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In recent years there has been a noticeable increase in backyard chicken-raising. Part of the reason is that people see the virtues of the good life - but it has also become a bit of a fashion for sustainable-living townies who want to know that their eggs are coming from happy chooks rather than the sullen grim-faced incarcerated kind.
According to the last census there were 3.3 million chickens in New Zealand (and 400,000 living in Australia - just kidding!). It’s not hard to see why there are so many of them when you consider that the average consumer eats 218 eggs a year (according to the Egg Producers Federation).
Most councils allow people to have up to a dozen or so chooks - without having to jump through hoops and pay huge sums of money to earnest looking clip-boarders whose job it is to judge your suitability to indulge in the good life! There are usually a few things our local regulators don’t like: crowing roosters is one and having your hen pen too close to a house or the neighbour’s boundary is another.
Good food is as essential for chickens as it is you. It is generally said that a chicken needs between 125 and 150 grams of commercial chook food a day. Over a year that adds up to about 45kg per bird, or roughly about $50 in cost if bought from a stock food retail outlet. This can be reduced with food scraps, as well as grass and insects for those that free range, reducing the need for commercial food. Assuming a chicken provides a leisurely 250 eggs a year that works out to be about 20 cents per egg or $2.40 a dozen. Then there is the cost of buying the bird, housing, and the other incidentals like disinfectant, hay and so on.
To see how this compared to the retail price we sent the fearless Oily Rag Research team out in their chicken suits with pens in pocket and calculators in hand. They told us that when buying from your local supermarket there’s not much per-egg price difference between buying half a dozen eggs and a dozen, but the per egg cost of buying a tray of eggs (2½ dozen to a tray) is a lot cheaper (about 20% cheaper). In other words you will pay about as much for a 2½ dozen tray as you would for two one dozen cartons, which is a great saving if you actually need 2½ dozen eggs (you can, of course, swap the eggs you don’t need with friends for something useful). The bottom line is you can expect to pay a retail price of about 35c per egg, depending on the grade and brand.
Free-range and free-range organic eggs cost more – 20% to 60% more based on the sample of prices taken from one store. The reason for this is free range chickens have more time off! When the days get shorter they tend to take time out and as a consequence they produce about 240 eggs a year compared to 300 for the ones that are reared indoors with lights to lengthen the day-time (and ignoring strikes, lockouts, chicken riots and statutory holidays). That means the cost of their board and lodgings has to be recovered from fewer eggs, hence the higher cost per egg.
A reader writes, “I buy eggs from a local poultry farmer. The premium grade eggs are cheaper than the supermarkets but I get an even better deal because I buy seconds that are slightly cracked or have thin shells. These sell for about a third of the price of the premium grade eggs.”
If you are raising chickens we would love to hear your stories and tips. You can contact us via the oily rag website (www.oilyrag.co.nz) or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.
* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at www.oilyrag.co.nz. The book is available from bookstores and online at www.oilyrag.co.nz.