The true cost—and value—of that dozen eggs

Grit, labor, bedding, emotion – it all adds up

Someone once asked whether we keep chickens to save money on eggs. If we had a larger brood—say, 60 or more hens—we might realize some economies of scale. But at a paltry 16 layers, we’ve calculated that each dozen would run about $10. And that doesn’t factor in the physical labor or the emotional investment of keeping happy hens.

The chickens peck through a 50 lb. bag of feed every month. We also add grit to their trough. Grit is essentially tiny pebbles which chickens ingest willingly. They know, somehow, that because of the absence of teeth, they need some help with mastication. Once in the gizzard, the stones help grind up the food.

Aside from food and rocks, they require clean straw for their nesting boxes and coop floor. And then there’s electricity. We keep a radio playing in the coop ’round the clock to trick predators, who don’t care for the crackling sounds of talk radio. There’s something about Clark Howard blaring at 3 a.m. that deters even the most ravenous stalkers.

Fortunately, those who know we keep chickens drop off gently used egg cartons. That saves a bit of money. And while we consume or give away most of the eggs, we currently have a paying customer—a family who ponies up handsomely for freshness, familiarity and free delivery.

The payoff

We don’t dwell on our money-losing proposition. We instead derive incalculable joy from bartering and surprise egg deliveries.

It is not uncommon for my husband to offer up a cool dozen to our beloved neighbor, Betty, who leaves homemade salsa and warm loaves of bread on our counter. When our brood was larger and more prolific, I reserved the 18-count cartons for my friend Connie. A mother of six, she can easily run through a dozen and a half eggs on any given Sunday. And when invited to friends’ homes for parties, I place the eggs in a special basket and present them proudly to the host like a regular Little Red Riding Hood.

I’ve talked about talons and stomach maladies in earlier posts. And I began this post groaning somewhat about the true cost of this whole chicken endeavor. But I really should focus on the upside of our backyard chicken experience.

We have found that the gift of a dozen eggs speaks volumes, and is worth far greater than the $10 it may take to produce.

Plus there’s value in knowing where your food comes from.


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