Making money with chickens? Yes, you can!Most people view and experience poultry keeping as hole you throw money into, lots of money! And most of that cash is never seen again, though in return we get the rewards of our flock's companionship, amusing antics, fresh eggs daily and for some, a meal when a flock member's time's up, or the satisfaction and rewards of successful exhibition. The good news is that is quite possible to recoup or make money from even small flocks, depending on your circumstances, location, flock members and a few other factors. What I'm going to do in this article is break down what worked for me personally and include links to relevant forum discussions for further reading. I've kept a large flock of birds for a number of years, sold mainly eggs for eating and the odd cockerel I had no use for. Over time with some careful management, I have turned my hobby in a good earner and I want to share some of my tips and techniques. First off, let's look at expenses and how to manage them.
Pic by @ChicKat
The single biggest investment in your flock, unless you're keeping rare or special breeds who tend to be expensive to purchase, is the coop and fencing. If you start adding up the expenses of getting a secure coop and run set-up, most of us are going to find ourselves, regardless of our efforts, out of pocket by a long shot. I was no exception, I spent a lot of money on materials. BUT I was able to recoup approximately 70% of that money later on, when I no longer kept a flock and could sell the materials. If that is an option for you, keep it in mind. Anything that can be resold at a later stage, should be kept separately from the ongoing expenses.
Buying the flock is another expense for most people. Whether raising chicks, or buying started birds, it can add up a fair bit, BUT you are getting a chicken for your money. And that bird can be eaten or sold later, if you choose to…. So for that reason, when thinking of my flock as a business, I put the birds in a separate column again.
Ongoing expenses that can not be recouped are feed, electricity and medicines, vaccinations etc. Medicines and vaccination can get very pricy, very quickly and unfortunately there is not much we can do to work around that, except by trying to buy things together with other flock keepers and split the expense. Working together like this can save you all quite a few $$, so look into those options.
Feed is something I looked into carefully when I kept a large flock. Saving money on feed and saving feed itself. First off, when buying feed, go BIG. Go as big as possible. Go directly to the big suppliers, feed mills, farmers co-ops and find out about buying feed in bulk, instead of smaller packages at the pet supply stores. I've paid up to €6 here for approximately 4 lb of layer pellets at pet shops, before finding I can buy approximately 44 lbs at the farmer's co-op for €8.50. Enough said?
If possible, again talk to other flock owners and find out if buying directly from the manufacturer is an option for you. You may need to buy a truck load and have plenty storage space available, so this may not be a feasible option for a small flock owner, but if viable, it can save you a pile of money as you cut out the middle man's profits.
Keeping feed costs down
When feeding, do not feed your flock more than they need, or they are going to waste it. Wasted feed is wasted money. Also keep an eye on freeloaders, wild birds and rodents. I was shocked to discover I HALVED the amount of feed I went through daily, when I took measures to keep wild birds from eating my flock's feed. Yes, HALVED. Considering I was feeding a flock of over 100 birds…
If free ranging is an option, even if it's just for part of the day, let the birds roam. They will find lots of food in the form of grass, bugs, windfalls if you have fruit trees, etc. Cooped up birds eat more!
If you have space available to grow fodder for your birds, do so. Corn, millet and certain other crops takes little space and produce a fair amount of feed. The savings may seem small, but over time it can add up.
Ditto mealworms. They are a wonderful treat, but they are expensive, especially live ones. Farming them is easy, inexpensive and VERY little work.
Further suggested reading:
Saving money on feed: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/654838/how-to-save-money-on-chicken-feed/0_30
Mealworm farming: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/492636/mealworm-farming/0_30
Growing fodder for chickens: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/713334/growing-fodder-for-chickens/0_30
Pic by @ChicKat
Now, the fun part. How can we get money back from our flocks? You have three options: selling eggs for consumption, or selling hatching eggs, chicks and older birds or selling meat birds.
Selling Eggs for Consumption
If selling eggs for consumption is allowed in your country/state, this is an easy way to make a few $$. After checking how to keep the feed costs down, think about the hens. Not all breeds are good layers, but over an average, most medium to large hens eat the same amounts of food roughly. If your aim is to make a few $$ of your flock through egg sales, get the best possible laying breeds. If you are starting out with the intention of selling eggs for consumption, buying chicks and raising them to point of lay I found works out way, way cheaper than buying POL pullets. Keep in mind that whoever is raising those POL pullets are going to calculate their expenses raising the chicks and add a decent profit, before selling them to you… If you can wait 5-6 months for the eggs, this can save you a fair bit of money. I've done both and saved a whopping 100% in raising chicks myself vs buying POL pullets. Also be prepared to replace your layers often, as most hens start slowing down in production after the first 2 years or so. Many breeds slow way down in winter, when the days are short, so this should also be taken into consideration.
To give you a rough idea of how selling eggs can make you a profit: Until recently I was feeding two layers, a Sussex and a Bluebell (British hybrid layer). A 44 lb bag of layer pellets cost me €8.50 and lasted more than 2 months, even with a bit of wasting and the local rooks stealing some. My hens free range in the backyard, have access to the lawn, get mealworms daily and some treats in-between. For that I got 2 eggs most days and eggs retail here for around €4/doz. Do the math… With the huge saving buying big bags of feed and keeping costs down by free ranging them. I paid about €4 for a month's worth of eggs. If I sold what we didn't eat, I would've put a tidy sum in my pocket, after feed costs.
Some things I found helped me keep expenses down when selling eggs was recycling egg cartons. (If allowed by your local egg selling regulations) Ask friends and family to save their used, clean, egg cartons for you and return them once you start selling eggs. In the long run, this will save you quite a bit cash.
Once you start selling eggs, check how your hens are doing, how many eggs you get weekly, not daily, weekly. Add up how many eggs you get per week from your small flock. Keep back what you intend to use for your own household and get fixed orders for 80% of the remainder. The reason for this is twofold: you have guaranteed, regular sales on a daily/weekly basis and you have enough eggs to meet that agreement(s) with a bit of wiggle room for that day when the hens decide to go on strike for some reason. Life happens, they are not vending machines. What I did was take orders for 6 days of the week's eggs, with about 1 doz spare in addition to the 7th day's eggs. Those extra eggs were snapped up by customers dropping in and used by us.
Further recommended reading:
Good egg laying breeds: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/733432/best-egg-laying-hens/0_30
Egg sale regulations: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/...gs-for-consumption-in-your-state-country/0_30
Pricing eggs for sale: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1113127/how-much-do-you-sell-your-eggs-for/0_30
Selling hatching eggs, chicks, or started birds
This is an option for those with rare and popular breeds, who are permitted to keep cockbirds for breeding. The expenses for producing fertile eggs are the same as for table eggs, but fertile eggs for hatching fetch much better prices than table eggs. The flip side though is that the demand will be smaller and the window for sales is usually limited to a certain time of the year only (usually Spring). It is a great way to recoup some of your money though, especially if you have exceptional stock, or a very rare or sought after breed.
Many people want to buy chicks when starting their flocks and the demand for especially the popular breeds are high, especially during the warmer months of the year, starting Spring. Started birds, culls from breeding projects etc I've found myself, and have been told, often doesn't bring in more than the costs of raising them, but is a viable option to get some of your money back, if not make a small profit. Certain breeds can fetch very good prices, again, exceptional quality birds and rare breeds. If you plan to try this as a business idea, do research around your state and area, find out who is selling which breeds, what is the demand, what popular breeds are not readily available nearby. If you are willing to ship eggs, chicks, or older birds, also look into rarer breeds. If you plan to sell either/or fertile eggs, chicks, or older birds, start a foundation stock of high quality birds. Earning a reputation for selling good quality birds will help you a great deal in the long run as would getting NPIP certification for your flock.
Our new BYC Chicken Sellers and Breeders list is under construction: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/1125376/new-byc-breeders-directory-submit-your-info/0_30
A BYC Member's experience starting a small hatchery: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/from-chicken-hobby-to-chicken-business-in-4-years
Selling meat birds
Some countries and states permit the small scale selling of processed meat birds (carcasses) for consumption. I would recommend researching carefully and finding out exactly what your specific country/state/area's laws and regulations are.
Forum discussion on selling meat birds and regulations: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/390721/how-do-you-sell-chickens-for-meat/0_30
To conclude: When calculating the income and expenses, don't forget to add the eggs you and your family are using, as well as the birds you process for eating, as a saving and deduct that from the expenses.
~~~~~~ * ~~~~~~
Related forum discussion: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/437733/can-you-make-money-with-chickens/0_30