Co-Op Chickens

Including chickens in a cooperative farm enterprise brings eggs and meat into the equation.  Here, I'm going to give a look at the eggs.
With 200 families involved, 1 dozen eggs per week demands we produce 125,000 eggs per year.  Right now the bird flu has resulted in millions of birds being destroyed and a spike in egg prices.  In some areas, the price is reaching $3/dozen.  The national average is around $2/dozen, whereas the average rice before the flu outbreak was around $1.59/dozen.  These prices reflect egg production through industrial conditions.  The result is an inferior egg.  Organic, free range egg production is not only cheaper and better for the hen, the resulting egg is superior in every measurable way.  The market price of eggs of this quality lies in the $3-5/dozen range.

Using $3/dozen as the standard, the 10,400 dozen eggs the group would consume each year will bring $31200 in sales.  Using organic and permaculture methods, the cost of feeding the laying hens can be reduced to near zero.  This one project has the potential to recover half of the sharecropper fee.

Egg laying breeds are breeds which have been selectively bred to produce more eggs of better quality more consistently and do so on less feed.  In my opinion, Rhode Island Reds are the best durn hen out there.  First year production averages 180 eggs per hen.  In the second year this drops to around 150 eggs, with the 3rd year seeing 125 eggs.  Older hens will still produce, but at declining rates.  If we are paying for feed, declining production will mean that before their 4th year it will cost more to feed the hen than we would recover in egg sales.  The hen would have to go.  If we can get our feed costs down to negligible levels, the limiting factor for the life of the hen is the space available.  From the perspective of meat production, after about 3 years the only thing the bird is good for is stew.

In 3 years a decent layer will produce 450 eggs.  Giving those eggs a dollar figure, we arrive at over $100/chicken, plus the meat, feathers, blood, bone, offal, offspring, and the most valuable ancillary product: manure.  A hen consuming 4 ounces of feed each day turns that into herself, her progeny, and manure.  In 3 years, one hen will consume 275 pounds of food, put out 25 pounds of eggs, build a 6-8 pound body, and generate around 250 pounds of high nitrogen fertilizer absolutely free.  

With chicken tractors, chickens will prepare growing areas, clear away bugs and weeds, and blend that manure directly into the soil.  Giving the birds free access to compost heaps, they will actively forage for bugs, worms, and other edibles.  As they forage the will turn and aerate the heaps and add their manure directtly to it.  Access to pasture will see the hens add complexity to their diets as well as omega-3 from weeds and grasses which will show up as rich, deep colored yolks and eggs of superior flavor and texture.  

Commercial battery hens is not efficient.  All the advantages of using chickens as a farm implement are lost in favor of consistency and control.  It's no way to treat a valuable asset.

Looking at the production numbers, for our 125k eggs, we'll need about 1000 hens to meet internal demand.  These hens would need about 1 cubic yard of compost available to be self-sufficient with their feed.  Additionally, some pasture space will be needed for the work crew to rest, relax, and do their chicken thing.  A rotating paddock system will allow access to a small area at a time.  Several paddocks allow the chickens to work an area while other areas recover and replenish.  For 1000 hens, the total paddock area would be 1/2 an acre to an acre.  We would be able to use some of the crop are for ranging the hens in tractors.  By stacking functions in this manner the land requirement is reduced.  An orchard would be an ideal environment for the hens.

Public demand for free range, pastured, cage free, organic eggs is on the rise.  Demand has outstripped supply.  There are not enough good eggs being produced.  Increasing our flock size several times would barely scratch the surface.  There is a market out there demanding our product and offering a premium for it.  How large of an operation we start with would have to be looked at by the group in the early stages of planning.  A couple of acres of land would allow a couple thousand hens.

A food service operation would make good use of a steady supply of high quality eggs.  Baking, deli, breakfast, sandwiches, as an ingredient in potato salad,  pies, batters, sauces, quiche, puddings, add a pickled egg to the Five Dollar Lunch.  Eggs are one of the most versatile ingredients available and would be an integral part of the enterprise.

Some food for thought
1000 hens will need about an acre
The eggs produced by 1000 hens over the course of a year is upwards of $30k
My 3.6 acres, with a home, and one full time occupant running the heat and air conditioning excessively costs around $15k/yr, including groceries and the mortgage.

I can go on about the eggs.
I have yet to post a discussion about meat.


Cooperative Enterprise, Plan Outline