If you love animals, an egg business may be perfect for you. You can do this in the city (as long as you have a backyard) and the country. It’s a great way for kids to learn responsibility while they’re earning money – and the whole family gets fresh, free eggs as a bonus!

PROS:
— Fresh eggs from urban and suburban backyard farms are a growing trend as people increasingly pay attention to what they eat
— You can make good money eventually

CONS:
— The start-up costs are high
— There’s a fair amount to learn before you get started
— You may be restricted in how many chickens you can have (if any) depending on the local laws or Homeowner Association restrictions where you live
— It requires a fair amount of work. (You need to devote at least some type of work to this business every day.)

How to get started:
NOTE: Before you start your business, you should read the page on this website entitled “things to think about before you get started.” After you have taken the preliminary steps for starting any business, you can take the specific steps outlined below.

The first thing you want to do if you are thinking of starting a business having to do with chickens is to explore the laws and rules you will have to obey. If you live in an urban or suburban areas, chances are there will be local laws about how many chickens you can have, how far the chicken coop must be from your home (and neighbors’ homes), whether you can have a rooster, etc. You night also need a permit. So get to Googling, and it’s always best to supplement internet research with calls to local offices to confirm that websites are up to date, complete and clear.

Even if there are no local laws, you may live in a development with Homeowner Association rules – check your bylaws or talk to your HOA officers.

The next thing you need to do is decide what kind of chicken business you want to start. The simplest is a business in which you own mature chickens that lay eggs (known simply as “layers”) and you sell the eggs. You can easily get mature chickens; you do not have to raise them yourself from chicks. In fact, raising them from chicks involves a lot more equipment, expense and work, so we would not recommend this for the average beginner (and we will not address this article to anyone interested in raising chickens from chicks). Your best bet is to purchase pullets, which are hens between the age of 15-22 weeks (they begin to lay around 24 weeks).

Get a chicken coop and accessories

So assuming you want to create an egg-selling business with mature chickens, the only equipment you will need is a chicken coop with a “run,” an area for the chickens to run around in where they can be protected from predators. A good place to get chicken coops is from a local store like Tractor Supply Company. Local hardware stores may also offer coops, supplies, feed and sometimes chickens. Specialty urban farming stores are also becoming popular and may be in your area. You can also check online for coops, but buyer beware – you may not be able to judge size and quality adequately from an online store and shipping costs may be exorbitant.

By the way, if you (or your parents) are the handy type, you might be able to save money by building your own coop and run. A good website is Backyard Chickens, which has thousands of designs with step-by-step directions for building your own coop. (That website also has lots of great advice about caring for chickens.)

But before you buy you have to decide how many chickens you are going to have in your business. That, of course, depends on how much work you want to do and how much money you want to spend. A good number to start with is five; that’s enough to generate a large number of eggs to sell and to cover you in case you lose a chicken or two for whatever reason, but not so many that it will drive up your costs and cause you to run afoul (get it? Ha ha!) of laws and rules in the average urban or suburban area.

As we write this article, The Tractor Supply Company has a chicken coop and run on their website for $410 that’s big enough for six standard-sized chickens. It’s about 10-feet long by 2-feet wide so it can fit into the average backyard. You will have to pick up the coop from the store and assemble it yourself once you get it home, so don’t rush out and buy chickens just yet.

Of course, you’re going to need a lot more than a coop and run. Think of the coop as the house; once you get it assembled, it still needs furniture, food and decorations. (OK, just kidding about the decorations – chickens don’t care about that and they need very little furniture.) Most of what chickens need (e.g. nesting boxes where they will lay their eggs, pull out trays for cleaning, roosting bars) comes with the coop. But other stuff, you will have to buy.

At a minimum you will need a feeder and waterer. Tractor Supply sells a feeder that can hold seven pounds of food for $12, and a five-quart waterer for $8. You will want pine shavings for the floor of the coop – you can get a bag big enough to do the job for $7. If you live in an area that has cold winters and want the chickens to continue to lay throughout the winter, you will want a heat lamp; with the bulb, expect to pay about $20.

Finally, you need food – a 50-pound bag of chicken feed from Tractor Supply will cost you $14.

Get some chickens

Now you are ready to buy your chickens. As we stated above, for the purpose of this article we are assuming you are going to have a business with mature chickens. There are plenty of places to buy them but you might do better on price if you find a small farm or an individual in your area. (In our search, prices ranged from as low as $30 for five red chickens from Whiffletree Farm in Virginia, to $125 for five Rhode Island Red pullets from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. (The cheaper chickens were cross breeds, but the website promised that they are well cared for and would produce 4-5 eggs per chicken per week when mature.)

And you may want to let people know about your business. You can create a website for virtually nothing but you may want to print up some fliers to distribute around the neighborhood – that can be done for next to nothing, too, assuming you already have a printer. But you will probably have to replace your ink cartridges if you print more than a handful of fliers, and that might set you back $40-100 depending on your printer.

OK, let’s do the math on start-up costs:

  • Coop and run, $410
  • Feeder, $12
  • Waterer, $8
  • Pine shavings, $7
  • Heat lamp and bulb (for cold areas), $20
  • Chicken feed, $14
  • Chickens, $30-$125
  • Marketing, $40-100

TOTAL: $540-$693

NOTE: Don’t forget that the above prices do not include sales tax or shipping costs (if you order online) and those could add considerably to the total cost.

These are just the monetary start-up costs; you also want to spend time learning about the care and feeding of chickens. An excellent place to go is Backyard Chickens. Also, try searching YouTube for “egg-selling businesses.” A good video we’d recommend comes from King’s Roost, a website devoted to Do-It-Yourselfers. (It’s 16 minutes long but worth it.)

Other considerations

Be aware that ewggs are food, and to sell food you will have to comply with any laws in your area. Those laws, for instance, may affect where you are allowed to storethe eggs and how the boxes must be labelled. You may also be required to undergo inspections to make sure that your chicken coop is sanitary.

Fortunately, the ever helpful website Backyard Chickens has compiled a link to the laws related to egg selling in all 50 states.

How much to charge:
In every business, you want to cover your expenses and, of course, earn a profit. Your start-up costs are at least $539 (not including tax), and keep in mind that those are just start-up costs. Pine shavings will last around two months before you need to restock, a 50-pound feed bag will last about a month. So, over the course of a year, expect to may somewhere in the neighborhood of $42 for pine shavings and $162 for feed.

Then there’s the cost of empty egg cartons. How many will you need? That depends on how many eggs your chickens lay, of course. And that’s not a simple answer.

According to My Pet Chicken, it depends on the breed: “For instance, young Leghorns may lay 300 eggs per year. Young Cochins may lay only 100 or so. Sumatras may lay 50 or fewer.”

Let’s use a Rhode Island Red as our example (They are one of the most popular backyard chicken breeds because they are easy to care for and lay lots of eggs, according to various websites). A Rhode Island Red can be expected to lay about 250 eggs per year, according to The Happy Chicken Coop website.

So if you have five Rhode Island Red chickens, expect to get about 1,250 eggs in a year. That’s going to require 104 cartons. You can order them from the Egg Carton Store at a cost of 125 for $68.  (Adding a personal touch with a sticker from your business will bring the cost to around $100.)

This all assumes nothing goes wrong. You may want to have some money in reserve in case you have unexpected expenses (e.g. call a vet if your chickens show sign of illness). Let/s out $200 into an emergency fund.

So let’s add up the ongoing annual costs:

  • Pine shavings, $35
  • Egg cartons $68
  • Chicken feed, $149
  • Emergency fund, $100.

TOTAL: $352

Adding together start-up and ongoing costs, you could put out as much as $1,145 in the first year. You’ll need to generate at least that much to earn a profit.

While there’s no sure way to determine how much you can get for a carton of fresh eggs, a forum on Backyard Chickens suggests that the going rate is $2.50-$4 per carton. If you sell every one of those 104 cartons produced by your Rhode Island Reds at $2.50, you will earn $260. In other words, you will lose money in the first year. If you sell them for $4, you would still lose money in the first year – but you would make a profit of about $65 in the second year.

And if nothing goes wrong and you don’t have to replenish your emergency fund, you would earn about $165.

It all seems like a lot of work for not a lot of money but doesn’t every successful business start out that way? You can also earn more money by lowering your start-up costs – for instance you can build the coop yourself – as well as your annual costs by using home-made material instead of pine shavings and table scraps for food. Of course, you have to become a little more knowledgeable about what you’re doing, but it can be done.

And you can add more chickens, which would increase your egg production and your profits.

One of the great things about this kind of business is that, if you don’t sell all of your product, you can consume the eggs yourself; that brings new meaning to the expression “eating a loss.”

Taking it to the next level:

  • You can start breeding and selling chickens, not just eggs.
  • Start selling specialty eggs, e.g. multicolored eggs from Easter Egg chickens.
  • Join a community of backyard farmers (search on Facebook) and learn and grow with them.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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