Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Cost of Community Chickens

As we approach Day 60 of chicken ownership here at the garden, I guess I am due to give the neighborhood a progress report. Since their arrival, the five terrified hens we first let loose in the chicken coop have grown considerably. They also have gained a lot of confidence with their surroundings. In the picture below, they are taking the high ground against a perceived threat (me with a camera).
As many of you know, one of our goals as a community garden is to act as an area to experiment on what works and what doesn't in this climate. In light of this, I have been recording our total costs of chicken ownership. My final goal will to be obtain an exact cost per dozen eggs, but they have not laid any eggs yet. Despite this, I will (in no particular order) list the start-up cost and feeding cost for our chickens in their first 60 days:

Purchase 1: 5 young silver laced wyandottes=$25
Purchase 2: 10 lb bag of chicken feed=$10
Purchase 3: 1 box of deck screws=$7
Purchase 4: Chicken wire: $20 worth

Total: 62$

This calculation is, obviously, missing a few important pieces of equipment. Fortunately, we did not have to purchase a lot of what we needed because we received them from around the neighborhood. I think that is the biggest lesson I learned from trying to get chickens at the garden. Most of what you need for chickens is probably sitting unused somewhere in your neighborhood or frequently is about to be thrown away. When reading this list of gifts we've received from the neighborhood, try thinking of your neighborhood. Most traditional single-family-home neighborhoods probably have all of these. The residents just need to put it all together.

So here we go...

Gift 1: One empty fenced in lot.
Ok, so this might not have been the easiest gift to start with. I mention the lot first because this area was the reason I started to look at urban chickens. Please don't be intimidated, the lot you are looking at is much, much larger than the area one would need. In reality our five chickens could be content in a large coop (5ftx8ft maybe). Their food costs will be lower if they can graze around an open area, but in a city where open space is a premium, it's not really necessary. In reality, all you need is a small open area.

Gift 2: A chicken coop.
Finding a coop is not nearly as rare as you would expect, it just takes patience and creativity. For example, this is not actually a chicken coop. This was a children's playhouse. Children, fortunately for chicken owners, grow up and this means that these frequently are left without a purpose. So with that in mind, do you know anyone in the neighborhood with one of these?

One caveat, you do want to plan how you are going to collect eggs. We fortunately have windows that we've attached crates near to act as nest boxes.

Gift 3: Food scraps

Tempe Community Action Agency has a food bank, so it generates a lot of food waste. A group of very generous grocery stores offer produce to us that has gone slightly past the date when it should be sold. This is great! However, there is a thin window between when produce can no longer be sold and when produce can no longer be eaten (by humans). Fortunately, our chickens are more liberal in what is considered fresh.

Once again, this is far more than our 5 chickens will ever need. The extra scraps go onto our compost pile. Such a shame the limit for the number of chickens a community garden can have is five (sigh....).

When thinking about your neighborhood, I certainly doubt you have a food bank within 100 yards of you, so you can't exactly follow our model. However, if you are lucky, you might have a small grocery store nearby. If you are not blessed with either of these, I certainly hope you have neighbors. A group of neighbors will certainly provide enough food scraps to lower your feed bill.

Gift 4: A bucket.

They need water. We might eventually invest in something more technologically advanced eventually.

Overall, I would have to conclude that raising backyard chickens is a fairly easy and very rewarding hobby. The key to making it affordable is to work together with your neighbors. Also, the neighbors should have a lot of incentive to help once the chickens start laying eggs.

Thanks for reading everyone!

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