaking, we’ve got about 864 calories in a dozen large chicken eggs and 75.6 grams of protein.
Now, I’m only going to talk about heritage birds here. There are also hybrid crosses, but for the purposes of this article, I’m leaving them out.
It takes my two laying ducks 8 days to lay 12 eggs. In this period of time, the two girls consume 8 pounds of food (and waste a bit, too). I pay $17.45 for Lay Crumbles which works out to $.35 per pound. In feed costs I’ve spent $2.80 for a dozen eggs. But it’s not that simple. There are seven more bills to feed, which bump up the feed costs an extra $8 in feed for those 8 days. And I haven’t even talked about bedding costs.
At one-half of a pound of feed per day, a hen duck will eat about 183 pounds of commercial feed per year. In the best of times, and in their prime years, my hens will lay 200 eggs each per year. The problem is, that works out to $3.84 per dozen, and just gets more expensive as their production lessens. And the boys?–well, with them I’m just paying for backyard entertainment.
Chickens versus Ducks
- Leghorn (250-300)
- Dominique (230-275)
- Australorp (200-250)
- Hamburg (200-225)
- Aracauna (200); La Fleche (200)
- Faverolle (180-200)
- Delaware (150-200)
- Jersey Giant (175-185)
- Campbell (250-340)
- Welsh Harlequin (240-330)
- Magpie (220-290)
- Ancona (210-280)
- Silver Appleyard (200-270)
- Saxony (190-240)
- Dutch Hookbill (100-225)
- Buff or Orpington (150-220)
- Runner (200); Pekin (200)
As you can see by this fun infographic, ducks are pretty amazing when it comes to egg production. After their first laying year, both ducks and chickens decrease in production by 10%-20%, and in the following years thereafter they decrease even more. Good heritage breeders will select birds in their breeding program for their laying capabilities, as well as their laying longevity. One breed I find interesting is the Delaware. While it’s rather low on the egg-production scale, in their second year they produce extra-large or “Jumbo” sized eggs. They are a dual-purpose breed, which means they are good for the table, too. If I were to choose a breed of chicken for my backyard, it would be the Delaware.
I have to say, in the Pacific Northwest, ducks are the way to go. When it’s raining and the ground is soggy, my ducks are whooping it up in the backyard. Chickens . . . not so much.
What kind of birds do you raise? Do you keep chicken and/or duck expenses? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line in the comments section below.