Eggs are pricey: Is now a good time to start raising chickens in WNY?

Rhode Island Red hen
The Rhode Island Red is one of several breeds recommended for people who want to begin raising chickens for their eggs. (With Rhode Island Reds, both hens and roosters have combs on the top of their heads and wattles hanging down in front, but these features are much larger in a rooster.) Photo courtesy Pixabay

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Everyone is talking about how expensive eggs are in Western New York, so maybe this a good time to start raising a few egg-laying hens in your backyard.

On the other hand, a big reason for the increase in the price of eggs is avian flu, a deadly disease for poultry. Maybe this is a bad time to start raising laying hens.

“There’s not any good or bad time to begin to raise chickens,” said Amy Barkley, livestock and beginning farm specialist in Southwest New York at Cornell Cooperative Extension. She is also the subject matter expert on avian influenza at Cornell University.

One drawback: You may not be able to find chicks this year.

What are the costs to raise chickens?

If you’ve ever heard someone say “That’s chicken feed” when referring to something inexpensive, you won’t be surprised to find out that chicken feed actually is cheap. You’ll spend about $50 a year per chicken for chicken feed, Barkley said.

You’ll need a few other supplies–feeders and waterers (alternatives to using bowls for food and water), treats, oyster shells (for calcium) and egg cartons–but these aren’t very expensive, either.

The one big expense is the coop. A coop for 12 hens costs around $1,500, she said.

You might already have something such as a shed that you could retrofit. A doghouse might be too small; you need about four square feet of indoor space per bird. You could build your own coop and even use inexpensive materials such as pallets.

See more information on basic needs of chickens in this previous article.

How many eggs will you get?

Each hen can lay about 200-250 eggs per year. They might lay daily in the summer, but less often in the other seasons.

Barkley suggests six chickens for a family of four.

Chicks & pullets

To start out, you need pullets or chicks.

Pullets are females that are raised by a farmer until the bird is about ready to lay eggs. Pullets cost about $20 or $30 per bird, Barkley said.

Chicks are cheaper, but it takes about 26 weeks until they lay eggs. The chick season starts now and runs through to the end of summer. If you buy chicks now, they won’t beginning laying until July or August.

The places to buy chicks are small farms and farm supply stores.

At small farms, the chicks will be sold in a straight run; that is, half the chicks are female and half are male, she explained.

Usually farm supply stores sell chicks that are sexed; that is, males are separated from the females. However, because of Covid, there was such a demand for chicks the last two years that farm supply stores sold only straight runs.

It’s difficult to tell the sex of a chick. If you buy sexed chicks, there is a 10 percent chance that a chick labeled as female turns out to be male–a rooster instead of a hen.

What will you do with if you end up with a rooster? You must have a plan in place ahead of time, she said.

“This is especially important if you’re not allowed to have roosters in your community,” Barkley said.

Tip: Contact your town or city to find out what the regulations are for raising chickens.

Having said all that, it may be difficult to find chicks this year.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Barkley said. Hatcheries supply the stores and “a lot of hatcheries are already sold out now until August. I think it will be hard to get your hands on chicks.” If farm supply stores do have chicks, “they will sell out quick.”

Breeds for laying chickens

For beginners, Barkley recommends standard size birds (not miniature) with heavy bodies. Good breeds of laying chickens are:

  • Plymouth Rock
  • Buff Orpington
  • Rhode Island Red
  • New Hampshire Red
  • Production Red
  • White Leghorns

Don’t let avian flu stop you

If you want to begin to raise chickens and you can find them, avian flu shouldn’t impact your decision, Barkley said. Avian flu doesn’t spread to people, and you can take steps to keep it away from your chickens.

“You need to keep them safe because if they get avian flu, they will all die,” she said.

Here are some ways Barkley recommends to keep avian flu away from your chickens:

  • Avian flu can be spread by other birds, so keep your chickens away from domestic and wild birds. Don’t let your chickens near other chickens. Don’t have your chickens near bodies of water where ducks and other water fowl congregate. Keep your chickens’ food and water inside the coop so other wild birds don’t try to feed near your chickens.
  • Wear specific footwear in your coop and nowhere else. The avian flu can be spread by secretions such as feces, she explained. If you wear those shoes to the farm supply store or into someone else’s chicken coop, you could bring those pathogens back to your chickens.
  • Limit outsiders’ contact with your chickens. Your friends can look at your chickens, but don’t let them into your coop or any of the areas that your chickens frequent.
  • If you see a suspicious illness in your chickens, contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension in your county.
  • See more here.

Closing thoughts on raising chickens

“Raising chickens isn’t for everyone,” Barkley said. “If you decide it’s not for you, that’s okay.”

But other people may enjoy chickens as companions. They enjoy watching the chickens search for bugs and dig up weeds.

What you do for your chickens “doesn’t have to be perfect,” she said. “You don’t have to have the newest coop. Just give them a home and food.”

If you want more information on raising chickens, contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension in your county.

6 Comments on “Eggs are pricey: Is now a good time to start raising chickens in WNY?

  1. Forgot to mention I keep my chickens till they pass away from age. Many are no longer able to lay eggs, but they are happy. I supplement their feed with weeds from the garden during the summer. Tractor Supply just put out a newsletter with nice articles about chickens.

  2. I have owned chickens for over 40 years. I live in Lancaster and drive to Delevan once a month to buy feed for my 30 hens. I buy a high quality feed much cheaper than Tractor Supply. At $27 per 100# (tax Exempt) times 3 bags a month times 12 divided by 30 hens comes to $32/hen/year. I never looked at it that way before. But, for 3 to 4 months, I am getting 4 eggs per day. Depending on breed this is normal for a home flock. Between molting and cold weather, this is to be expected.

  3. Hi Patty. In a previous article, I did talk a bit more about housing to keep them safe from predators. I decided not to link back to that article because it talks about a class that is now over. I have now added the link back to that article because it does have good, basic information in it. In this article, I wasn’t trying to teach everything there is to know about raising chickens, but to give people an idea about the costs involved. I will check with Amy Barkley to see if I have the information wrong about the feed costing about $50 per year per bird.

  4. I appreciate the information however they need more than “a home “ and food. Chickens are preyed on and there are particulars that need to be followed in order to keep them safe from fox, coyote and other predators. Also , the quality of eggs that you will be eating is dependent upon the quality of feed you give them. I have never spent $ 50 annually for feed.
    Considering the level
    Of expertise of the person interviewed I felt many important details were left out in regards to the quality of life you should provide for backyard chickens and what is really involved in keeping them for pets and eggs.

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