Guys, there’s been a lot of movement on the chicken front. And if you just pictured chickens in tiny military uniforms, good, that was my plan all along.
It’s been just over six months since we got chickens. When I wrote the first post in this series, it was really about expectations. I wanted to lay out the pros and cons of the experience, and why I’d ultimately decided to pull the trigger on obtaining six little day-old chicks from my local agricultural store.
The second part was a major bummer, written after one of the chicks died. It was about how raising living things is hard fucking work, and it’s incredibly sad when they die before their time. But ultimately it didn’t shake my commitment to my choices. It reaffirmed them.
Today’s post is a significantly happier one. No ugly crying this time, I promise! Because as our Twitter followers already know, my chickens finally laid their first egg.
All grown up
In a shockingly short amount of time, our girls transitioned through the normal courses of the chicken lifecycle:
Chick —> Mangy Dinosaur —> Chicken
Once they’d finished growing long, glossy adult feathers, they began to get beautifully, admirably fat. The dingy salmon-colored bumps on their heads turned a deep rose red and elongated into sweeping, majestic wattles. I finally understood what Britney Spears was talking about when she stood inside some kind of windswept canyon and proclaimed “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” (I still do not understand the part about the canyon, if I’m being perfectly frank. Is it a Georgia O’Keeffe Black Mesa Landscape thing? I digress.)
The chickens suddenly had the bodies of full-grown hens—they just weren’t quite sure what that meant yet.
The maternity ward waiting room
If you grew up watching classic cartoons, you know this scene. Picture a man in a hospital waiting room. A sign on the wall reads “maternity ward.” He is puffing on a cigarette, sending up more smoke than Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne. There are deep lines under his eyes; his suit is rumpled; the pivots of his pacing are possibly timed with a looming tick-tock sound effect.
Friends, since my chickens turned five months old, I have been this man.
Twenty weeks is about the earliest most chickens begin to lay, but twenty-four weeks (or more) is standard. My long odds of finding something didn’t stop me from snooping around the coop twice per day, scanning the pine shavings for signs of eggs. After a full month of twice-daily disappointment, I resolved to man up and stop shaking my Christmas presents.
“All they need,” Senator Spears confirmed, “is time.”
The first egg
A week or two after this resolution, I had a feeling. Our Golden Comet had been acting oddly all morning. She squawked in a way that sounded distressed, but I couldn’t see anything wrong with her. Hand to God, my first thought when I heard it was “Huh. That’s the sound I make when I get period cramps.” Evidently women can recognize the sound of another female experiencing biological bullshit, regardless of species!
Two hours later, my partner came bounding into the house with his hands cupped around the product of her labors.
It was small and light brown, with a dusting of pine shavings. My partner and I went whooping and leaping around the house. Our neighbors for a quarter mile must’ve thought we’d won Powerball. Or were turning Super Saiyan.
How was it?
Dropping our first egg into a pot of boiling water felt strangely like dropping our first grandbaby into a roiling cauldron. But when we finally worked up the courage to cook and eat this egg, we noticed a few things.
First of all, it was very hard to crack. The shell was noticeably thicker than a papery supermarket egg. It took a good strong whack to split it. It didn’t shatter when struck, but split along one strong, clean line.
I was expecting to crack the first egg open and find something wrong with it. A chicken’s very first eggs are often yolk-less, or hilariously small, or streaked. But hers was a true and perfect egg. I can’t say that the color was markedly different from regular supermarket eggs, but their yolks will change as they age. I’m looking forward to a deep sunset orange color in the future.
We soft-boiled it and served it over ramen. It was delicious; it tasted like victory.
How much did it cost?
Chicken keepers often joke that your very first egg is the most expensive one you’ll ever get. And you know the Bitches are here for spreadsheets calculating the stone cold cash value of living creatures!
The birds themselves: $40
Coop and run construction: $200
Feeders, waterers, lamps, and enrichment objects: $70
Food for six months: $50
Pine shavings for six months: $20
Medical supplies: $5
As I predicted, chicken keeping is not cheap. With the number of birds that I have, store bought eggs would be far more economical. I could buy hundreds of eggs for what I’ve shelled out in order to get just this one.
But do I regret it? Was it a bad investment? Absolutely not!
Most of these costs are one-time-only fixed costs. That means that their cost isn’t affected by the output of the business. Building a chicken coop was easily the most expensive portion of the production cost, but I will never have to build one again. It could comfortably fit another twenty chickens. Not that I have plans to get twenty more chickens. Dreams are not plans until they have a date attached to them.
Once you get those out of the way, the ongoing variable costs to produce are extremely favorable. It looks more like this:
Food for six months: $50
Pine shavings for six months: $20
One chicken will need about $28 in supplies to lay 250-300 eggs per year. A prolific breed, our Golden Comet should hit the 300 mark. That means my humanely-raised, cage-free, free-range eggs with free home delivery cost me less than one dime apiece going forward.
Measuring the right outputs
Of course this assumes that eggs are the right output to measure from chickens. While the eggs are fantastic, that’s not the only reason we got chickens. If they laid no eggs whatsoever, I still would’ve felt my $385 was well spent. Here’s why.
Chickens are ten times more delightful than I anticipated
I was expecting the chickens to please me on a small scale, like fish in a dental office aquarium. But owning them has turned out to be a more intensely delightful experience than I ever would’ve guessed.
I think I got lucky. None of my chickens are flighty or aggressive (although if I’m wearing nail polish on my toes, they’re gonna get exploratory pecks). Mine aren’t especially timid or stupid, either. Rather, they’re brave and companionable. They are endlessly entertaining. My little brother has trained one to hop onto his arm, like a fat little falcon. I seriously underestimated how much I would come to love these birds.
Chickens have vastly improved my quality of life
I’ve always been indoorsy, which is the opposite of outdoorsy. But suddenly I’m spending hours outside every day. I’ve taken up the habit of working from my back porch outside while the girls peck around in the yard. In warm weather, I now spend about half of my waking day outside. I feel healthier, mentally and physically. It’s very enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have started doing it without my chickens.
Perhaps best of all, the chickens are also far less work than I expected. They need food once per day… and that’s kind-of it? Everything else is optional. Their water hangs in a gigantic bucket that only needs filling once a month. If I let them out into the yard, they make their own fun. I use the deep litter method, so we rarely clean the coop. They’re extremely easy pets to care for.
Chickens made me better at other stuff
Building a chicken coop was the biggest woodworking project I’ve ever undertaken. I am not much of a builder, but necessity proved to be a great excuse to acquire new skills.
With what I learned building the coop, I was able to rescue a broken outdoor dining table I’d previously considered doomed. I also figured out how to dig my own foundation, which has already come in handy when moving an unwisely placed garden shed left behind by a previous owner.
I’ve also learned a ton about nutrition. Laying an egg almost every day is a tremendous undertaking. After millennia of breeding, every one of these chickens is an Olympic athlete when it comes to laying eggs. It’s incumbent upon me to make sure they get the right stuff from the right sources. I’m learning like crazy as I go.
Chickens have already saved me $60 in wine
In my original calculations, I didn’t really account for the whole gifting aspect.
I’ve gone to three parties in the last two weeks. My usual host gift is a $20 bottle of wine or case of beer. But this time I was able to bring a clutch of fresh eggs instead. The guests and hosts alike marveled over them. Home-grown foodstuffs are cooler gifts—and they’re way cheaper for me!
If you’ve ever given thought to getting chickens, do it. If you’ve never given thought to getting chickens, do it. They are a constant source of both utility and delight. Even a small backyard can support enough birds to give you a healthy supply of fresh eggs daily.
Our Golden Comet’s eggs get bigger every day. At 60ish grams, they’re now reliably the size of “extra large” supermarket eggs. And our Easter Egger began laying right behind her. She shocked us with not green or blue eggs, but pale seashell pink ones. Between the two of them, we’re now getting a dozen eggs per week.
Within the next month or two, I expect the other three will begin laying, and that number should double. At that point, I’m looking forward to all the baking a surplus of fine eggs will inspire me to do. I can’t wait to give the excess away to neighbors and friends on a regular basis.
And who knows, maybe I’ll sell the surplus! Do you know of anyone on the East Coast willing to pay $385 dollars for eggs? Please email me with contact information. Is it Richie.Rich@gmail.com, or no dot, or what…?