Is keeping chickens for eggs as profitable as it’s cracked up to be?
Eggs from hens kept in more humane conditions are becoming more sought-after in Australia as consumers become educated about the environment cage eggs can be produced in. The better appearance and taste of non-intensively farmed eggs is also a selling point. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for the improved quality and feel-good factor, particularly if they are familiar with the conditions the eggs are raised in. So, the questions are small farmers make money from an egg enterprise?
To Free Range or not Free Range?
Free range chickens can move about in a sufficient outdoor area, rather than being kept in a shed all day. Raised in these conditions, chickens participate in natural behaviours like dust bathing. The Australian definition of free-range chickens is a stocking density less than 10,000 per hectare however many small farms will have a much lower density than commercial enterprises. If you want to sell your produce as free range, then it is important that you meet all the conditions of national legislation.
What sort of chickens?
Yes, they are all super cute – but certain breeds of chickens are bred specifically for egg production, while some breeds are suitable for both meat and eggs. You need to consider aspects such as climate as well when choosing breeds that will lay well.
Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns do well in hotter parts of Australia, while Australorps, Plymouth Rocks and Sussex chickens can handle cooler climates.
You also need to decide what age to purchase your chickens at. Hatchlings are cheaper but will not be ready for laying for some time, whereas Point of Lay birds are ready to start producing eggs and consequently cost more.
Do you have the infrastructure?
Maintaining a high yield from each chicken by ensuring it is kept in good health and conditions will result in the best financial income. Safe shelter and protection from predators, nesting facilities and sufficient perches for all the chickens to roost safely are also essential.
You may want to consider guard animals Maremma dogs are renowned for their protective skills. Free range animals in Australia need a minimum amount of space for perching, or they may be declassified.
Safe food production
If you are planning to consume or sell eggs, you need to be aware of safe food handling and risks with eggs. Bacteria that live in dirt, feathers and droppings can enter eggs through cracks that are sometimes too fine to see.
Once inside the egg, bacteria such as salmonella quickly multiply to levels that can make people sick. If you are selling eggs, you need to understand how to manage contamination hazards and comply with the national standard and any state and local government requirements.
Some ways of managing food safety risks include:
Collecting eggs from your birds regularly, particularly in hot weather
Clean lightly soiled eggs with a clean, dry, abrasive cloth.
Providing fresh, high-quality feed and clean water to your birds daily
Isolating sick birds and seeking veterinary advice promptly
Discarding any cracked eggs and those from birds that appear unwell
Check any withholding periods for chickens that have been given medication
Cleaning coops and sheds regularly of manure and broken eggs and replace nesting material frequently.
Store and sell eggs in clean, undamaged packaging
Label cartons with a best before date (35 days from date of packing)
Keep eggs cool during storage and transport ideally below 20°C.
Is there a profitable market?
Before investing in all the work above and purchasing the quantities of chickens required to sell your eggs economically, you should check if there is a market for your eggs.
You will want to ensure that there is a way to get your eggs to customers efficiently (via a farmer’s market) and how much competition there is, to ensure you can make a profit.
Weigh up costs of food, vet bills, housing, packaging, marketing costs, labour, and weight this up against how many eggs your chickens can produce and the cost the market can support, to see if this venture will be profitable for you.