18 August 2011

The Cost of An Egg

I see by the sudden amorous attraction the roosters have for the pullets that this spring's chicks will soon begin laying. (Huzzah!) This means that we will soon have eggs for sale and I will have to settle upon a price.

Tuesday saw me waiting with other local farmers for our monthly shipments via Dan's Countryside Delivery out of Waynesboro, VA. Dan brings us certified organic feed and supplements from Countryside Organics for our poultry, horses, cows, and goats. We got to talking about what us newbies are doing and, in particular, the prohibitive cost of producing organic poultry.

One farmer of 30+ years has 300 chickens and stated that he could not feed organic because the retail price of a dozen eggs would amount to $6.00 ...or 50 cents an egg.

This is not an excessive price when one considers that feed is nearly double the non-organic price, that pastured poultry have higher labor costs, and that processing is not automated like it is in large commercial operations. Furthermore, stocking rates (the number of birds per unit of area) are much lower, typically about 300 chickens per acre (43,560 square feet) vs the same number in about 960 square feet for cage-free organic and 70 square feet in the "standard" houses that give us dollar-a-dozen (or less) eggs.

But let us be honest.... six bucks a dozen is steep for most pockets even if it is a fair price for the producer. Let us also consider that my chickens were initially brought to the farm for non-egg purposes, that is, as tick control.

Now, we have 10 cats who need tick control every 3 weeks. None of the OTC products are effective in this area so we use a prescription variety which costs about $14 a dose on sale. If the five cats who stick close to the house are able to be treated every 4 weeks (because the larger number of hens control a larger area) that is a savings of $280 a year. That's $23.33 a month, nearly as much as one bag of feed.

I use flaked pine shavings for bedding. This costs about $5 for six cubic feet. I use the old litter, after some months of further composting, on the garden to loosen the soil and feed the plants. Composted Forest Mulch (aka mill waste) cost me nearly $4 for two cubic feet in Santa Fe. So, I save $7 per bale versus buying a less useful bagged product. A smallish bag of high-karma organic fertilizer is surely worth something but I get the nitrogen from droppings, feathers, and spilled feed.... that's surely worth about another bag of feed a month ... maybe more.

Sooo.... let us see.... I've gotten feed costs to a theoretical $54 per month value with my tick and garden offsets. Purina's standard laying ration costs about $15 a bag which equals about $60 a month. Neat-o, eh?

My housing costs are low and I have little associated labor because the coop is a permanent fixture. It never gets moved. I figure it costs about $10 a month over it's expected lifetime. Winter lighting with a re-purposed LED strip light on a timer costs me fifteen cents a winter. (Last winter I babied the chickens with a heat lamp but No More! THAT was super expensive.) I'm guessing my labor is about 15 hours in a four-week "month." Poverty in America says that a living wage for one person in my area is $7.41 / hr equalling $111. (That's nearly the typical farm intern's monthly stipend, folks!) New cartons cost upwards of 38 cents each, including shipping.

.....Actual -v-Offset Costs
Feed $106.28 -v- $53.14
Housing $10
Labor $111
Cartons $7.60
Chick costs / 24 months of good laying $12.50
Raising /24 months of good laying $9.37 / $7.15
$256.75 -v- $201.39

The pullets are expected to lay about 80 dozen saleable eggs a month, allowing for losses. This works out to the following costs per dozen, not including business costs (market fees, transportation, storage...)

$3.21 -v- $2.52 per dozen out of the hen.

If I sell them from home at $4.50 a dozen I should make a small real profit without undercutting other farmers and with enough margin to allow a few of my poorer neighbors to buy eggs at a reduced price.

Fancy decorated Easter eggs and, perhaps, cute chicks in the spring will definitely have to supplement this egg gig.

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