How many egg laying chickens does it take to make the hobby of raising chickens pay off in eggs?
How many egg laying chickens does it take to make the "hobby" of raising chickens balance out as far as cost in care vs output of eggs. For example, in our town you can have 4 chickens per property. Will the cost of chickens and feed even come close to evening out with what I get in egg production? And, once the chicken no longer lays eggs -is it appropriate to stew the chicken or would the meat not be so edible?
Calumet County Wisconsin
A hobby is generally a hobby exactly because it is a fun pastime, but doesn't necessarily pay for itself. Otherwise, it would be a business!
The answer to your question generally depends on your upfront investment in coop and equipment, what you pay for feed, and how you value the eggs produced. Let's do some back-of-the-envelope calculations...
Let's assume you are going to build your own coop for 4 chickens from scratch. You are going to need:
1) building materials - including lumber, sheeting, insulation, roofing, windows, hardware cloth, fasteners, etc. Let's assume $300. Obviously you can reduce all this if you are recycling materials.
2) Chicken-rearing equipment - heat lamps, chick feeder and waterer, adult chicken feeder and frost-free waterer for winter, outdoor timer and light, etc. Let's say $100. This goes way up if you want an automatic opener for a pop door.
3) Feed - you are probably going to pay around $13 for a 50 lb bag of conventional chicken feed at the farm store, maybe $15 if you want the natural or organic feed. Four heavy breed brown egg layers will likely eat around 2 lbs of feed per day in temperate weather, give-or-take. So a 50 lb bag ought to last 3 to 3.5 weeks, which is putting you at a feed cost of roughly $4 per week. Grit, oyster shell, and treats can move this bill up a little, and I would definitely at least provide oyster shell.
4) Litter - let's assume you are using pine shavings from the farm store at $5 per bale to bed the coop and nest boxes. Even if you are fastidious about keeping clean and bedded, this should last you a month or more, so let's assume $1 per week.
If you are going to sell eggs, they are worth whatever you can get people to pay for them...otherwise they are worth what they are replacing on your grocery bill. Let's assume you are buying free-range, high-omega brown eggs, which are likely going to cost you upwards of $4 per dozen...$5 or more if you are buying organic.
So, let's assume you get two dozen eggs/week at a value of $4 per dozen, so that's $8 in "revenue." Your variable costs (feed and litter) are $5 per week, leaving $3 in margin to put against your initial investment. If your initial investment was $400, it is going to take about 134 weeks (the equivalent of 2.5 years) of ACTIVE LAYING - not the first 20-24 weeks of growing, or the 4-5 months of molting after the first 60-70 week laying cycle - to break even on your investment.
But, you're not technically getting any return on the chickens during molt (the refreshing of the feathers between laying cycles), so that's probably 20 weeks where you're just paying $5 per week to keep the birds, and not getting an "income" out of them. So that's another $100 expense per molt. Many chickens are "retired" after their second laying cycle because the eggs get bigger, wonkier, and less frequent, so they are not providing you the same value in eggs. So if you cull after 2 laying cycles, you are still $100 in the hole after your first batch of laying hens.
As such, you are going to be into your second batch of chickens, where you don't have the equipment/infrastructure investment, AND after you have paid for your brooding expenses (and this is all graciously assuming no unforseen expenses like coop repairs, mortalities, egg-eating, etc.) before your venture is going to break even. My best guess is that this is going to be at the 4 to 5 year mark, depending on unexpected cost. You're going to have to be in this for the long haul to make it pay. Longer if you buy the cheap eggs and pay $2 or less per dozen...
Also, I should mention that this does not include any valuation for your labor (which is really pretty minimal), or any expenses related to licensing or marketing.
And yes, it is totally fine to stew an old laying hen. That is usually their final destination.
Hope all this helps!