Chickens ate my paycheck. As longtime readers know, I decided to raise chickens. This alone isn’t such a big deal. Chickens have, of course, been done before. But I live on a small suburban plot—and already contort onto it three kids, two dogs and too many cats to count.
I was also hoping that they’d save me money—big time. Free-range organic eggs cost about 5 bucks a dozen, and that (and I apologize for the groaner ahead of time) is not chicken feed. I started dreaming of all the free eggs that would hatch my way.
And so, to those who might wonder, in the immortal words, of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (who looks kind of bird-like) “How’m I doin’?” I can only answer in the equally immortal words of my own grandmother: “Don’t ask.”
The chickens haven’t even arrived yet through mail (the post office actually calls you when a box chirps) and my story of chicken ownership has already turned into one of cost overruns, like some government make-work project gone horribly wrong.
There is, it would appear, no such thing in life as free eggs.
First off, five chickens from MyPetChicken.com for $153. Granted: chicks would have run about 5 bucks a piece, but I bought the more expensive used chickens. Well, not technically used, but teenage chickens, which are called pullets. We’re getting close to winter and didn’t want to deal with baby chicks. Also, baby chicks require the added expense of a heat lamp, special food and a brooder, or playpen for chickens. The price differential would have been fairly narrow.
Pullets also come vaccinated (including for Marek’s disease, a deadly chicken plague that, somewhat curiously, bears my name.) That saves money. They’ve also been sexed, so we don’t have to deal with accidental roosters, which would cause a priceless amount of damage to our relationship with our neighbors.
For the record, we got an Easter Egger, a Speckled Sussex, a Buff Orpington, a Well Summer, Black Copper Maran.
It’s the chicken coop that they’re going to live in that’s been the financial killer. It seems that even for Westchester chicken, affordable housing is a rarity.
So far, we’re into the coop for $750, probably on our way to 1,800
The lumber to build their actual coop and a large (6x20) outdoor run added up. But the big expense proved to be the hardware cloth. It’s sort of super chicken wire, but you need that gauge strength if you live in Westchester or Connecticut alongside raccoons and hawks. If we had more land, we could have adapted a pre-made dog run, which would have been cheaper, but space is tight around my mini-ranch. Anyhow, another $200 bit the dust there. The work also took more days that we predicted. No big surprise there.
As I now see it, even assuming each chicken lays an egg every day (pipe dream accounting) it will take—allowing for food (chicken feed ain’t chicken feed), wood shavings for the run and more maintenance costs—roughly five years to break even. By that time, the chickens will likely die.
How’m I doin’?
Just look at the ledger. If this economy doesn’t get me, the chickens will.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," the true story of a murderer, from Westchester, who almost got away with it. His upcoming book on volunteer firefighting across America, “Local Heroes,” is due out in 2012. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.