More Egg Economics – How Forrest Pritchard Makes It Work

Shake a bush at your next farming conference, and see how many wanna-be chicken farmers fall out. In 2013 alone, Suzanne McMinn’s Chickens in the Road and Lisa Steele’s Fresh Eggs Daily were each best selling books, and the cover of Kristin Kimball’s hit farmemoir The Dirty Life pictured her with a chicken cradled beneath one arm. Murray McMurray’s hatchery is so nice they named it twice, and from its glorious website one can order breeds as whimsical as Silver Laced Wyandottes to sturdy New Hampshires to fanciful Blue Andalusians. But what makes us so clucking crazy about laying hens? As Josh Vaillancourt explains in his excellent (ok, ok, eggscellent) article Small Farm Egg-Onomics, romantic notions of chicken ownership frequently wither beneath the gaze of financial scrutiny. Though I’ve raised laying hens for decades, our farm remains just as vulnerable to these economic realities as any upstart poultry ingenue. So now that Josh has provided a healthy dose of dollars and cents, allow me to ‘lay’ a few hard-won opinions on you. 1) Everyone loves chickens… as long as they’re laying How well did your hens perform this year? 75% laying rate? 70%? Because if your percentage was less than 70, chances are you’re losing money… an experience I know all too well. A farmer can easily work three, four or fi

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2 thoughts on “More Egg Economics – How Forrest Pritchard Makes It Work

  1. Lovely article.

    In our experience, it’s the “Time Vampire” part that seems to make them the most unprofitable. Where do those 6 person-hours a day go? It was running us about 2 hrs/day for 200 birds, which cost more than feed. 6 hours for 1000 cuts labor costs by 1/3, so clearly something you’re doing is working better.

    Would you please be more specific about how economies of scale factor in?

    With a flock that size, how did you manage disease? Death loss was our other biggest theoretically controllable cost.

    Thank you.

    1. The economy of scale kicks in around 400 birds for us because of infrastructure and chore costs intersecting with a flock size that maintains a reasonable pecking order. More anecdotal than anything else, perhaps.

      As far as disease goes, I posed this question to my farmhand of 20 years: “Can you ever remember our hens getting pneumonia or avian flu or cocsidiosis (sp?)” and he shook his head ‘no’. I think constant access to the outdoors, fresh bedding and aeration of the coop floor and clean feeders/waterers are the key here. As far as death loss, 99.9% is due to predation and accidents (smothered, trampled, etc.), with unexplained death/disease being extremely rare.

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