More Egg Math

Someone brought this to my attention. It’s from a Facebook posting for a farm in Oregon. No names are required. I’m not “telling them off”, just utilizing their example.

Every two months we order a one ton tote of verified GMO free, organic and locally produced chicken feed. It is the most expensive and high quality feed in our area. We believe this feed as a supplement to fresh pasture and organic veggies produces the best eggs possible for our members. Every year we spend about $6,000 on chicken feed. We sell all of our eggs which totals to 850 dozens and we sell them for $6.50 per dozen. That means this year we will lose about $800 on our eggs. So the question becomes, do we raise our prices? or do we buy poorer quality feed resulting in poorer quality eggs? This is a question that the farmer faces everyday but the consumer is the one to answers it.

The detail that they buy “the most expensive and high quality feed in our area” amuses me. You have to pay the most to get the best? Really? Are you sure you are getting the best or are you just paying the most and making an assumption? And I really have a lot to say about “verified” GMO-free feed and the quality of protein available in substitutes. Anyway.

Let’s start with his egg production numbers. He says he gets 850 dozen eggs/year and loses about $800 on eggs (If you do the math he loses $475 on feed but let’s just run with his numbers).  That’s 2.3 dozen/day. Let’s say they raise their prices to $12/dozen ($1 per egg!). That brings egg revenue up from $5,525 to $10,200…which is a good thing because his calculation above doesn’t count land usage, fencing, housing, labor, etc.

But let’s look at his numbers again.

He’s buying in bulk, getting a one ton tote – 2000 pounds, same as 40 bags – for, apparently $1,000. That’s $25 per bag of feed. High but not entirely out of the question. We pay significantly less but we live where the corn and beans are grown and our customers aren’t demanding non-GMO organic. They’re delighted with fresh, orange-yolked eggs that taste good and come from healthy birds out on healthy pasture. But I digress.

The farmer in question gets 10,200 (850 * 12) eggs each year…or around 27 eggs/day. Let’s say they get 30 eggs and throw away 3 that are checked, cracked, stained or misshapen. A chicken lays 2 eggs every three days. Really good ones lay an egg every 28 hours. Let’s pretend there is no winter. To get 30 eggs you would need (30/.66) 45 birds…as two thirds of the birds are laying each day…right? He’s feeding 2,000 pounds of feed every two months, or 33 pounds of feed every day or 22 pounds of food per chicken per month. My birds don’t eat that much but maybe my chickens are freaks so I did a quick search of the internets and I found that a laying hen (probably in confinement) should eat 10 pounds of feed every month and they tend not to overeat. He’s going through more than twice that amount of feed. So I guess they have at least twice that number of birds and they aren’t laying well…which could either be an indication of bad genetics, age or maybe his high-quality feed isn’t high-quality enough.

Now, I’m skeptical of the 10 pound figure. First because it comes from Nutrena. They don’t use whole grains…it’s like giving your chickens snickers bars. But the article suggests correctly that free-range birds can harvest some portion of feed for themselves…at least, for a portion of the year. We feel that we need to feed our chickens whole grains (even if shattered) rather than processed remainders. We also take our mineralization and pro-biotics seriously. If the chicken itself has unhealthy gut flora she can’t digest and absorb her food efficiently (and we feel this applies to ourselves as well). I don’t want those minerals to just slip right through the bird. With that in mind, with very little searching, I found this quote from a Backyard Chickens member:

I have 61 in my free ranging flock and I go through 200 lbs of feed a month.

UPDATE:
As Craig pointed out in the comments below, that figure is pretty extreme. In fact, it is almost as extreme as 20 pounds of feed per chicken. I apologize. Craig’s numbers, my numbers and several others I have spoken to are more in the 7 pounds/bird range when on pasture. If you are unhappy with my calculations for the number of chickens involved, calculate the pounds of feed per egg. I think that may better illustrate the lack of efficiency the farmer in this example is ignoring.

I don’t know what the revenue picture is for the farm (though Facebook indicates they are building a big new barn) but it looks to me like they could save a little money and, probably, a lot of time if they would stop raising chickens for eggs…or, at least, abandon the chickens they are currently raising. Rather than transport 3 pounds of feed to Oregon maybe he should transport 1 pound of eggs and spend additional time planting, weeding and marketing produce. Do 2 dozen eggs/day really bring in enough customers to justify paying them to take the eggs? As you know, I’m dealing with similar issues here.

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3 thoughts on “More Egg Math

  1. We have a small backyard flock of layers to provide eggs for our family. During the summer months our layers eat .24/lbs of feed per day. This equals 7.2 lb.s / layer / month. They get a daily supply of kitchen scraps and weeds, spoils from the garden most days and they have access to a large yard. The majority of my flock consists of black sex links right now and from my observations and from what others have said, they aren’t the best at converting feed to eggs. I think I could do better by rotating my flock to fresh grass more often and providing more scraps, but for the person on Backyard Chickens to be at 3.3 lbs is almost too good to be true. Anyone else close to those numbers?

    • Thanks Craig. What are you feeding them? That really is an important part of the equation. I’ll switch for a moment and use my broilers for an example. When we switched from using Purina Sunfresh to grinding our own feed we were absolutely amazed at how much less the birds ate…and how much healthier they were. Sunfresh goes in yellow and crumbly and comes out yellow and runny. The birds obviously don’t feel good eating it. When we started grinding whole grains for the Fertrell recipe their manure looked like bird manure should (white on top), their feathers were cleaner and our feed bill went down.

      I would suggest that you need more feed since you said “backyard”. A pasture surrounded by acres of pasture has much more to offer in terms of feed than a lawn surrounded by acres of lawn. I probably have 10 or more pounds of bugs per acre not to mention huge numbers of nutritious weed seeds and mice (yes, chickens eat mice). All that said, I use a similar amount of feed that you do…so you must do a good job with weeds and kitchen scraps.

      I have correspondence with someone who says they use 50 pounds in 25 days for 10 birds in a greenhouse. That’s 0.2 pounds of feed per day so that holds with your numbers.

      Our birds don’t stand at the feeder all day but they do eat every leaf of alfalfa in the alfalfa field we keep them in. Every. Leaf. That helps with our numbers in spring, summer and fall. In the winter we feed them hay along with their chicken feed. Salatin gives his birds roadkill deer in the winter.

      So, based on the eggs the farmer in the article gets I would expect them to be using at most half of the feed they are going through or he has a huge flock of hungry birds that aren’t laying. And he is paying a HUGE premium for feed that has to be accounted for in price.

      But the overarching point of these two articles is…it’s a hard way to make a living. The Facebook posting is reckoning profit solely on the basis of feed cost. When they put the rest of the numbers into it…whew boy!

  2. I sometimes use an organic feed, but it’s twice as expensive so lately I’ve been using Purina. What you said about their poop is dead on. It’s obviously not being digested well. I’m trying to find a source that grinds their own and will let me buy in small quantities.
    I can’t imagine doing the work that eggs require and losing money on them!

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