17 May 2010
Like Popeye, “I’ve had all I can stand, I can’t stands no more”. This entire fascination with raising and/ or owning urban chickens seems completely absurd to me. Since I don’t really know anything about raising chickens (because I live in a city with grocery stores and I don’t need to raise my own chickens), I decided after seeing the tragillionth post on the latest modern chicken coop to do some quick research and see how someone could come to the conclusion that raising chickens in their backyard was not only a good idea, but necessary.
Since there are dozens of websites and blogs dedicated to the plight of the urban chicken egg hunter, I had a hard time focusing on the facts presented and ended up with a headache from slapping myself in the forehead from reading so many really informative websites. For example, return counts for the following searches yielded:
Chicken Coop – 2,440,000 results
Modern Chicken Coop – 156,000 results
Chicken Coop Plans – 292,000 results
raising your own chickens – 635,000 results
Clearly there is something to this that I am missing. Don’t get me wrong, I love chickens: fried, grilled, roasted, bbq’d - literally anyway you can get them. I will also admit that I have seen them running around a yard once or twice before and it was kinda cool seeing them in a different context than how I was used to see them (i.e. meat case at the local Piggly Wiggly). But those chickens cost like $1.99/lb for a fryer chicken, how much do live chickens cost? Couldn’t be that much right? I mean, there’s handling and packaging costs associated with the free range, hormone free ones I get at the local Whole Foods so those have to cost more….let’s take a look:
Dorking Chicken (3 units in stock should be 3 stock in unit ha!) – The Dorking is one of the most ancient of all domesticated poultry. Julius Caesar brought them to Britain in the first century BC. The Dorking was also described by the Roman writer Columella in his treatise “Of Husbandry in Twelve Books.” The White, Silver-Gray and Colored varieties were accepted into the American Standard of Perfection in 1874. Although the Red is the oldest variety, it wasn’t admitted until 1995. Before the Civil War, the Dorking was one of America’s most common farm fowl, but now the Dorking is quite rare.
Ameraucana - South American. May or may not be genetically related to the Araucana. In pre-Columbian Chile, there are several different blue egg-laying chicken breeds, none called Araucana. Standardized & accepted into APA in 1984. Most hatcheries, however, sell Easter Egg chickens with mixed breeding that may lay blue, green (or other colored) eggs, but do not conform to standard.
Brahma Chicken - The Brahma is an Asiatic breed of chicken. The first Brahmas were brought to the United States in 1846 from China. The earliest male imports to the USA weighed around 14 pounds. They were used as a utility fowl for both their meat and eggs. Today Brahmas are mainly kept for ornamental purposes.
Crevecoeur Chicken - The Crevecoeur is an old French breed. They were originally bred as a table bird. The birds of today are surprisingly larger than those from hundreds of years back. This is due in part to the introduction of Dorking blood in the late 1800s.
Okay, so clearly these are more expensive than the ones I have been buying. So there must be some other benefits. Another quick search leads me to a site that conveniently list of benefits but I will summarize here; they include:
Local Source of Protein
Source of fertilizer
Natural Pest Control
You can be part of the local food movement
Okay, I understand all of these but the only one that I consider a true motivator to swing the balance of reasons towards having chickens in my urban backyard is better quality. The rest seems like someone told them to come up with 6 reasons and they ran out of good ideas after two. Is it elitist to have urban chickens? Certainly listing chickens as a source of fertilizer (fertilizer=poop for you hardcore urbanites) doesn’t make you elitist unless you make your lawn crew collect the “fertilizer” for you. Three of the listed benefits have to do with a different by-product of having urban chickens:eggs (or food), but I am going to save my comments on why that facet is particularly nonsensical for a little later. Let’s talk about chicken coops.
from the designer: to eliminate the estrangement from our origin respecting nature will be necessary.
designing a special place will give nature its space. even in urban society.‘ – frederik roije
Those are some fancy-smancy chicken coops and I have no doubt that the chickens that will roost in them will truly appreciate the clean lines and modern aesthetics. I was actually surprised that I didn’t stumble across a coop that had a Burberry pattern on it (ohh….1,2,3 copyright or errr trademark…whatever, my idea!! Urban chicken ranchers are going to literally eat that up and I’ll be rich and can spend all my time trying to write clever posts instead of ones on chicken coops.)
I have always appreciated the farm or rural aesthetic because of its focus on purpose and its form and aesthetic value were by-products. As a result, there is a definite link between modern architecture and agrarian buildings and modern-day modernist have drawn inspiration from these forms as a basis of their designs. As evidence, all you need to do is go back and look at the work of Marlon Blackwell that I posted from my visit to Arkansas.
When you run the numbers it just doesn’t make any practical sense to have an urban chicken coop. I\Even if your Rocky and drinking down a dozen raw eggs every morning, you can never re-”coop” your investment – certainly not if you buy one of these uber-cool modern chicken coops. Let’s just look at the numbers:
Kick-ass modern pre-fab fair trade chicken coop – conservatively $1,000
Your average egg laying chicken can produce 5 eggs per 7 days (some can average 1 a day but if I’m only going to hit you with a $1,000 charge on your chicken coop, you’re going to concede these 2 eggs to me)
Do I go with Rocky Balboa type egg consumption – I think not. We eat our fair share of eggs in my house (3 people) and we buy about a dozen eggs a week at the Piggly Wiggly price of $1.59 per dozen. That comes to $89.50/ year on eggs but that’s also 624 individual eggs. Since my chicken can only produce 260 eggs per year, I’m going to need 3 chickens.
The most cost-effective chicken I found on the internet was around $10 but let’s be serious. You aren’t going to stick a plain-old chicken in your kick-ass modern pre-fab fair trade chicken coop are you? Because that just wouldn’t be cool. So let’s go with the “Dorking” chicken at $299.49 (that’s the one I would get just for the comedy gold you could mine out it). So that basically $750 for dorking chickens (giggle). **NOTE** I had a hard time finding the cost of chickens – not unsexed chicks or eggs, chickens. If you know or want to send me a comment on what these species can be purchased for, I would greatly appreciate it.
To provide your chicken with food and healthy supplements (to keep it from getting sick, not to triple its egg production), a feeder and a source for water is going to cost you around $120 year.
So that’s $1,870 for year one cost to get started as compared to $89.50 for buying your eggs at the store – that’s a 21 year return on your investment. Even if I went cheap, your upfront and operational costs are going to run you more than buying free range hormone free fair trade eggs at the local farmers market. If you’re doing this to get better quality food and be part of a local food movement, buy your eggs from the local farmers market and donate the rest of the money your blowing to a food bank where you can help feed the locals. If you’re doing it because it’s fun – well, that’s a different post altogether.