We go to a lot of trouble to produce eggs for ourselves in our backyard. Our flock of 16 hens requires daily attention, and I’ve spent countless hours – not to mention a fair amount of cash – building and tweaking different structures to house them.
Brooke and I recently relocated from the far corner of our former city to a small rural town on the other side of the metropolis. In between working on the farm and moving all of our belongings over to the new rental house, I’ve been scrambling to build a chicken tractor so we could bring the hens over and put them to work preparing our new lawn for next year’s vegetable garden.
The tractor took a lot more time and a bit more money than I anticipated, and after many sweaty evenings spent slaving away at the thing, I started asking myself:
Why am I doing this?
Why not just buy eggs from one of the innumerable producers in our area?
What is an egg really worth to me?
Where we live, eggs produced in industrial confinement operations are valued at about 8 cents each – and that’s if you don’t factor costs like processing, packaging, shipping, marketing, and distribution into the $0.99/dozen price tag. If you did include these costs, the eggs themselves might as well be a dime a dozen.
Chicken concentration camps have to produce millions of eggs in order to generate even a paltry revenue, and their low-quality product only serves to drive the price down across the board, making it difficult for small-scale producers to enter the market.
For eggs produced on pasture by chickens fed organic, non-GMO grain, the price in our area sits at around $5.00 per dozen. Our nine mature hens lay about 5 or 6 eggs per day on average, or something like three dozen a week.
So from a financial perspective, our girls produce $15 worth of eggs in a week, or $60 in a month. Those same birds eat around $15-20 in feed over that month, so we would theoretically come out ahead if we decided to sell all that we produce.
But profitability isn’t really the point, and that’s not why we do it. Returning to Roland and Landua’s eight forms of capital (you may want to read this blog post if you're not familiar), we can see that backyard chickens offer a vast wealth of non-monetary value.
The birds themselves represent a crucial form of living capital for us: their eggs are among the most protein- and nutrient-rich foods that we can produce for ourselves.
And when we have more eggs than we can eat, and decide to share with friends and family members, we generate a lot of social capital. Everyone who’s ever tried our eggs swears they’re the best they’ve ever eaten, and they’re a steal at $5/dz if we ask for cash in exchange.
Tending to the flock on a day-to-day basis offers a great deal of intellectual and experiential capital. I have constructed a few different structures for housing our birds over the last year, and each build has been a new opportunity to apply the knowledge I’ve acquired since the last time.
I love to experiment with novel ways of keeping our chickens happy, healthy, safe, and secure while they help to improve our soil, and I derive immense satisfaction from my efforts.
That last point leads to perhaps the most abstract, but no less important, form of value that an egg from our backyard offers: spiritual capital.
Chickens as we know them today simply don’t exist in nature, and they can’t get by without humans tending to them. In exchange for our care, they provide us with some of the healthiest food we can get our hands on.
This is a relationship that was forged thousands of years ago, and taking care of them imbues us with a higher sense of purpose.
By being good stewards of our flock and the land that surrounds us, we project positive energy out into the world, and it comes back to us in myriad forms. If this sounds a little too New-Age for your sensibilities, I can assure you that the results are quite tangible: happy, healthy chickens produce higher quality eggs. It’s really that simple.
And by giving our hens space to scratch and graze, we see the efforts of our good stewardship lead to healthier soil, which in turn produces more nutritious crops for us.
The value of an egg, therefore, is so much more profound than its monetary cost. By raising laying hens in our backyard, we develop a greater sense of self-reliance and forge deep bonds with the natural world. Try buying that for 99 cents from your local supermarket.