Want ‘Free’ Eggs in Montana? Do the Math Before You Buy Chicks
Egg prices are soaring.
Eggs have traditionally been one of the most affordable foods. I recall the days of being young, single, and broke. When my paycheck was gone, at least I could scrounge up enough spare change to get a dozen eggs. It wasn't that long ago that you could commonly find eggs on sale for around a dollar a dozen. Everyday prices gradually edged to around $2-ish per dozen in recent years and in the last month or so prices have escalated drastically in Billings and nationwide, thanks to avian bird flu that has been decimating poultry in the US this year.
$5 a dozen?! Get out of here with that nonsense.
Three weeks ago I found 24-egg cartons of cage-free Kirkland eggs at Costco for $5 (limit two). Last week, that same 24-pack had increased to $6.39. Still, a decent deal compared to some other grocery stores in Billings, where customers report paying $4 a dozen yesterday (1/9) at Winco. Perhaps these crazy egg prices are causing you to consider getting your own chickens.
So you want backyard chickens, huh?
Many communities in Montana allow a limited number of backyard chickens within city limits, including Billings. Residents are allowed up to six hens (no roosters) and there are a handful of rules in the City Ordinance that chicken owners must follow (read the PDF HERE). Having your own chickens can be quite rewarding, but before you race down to Shipton's or Tractor Supply to buy a dozen cute little baby chickens this spring, you should probably run the numbers on the associated costs to get your "free" eggs.
Backyard chickens can be more expensive than you think.
I would love to have a few hens at my house, but I can't (legally). For reasons unbeknownst to me, backyard hens are not permitted in Laurel. We had chickens when I was a kid on the farm and my mom still has egg hens (and ducks!) at their place in the Gallatin Valley. The allure of "free" eggs is certainly attractive, but nothing is truly free. In a recent thread on the Billings Customer Service Watchdog Facebook page, a local chicken owner broke down her expenses for 17 birds that include 15 laying hens.
- She gets 7 - 10 eggs per day on average.
- She pays $24.99 for a bag of feed.
- She pays $14 for a bag of cracked corn.
- She pays $50 for a bag of chicken treats.
- She supplements the hens' protein needs with table scraps - free.
- Her estimated cost is around $100 a month to feed 17 chickens.
This poster didn't include the cost of heat lamps, bedding, straw, etc. Not to mention the time spent cleaning the chicken coop and washing/collecting eggs. She estimated her break-even cost on the "free" eggs is right around $4.50 a dozen. Sure, she could probably save a few pennies per pound if she was buying chicken food by the ton, but if you think you can raise your own chickens and get eggs cheaper than from the giant corporate egg producers, you might want to think again.
Other benefits of having your own hens.
Trust me, homegrown eggs are simply the best. They taste better, they look better (deep orange yolks!) and you can control what your chickens eat. Organic? Non-GMO? Free-range? You bet. Another upside is that when the next egg shortage empties the grocery store shelves, you can always walk out to your backyard and get some eggs.