For years, we've had to endure the stupidity of people questioning the economics of the home vegetable garden–spoiled people like memoirist William Alexander of the $64 Tomato, who seem to feel that it's impossible to grow vegetables without first hiring a landscape designer and setting a five-figure budget.
Now, courtesy of William Neuman of The New York Times, we've got the same clueless economics applied to chickens. Yes, the conventional wisdom goes, the eggs and meat are better if you have the birds in the backyard–but anybody who thinks he is saving money in this downturn is fooling himself, because a hobbyist can never compete with a disgusting chicken factory for efficiency.
Nonsense. Organic eggs are $4.50 a dozen at my supermarket, but my eggs from the backyard cost me almost nothing. Why? Because my hens don't seem to really like the organic food I buy and so eat almost none of it. What they DO like are the kitchen scraps and garden greens I give them, bits of fatty leftover lamb, discarded cabbage leaves, the bread crusts my six-year old refuses to eat, and the dandelions I pull out of my flower bed. I no longer compost much from the kitchen. I let the hens do the composting for me, and they do a much better job.
As for the initial investment in chicks, one of my hens got broody this summer–in other words, decided to sit on her sterile eggs until they hatched or kingdom come. My country neighbor has fertilized eggs and would have given me a few to hatch out. I thought about it, but we're going on vacation and I don't want to be fretting about tiny chicks from afar.
Next year? I'll recognize the signs of broodiness instantly, and get my next generation of layers for free.
As far as the imputed cost of my labor is concerned, let's put it this way: My chickens are far less trouble than any other member of my household, and that includes husband, children, three cats–and four useless but ornamental backyard goldfish. And none of the above gives me eggs.