Egg Farming: An Excuse to Raise Chickens in Your Backyard
While produce comes in and out of season, eggs are always "in." That's right, for those with the inclination, egg farming can be an eggs-cellent opportunity to eggs-ponentially increase your side income. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Yes, it’s a real option: egg farming is a great side job for anyone who loves spending time with animals, working outdoors and sharing fresh food with others.
Such is the case for Pomfret, Maryland's Dana Kee, owner of Moose Manor Farms; and Appalachian, Kentucky's Barb Webb of RuralMom.com -- two eggs-perts who were willing to share their eggs-pertise with The Penny Hoarder's readers.
Ready to learn whether you’ve got what it takes to become an egg farmer?
Getting Started an Egg Farmer
You don’t need a ton of training or education to be successful in this business, but you will need to know what you’re doing.
"A love for animals and a basic understanding of care and feeding of chickens is a good place to start," Kee told me. "Chickens have few requirements... Give them a little space, fresh air and predator-proof nighttime housing. [Also], many states offer classes for a small fee -- or there are folks like me who offer workshops and 'Chicken 101' courses on-farm to potential chicken keepers."
Speaking with a local chicken expert or taking one of these courses can help you feel out whether raising chickens is a good fit for you -- and teach you the skills you’ll need to be successful. Another option is to test-drive your new side business by renting chickens from a local farmer or business. This way, you can see whether raising hens is really all it’s cracked up to be, or whether you’re better off finding a different gig.
The Legalities of Raising Chickens and Selling Eggs
Of course, it's not all about your love for fowl and having enough space -- there are legal qualifications to consider as well. Some cities and regions have bylaws limiting the number of chickens you can keep and the size or location of your property. Make sure to consult your local extension agency to find out about any rules or restrictions in your area prior to beginning your farming adventures.
"To sell the eggs commercially or at farmer's markets, check with your local extension eggs for rules and regulations in your area,” said Webb. “Many locations will require a county permit or safety courses to be completed prior to selling."
Kee agreed, adding, "About once a year the MDA [Maryland Dept. of Agriculture] will send out someone to test my henhouse and yard for salmonella. [But] it takes about 5 minutes, they work around my schedule, and it's not as intrusive as it might sound."
How Much Money Can Egg Farmers Earn?
"How many [eggs] you will sell or how much you will make is truly only dependent upon how many chickens you have and how many eggs you collect,” said Webb.
On average, if your hens are young, you can expect one egg per chicken, per day. Production may stave off in colder weather or with age. However, younger hens may produce two eggs within a 24-hour period if they’re healthy and warm.
So what will these eggs be worth? Your earnings depend on your region, according to Kee. "The going rate in my area of Maryland for organic chicken eggs is between $4-$5 per dozen and for organic duck eggs around $8 per dozen.”
Kee charges $4 per dozen for both her duck and chicken eggs. “[M]ost folks I sell to have a standing order each week and I get a few extra 'ad hoc' requests so I'm usually sold out,” she explained. “I could probably charge more, but I kind of have a thing about making good food affordable for everyone so I really just try to cover the cost of feed."
Finding Customers and Managing Inventory
Friends, family, and neighbors also make great first customers, said our experts -- and often, that’s all it takes for your business to snowball.
“Once the word gets out that you are selling them, unless you have an area that is already saturated with egg sellers, it's easy to run out of inventory quickly!” said Webb. "Before you begin selling, be sure to have a little bit of inventory on hand so you can accommodate all of the requests."
Encourage your customers, friends and family members to save their egg cartons for you to reuse, and make ordering from you as easy as possible. "Be sure to get your customer's phone numbers and offer to call them each week to let them know what days you will have fresh eggs for sale, take their orders and set up appointments for pick up,” recommended Webb. “This way you won't have to worry about too many people stopping by at odd hours or being disappoint[ed] to learn you are out of town when they want to get a dozen."
Eggs have a shelf life of three weeks or more if stored properly in the refrigerator, according to research from Colorado State University -- though many backyard farmers disagree, noting that their eggs are keep well for weeks at room temperature.
“Production slows down in the winter, so do keep that in mind,” noted Webb. “You may want to charge a little extra to help compensate for your lower inventory" during the colder months.
Unexpected Perks of Egg Farming
Both of our sources reported having a wonderfully good time with their animals, as well as better-quality food in their home kitchens. These results aren’t surprising, but they also both shared a feeling of closeness and contribution to their communities.
"Amazing conversations with locals, tall tales from neighbors and plenty of baked goods are all a result of selling eggs in your community!" said Webb. "It's a great way to make new friends and get to know your community members!"
Your Turn: Would you try egg farming as a side business?
Lauren Tharp is a freelance writer and the owner of LittleZotz Writing. Through her website, Lauren helps small businesses bring their brands to life through written content; and she also helps fellow writers get started as freelancers via weekly blog posts, bi-monthly newsletters, free e-books, and one-on-one mentoring.