Free Eggs & The Cost of Homesteading
Is homesteading cost effective?
If you are jumping in with both feet for “free” eggs and milk, you are going to be disappointed.
That’s not to say that it is not a highly worthwhile lifestyle and a valuable investment in many non-income ways. But self sufficiency is not the same thing income generating.
Lately there has been a lot of conversation around buying laying hens for backyard eggs because of the cost of store bought and food shortage questions. In 2022 I lost my laying flock to Avian Flu, and I’m still saving money when I buy store bought eggs compared to what I was paying in feed, housing, and labor for the eggs I collected from my flock. And when it comes to reliability, if you are collecting backyard eggs you are at the mercy of your hen’s internal cycle.
Let’s take a look at some numbers on chickens, since everyone is talking about egg prices.
Day old chicks can range from $10-30
Brooder for chicks +/- $75 built or purchased (not including heat lamps, bedding, special chick feed)
Chicken coop for adult birds +/- $500 minimum in materials or purchased
Run for adult birds +/- $300 in materials
Feed costs per month $20
Bedding costs per month $10
Approximate total for five chickens — nearly a thousand dollars.
All and all, chickens are a fairly inexpensive livestock animal to keep. And if you want to get away for a weekend, they’re easy for someone to care for. Collecting eggs doesn’t require any more than heading out to the coop each day.
However, all chickens will vary in their laying, often stopping for months at a time during the winter or when they molt. They generally only lay year round in their first year of life, and they can stop laying entirely by five or six years of age; but live for ten or more years. Fifty percent of chickens are roosters — who do not lay eggs at all.
Say eggs are running at $5/dozen, and you go through a dozen eggs a week.
Your chickens will cost you approximately per year $360 (not including those initial investments in housing or purchase price).
Your eggs will cost you per year $260.
Or, let us take a look at goats for dairy. For the purpose of this, we’re talking Nigerian Dwarf goats — admittedly, your quantity of milk will more than double with a larger goat breed (but so will some of your space requirements).
Two goat kids will cost $500-$700 (you should not have a single goat)
Building a stall for your goats $500
Run for your goats $500
Milking stand $200
Milking equipment, hoof clippers, buckets, hay racks $200
Bedding costs per month $20
Hay for a month $50
Feed for a month $35
Annual vet costs $200-300 absolute minimum
To have them produce milk, you’ll have to breed your goats. Stud fees, if you don’t keep a buck, run $150 or so. Without complications kidding is inexpensive, but disbudding kids will cost a few hundred in a vet visit. All vet visits will have a minimum "farm visit" fee, before any services are rendered. Annual vet costs are absolutely minimal here — it’s very likely they will be double or more, especially if you need your vet for inoculations or hoof trimming. A goat can be milked for several months out of the year, but not year round.
So, say a gallon of milk is $3 and you go through a gallon a week.
Your goats will cost you approximately per year $1020 (not including initial purchase, housing set up, various equipment, and vet bills — just feed and bedding)
Your milk will cost you per year $156.
Now, all of this is overlooking the possibility that you sell excess eggs or milk, which can offer income; or you sell chicks and goat kids. You can grow your own feed (though that will require garden prep, soil amendments, and seed), and you may be able to use existing housing for your animals. And none of these numbers takes into account paying yourself for the hours upon hours of labor and love you’ll pour into these animals.
Will your milk be healthier? Your eggs better?
There will be no comparing the taste and quality of your homegrown produce, and the health benefits are innumerable. Homesteading as a healthier lifestyle choice is, in my opinion, inarguable. Perhaps in the long run you’ll even save money on doctors visits by living a healthier lifestyle — but that is, admittedly, a hypothetical.
How do small farms make money? Well, many of them do not. And we are completely leaving out a garden-based homestead, be it a flower or vegetable farm, and the possibility of profit there. Profit can also be made by scaling up — having a hundred chickens can prove more cost effective than having a dozen. Plus in this day and age, many of the inspiring Instagram homesteaders you see may not be transparent about their income situation, the fact online creating is its own income source, or how their homestead started.
But the fact is that most homesteaders I know keep their day jobs. This is a lifestyle choice, not the next big business opportunity. Homesteads that do generate income often make it from diversifying income sources through things like farm stays and educational programs. (See my article on alternative small farm income here)
And while income may not be your goal, it’s also important to remember that it is necessary. Some folks I know say they are homesteading to have no more costs, no grocery store trips — and therefore, a limited need for income. But remember — keeping animals isn’t free, even if you do it as self sufficiently as possible. Think of it this way: even if your lifestyle is totally self sufficient and you don’t need new clothes or pay a mortgage, to make yourself a loaf of bread you need flour. To produce flour you either will need to purchase it somewhere, or grow it yourself — and to grow it yourself, you still need to purchase seed unless you have seed saved from a previous crop, and even if you grow it without cost you’ll need to process it which requires specialized equipment you’ll need to purchase, jars to store it in, etc. Everywhere is a cost, no matter how much you try to eliminate them.
So build a realistic budget around homesteading, understanding the costs in both actual dollars and in your time that each animal and project will require. Homesteading is not a free lunch — if it was, everyone would be doing it.
For many, homesteading is about self sufficiency and close connection with your food source. For others it is about a connection with nature and animals. While homesteading profits can be made, these are the true reasons to begin a homesteading lifestyle.