Shocked at the price of eggs? Growing your own is more complicated than you may think

Raising chickens, even in a backyard, is a full-time project

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
The price of eggs may have you thinking it might be easier to raise your own chickens. It isn't.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

You’ve probably seen the price of eggs, and muttered under your breath. If you have had the thought of just raising your own, get out your pencil and think again. Having fresh eggs is more complicated than just putting a few chickens in the backyard.

Colorado State University, the state’s agricultural university, has cooperative extension offices in most counties. In Eagle, three people run that office.

Horticulture and small acreage management specialist Denyse Schrenker said while the price of eggs has risen, she actually hasn’t fielded many calls from would-be poultry producers.

Still, she has some advice for those who might want to put some hens in the backyard.

First, it takes dedication to the project to raise backyard poultry.

Town residents need to check either local zoning or homeowner association rules. While backyard coops are allowed in the older part of Eagle, they’re forbidden in Eagle Ranch. Similarly, the homeowners association in Dotsero’s Two Rivers Village also bans backyard coops.

In Garfield County, the rules vary from town to town. Most municipalities allow backyard chickens in some older parts of town, but typically not the newer subdivisions.

Then there’s the matter of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which has decimated flocks around the state. That virus carries easily and can be brought into a coop by wild birds.

Beyond that, Schrenker noted that backyard birds also need to eat the right diet and receive immunizations. They also need protection from predators.

“Dogs can be big egg-stealers,” Schrenker noted.

Jenny Leonetti has for a number of years run the county’s 4-H and youth development programs.

Leonetti noted that the influenza outbreak forced 4-H kids to move about 60 birds out of a shared barn, and the Eagle County Fair & Rodeo’s youth poultry competition had to be held virtually.

While most 4-H birds are raised for meat, not egg production, Leonetti said the process of bringing a bird to adulthood takes some time. Leonetti said a chick purchased today won’t start laying for six months or so. And hens are less productive in the winter months.

Besides the cost, there’s steady work. If you’re going out of town for a weekend, someone still has to feed the birds. In the winter, someone will likely have to clear ice from water bowls.

Then there’s the fact that chickens sometimes don’t go where you expect them to.

Leonetti noted that one family in Eagle had a backyard coop, but the birds ended up on the home’s back deck, and soon left waste all over it.

If you want to go through all that, there’s also the matter of what to do when a hen no longer lays eggs.

If you want to eat those old birds, “you need to boil those for about three days” before they’re edible, Leonetti said.

By the numbers

$4.59: Least expensive price for a dozen eggs on City Market’s website.
$1,500: Price of a 12-chicken coop at Tractor Supply Co.
$44: Tractor Supply price of a chick brooder/coop heater.
$20: Tractor Supply price for 50 pounds of poultry feed.

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