Recently our Red Star pullets began to lay eggs. Within weeks, each hen was producing a nice brown egg each day and we found ourselves swimming in eggs.
I put the word out that our hens were laying and we had eggs for sale. I even contacted a near-by restaurant that advertises that they use local foods. I was a bit shocked to realize that many folks, including the restaurant owner, want fresh, brown, cage-free eggs without hormones or antibiotics for less than the price that “factory” eggs are selling for in our area. Apparently they assume that since my hens are free range, I don’t have to feed them and my eggs are free.
Starting a flock of laying hens is not for the faint of heart. The initial investment of a coop, feeders, waterers and fencing can run into the thousands of dollars. And trust me, you DO need a fence…because free-range chickens WILL tear up your garden if they are not confined and raccoons and foxes WILL raid your hen house if it’s not secure.
Then comes the investment in chicks. Gone are the days of the 99 cent chick. Day-old peeps now range from $2.50-5.00 a piece depending on the breed.
Prior to your purchase, the coop must be prepared for four to six weeks of incubation during which time the temperature must be precisely maintained until your charges are fully feathered.
For the next 20 to 24 weeks,longer for heavier and heritage breeds, you will be dumping bag after bag of feed into hungry mouths with no return. If you purchase your flock in the spring, by late fall, you will begin to see some eggs…HOWEVER, the hen is designed by God to lay when the light is brightest and the days are longest…SO…this means you will need a light and a timer if you want your girls to lay consistently all winter.
And speaking of winter, you will have to feed and care for your flock 365 days of the year.
In the hot months, you’ll have to guard against heat stroke and insure that water stays cool and fresh. You’ll need to gather eggs frequently so that they don’t spoil.
In the winter you’ll have head to the coop several times a day to make sure the water and eggs are not freezing.
Once the eggs finally reach the house, you will have to check for cracks and wash them if necessary. Most small flock owners use “recycled” egg cartons but this is another expense if you’re just getting started. Marketing, Sales and Public Relations are all vital skills that a small farmer has to master. There is no middle man on a homestead. From beginning to end you are: contractor, veterinarian, day laborer and vendor.
Sounds pretty daunting doesn’t it? But nothing compares to the taste and quality of a farm fresh egg. Knowing how this hen was raised and how she was cared for and fed are priceless to me. I will always have chickens for myself. If some people think the cost of my eggs is too high, I will let them get their eggs from a factory.