At first. some people flinch when they hear the price of our eggs. Even when compaired to local organic eggs the price is still high. However, it cost us four dollars and fifty-four cents to produce one dozen eggs. We are small and do not have the economies of scale that would help keep cost down and allow us to be price competative. How we raise and treat our layers is not conventional but more in synergy with a balanced eco-system for soil health, pest management, fruit and vegetable production and environmental sustainability.
Organic Hairy Vetch seed, when we first started buying it in fifty-pound bags, cost twenty-eight dollars. That was four years ago, today that same fifty-pound bag costs one hundred and twenty dollars. Organic winter rye has gone up about forty percent. Organic chicken feed cost fifteen dollars for fifty pounds, now it is twenty dollars for the same fifty pounds. Diesel prices went up and never came down as well as, everything else that we need that is delivered to us, via freight or is made from petrol derivatives.
Add insurance costs, fees for certification and licenses, egg cartons, labels, boxes for bulk delivery and more. You need a license to sell eggs; the eggs must be weighed, dated, and graded. The scale you use to weigh the eggs needs a license and is inspected. We need to document how many eggs are layed each day, any bird losses or gains per year and we are suffering losses again. We think it is a neighbor's dog. Under State and County law I am allowed to shoot the dog and still go after the owner for economic losses. Here is one of those philisophical mores being tested against the almighty dollar. I will have to explore this one later.
Each chicken cost about one dollar as a day old peep. Because they will be organic, you need to spend the first three weeks of their life keeping them from getting Coccidiosis. Until that time, their immune system is under-developed and cannot protect themselves from their own fecal matter. This labor and all labor associated with their daily and long term maintenance is charged at eight dollars an hour.
Next is tilling and preparing plots of land for the chickens’ new home. This is a year round function, below is a piece of land that was used to grow corn in 2009. We tilled and what you are seeing is hairy vetch, some winter rye and some brown leaves.
We will move the chickens onto this field eight feet at a time. The electric fence gets moved, then the chicken house winter set up and all goes with it. This brings me to another cost, electricity for heating the water buckets and a heat lamp when temperatures drop below freezing. Another interesting note is that the land that has hairy vetch and rye freezes last. When we move the fence, each post has a spike to go into the ground. If you are outside the perimeter of the seed mix, the ground is frozen solid and impenetrable. A few inches into the mix and the spike goes in no problem. Eventually even the best grass is frozen solid but until it does, we use the fence when moving the pens.
What you see below is the soil after the chickens have been on and moved off. It looks bad to the untrained eye, but what you are seeing is some of the greatest naturally developed soil a farm could ask to have. The layers eat the vetch, a legume, and the rye, which in turn affects the taste of the egg. At least that is what we think our customers are talking about when they say, "These are the best eggs we've ever had". A humbling statement that makes me blush but the fact they are repeat customers is what really confinced us to stick with this particular production model.
The ground is fertile, devoid of weeds, most subterranean and low flying insects, good and bad are gone, and there is a natural tilth and humus. The ground is soft and on relatively flat land. Other parts of the farm we change the model a little bit in order to stop soil erosion.
The layers eat all the grasses, scratch up the soil and leave nutrients behind. At the top right of the picture is our Rooster and two-three of his companions. In the spring I will come again, surface till and lay down hairy vetch. red clover and rye. If need be we can put chickens back on it but we have other areas that need attention too.
This is a cyclical process; we plant vegetables, and then let the soil rest by planting nitrogen fixing grasses and winter rye that develops a deep taproot making the soil expand. The layers are moved on, and then off to another plot of lush fresh green garden. We then use the land that has been resting the longest to grow the season's vegetables. While the other three pieces of land are naturally recouperaring the nutrients and minerals helps us reduce our fertilizer needs.
Then there are the costs associated with medical supplies to take care of wounds and do examinations. It is not much but it is a cost.
After most all of the costs are added up for the month we then take the total dozen count and come up with our revenue. Our last calculation came out to $4.54 a dozen. When laying production drops, there are fewer eggs to sell and that cost number rises. You still have the same amount of layers eating the same amount of food; you just have less revenue potential that makes the loss greater. Did I mention that I graduated from business school? I have said we are in it for the health but I even wonder if I need to get a check up from the neck up.
By Local: It is not just a fad anymore.