By Victoria Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
As a chicken owner myself, I was quite intrigued to hear that due to the rising cost of eggs, the business (that I was previously unaware of) of renting fully stocked chicken coops has been growing in popularity. When it came to my attention, I had many mixed notions and emotions about this practice. I will try to sort them out for you here.
In addition to being a chicken owner, I am also a frugal budget coach, so my first thought was “Is this really saving any money over just buying the high-priced eggs?” I remember when we first got our chickens. Being as super-budget-minded as I am, I decided to keep careful records on all chicken-related expenses and on egg production.
If you have ever attempted to grow a garden, it is likely you have come across the hilarious book The $64 Tomato. How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden by William Alexander. In a nutshell, it is all about all the products he bought to grow his tomato plant that resulted in the title tomato. Well, it is much the same with chicken raising. Before you ever delight in finding that amazing first egg in the nesting box, you have already shelled out quite a bit of scratch.
First, you have to buy or construct a coop, then acquire feeders and waterers, plus bedding and straw, or whatever you choose to put on the floor. And this is all before you have even bought your first chicken.
This is actually the least of the expenses, as baby chicks can run as cheap (or cheep, as they say) as $2 per chick. But then you are feeding and bedding those adorable babies for six months or more before you lay your eyes on that first egg. All this to say that according to my calculations, our first egg cost us $776. And we were doing things frugally! With a coop that was given to us, and a (predator-proof) enclosure that we made for them to run around inside, mostly out of free pallets and scrounged wood.
Naturally, once the eggs start coming, in the cost-per-egg begins to go down, but even after three years (when I mostly stopped keeping track), according to my calculations we were down to about $7 per dozen. Not too bad for “farm fresh/organic” eggs right from your own yard, but certainly no huge savings over the supermarket prices, even of today.
I know this sounds like I am trying to discourage you, but this is not entirely the case. What I am warning against is jumping into a new fad on a whim. In all probability, you will not be saving any more money than if you had just kept buying the overpriced egg cartons at the grocery. And as a level-headed “budgeteer”, I highly disadvise jumping on trends in general, especially expensive ones.
Of course, if you rent the chickens, all of those expenses are included in one (not so low) price. And you can choose to forgo raising the little chicks if you want and just rent pullets (or hens on the cusp of laying). But I looked up the pricing at a local rent-a-chicken agency and did a quick calculation as to what they were offering (the coop and all supplies needed including food for six months).
The standard rental price was $667 from May to October for two chickens. According to my arithmetic, based on average egg-laying per chicken, by the end of the rental period this deal will cost you approximately $27 per dozen. Remember you are not only shelling out the money for all of the chicken’s needs, but there is also a middleman making a profit on this exchange.
In addition, I do need to point out here that the coop that they give you for that rental price is just a tiny thing, so unless you are able to free-range your ladies during the daytime, they will be cooped up (so to speak) in that tiny hut 24/7. If you live in a predator-laden area as we do, and you are concerned at all with their happiness and well-being, they will need a bigger safe enclosure to frolic in.
Also keep in mind that you will be required to care for these chickens on a daily basis, making sure they have fresh water and food all day, cleaning out their coop at least once a week, and watching for potential problems and keeping them healthy. And if you go anywhere for more than a few days at a time, you will have to find someone (and possibly pay them) to watch your chickens for you (adding more money to your price of eggs).
But all this is not to say that I am telling anyone not to get (or rent) chickens. I love my chickens! I am delighted to have them and would highly recommend anyone getting them. But not because it is a fad, or because you’re going to get “free” eggs.
If you have been contemplating adding chickens to your repertoire, I say go for it! Not because egg prices are up now. They could very well come down by the time you even get your first egg. But just because now is as good a time as any. And if you are not sure if you are going to like it, then renting may well be a good option for you to start out.
It might also be a good choice for you if you would just like your kids to enjoy raising baby chicks and experiencing the fun of caring for chickens and collecting (and eating) fresh eggs, without the long-term commitment of buying (or building) your own coop and chickens. If you really like it (and fall in love with your fluffy-butted girls, which you surely will), then I think most of the rental companies give you the option to buy the whole set up at the end of the rental.
So, should you rent-a-chicken? If you are being realistic about it, and not just thinking you are getting free eggs to offset the high supermarket cost, then absolutely! It’s not just about the eggs. Chickens are full of personality and make delightful pets. They are funny girls and a hoot to watch as they go about their business, full of curiosity and charm. I think you will love it! I know my family does!
A long, long time ago, after the birth of her third child, Victoria made the life-changing decision to leave the work world behind and devote herself to being a full-time mom and homemaker. Along with her new title of Domestic Engineer, she took on the role of the Chief Home Economist for the family.
At first, it was scary to try to live on less than half their income, but Victoria found that she not only rose to the challenge but thrived in the enjoyment of learning to live their best life with limited resources. She embraced this new frugal lifestyle of the at-home-mom and went on to add a fourth child to the mix. And their family was complete.
Along the way she acquired a great deal of wisdom in how to not only avoid debt, but pay off mortgages early, buy cars for cash, travel on a shoe-string budget, and send kids to college with no student loans, all while also saving a tidy nest egg for retirement. She currently educates others in these skills through her business Bright Future.
Now living the life of a modern homesteader in the Hudson Valley, New York, Victoria has added gardening to her list of skill sets as she grows many of her own vegetables to supplement her family’s primarily vegan diet. And she has come to realize that this waste-not, want-not, carbon-friendly, sustainable life she is living is not only benefiting her own family but also our Mother Earth, and that each of us has the obligation to live a responsibly sustainable life not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our community, and our planet. We can all do this one household and backyard at a time. We are the world! And it all begins right at home.
Victoria can be reached at email@example.com