Whilst there are many benefits and advantages to keeping poultry, is it possible to make it pay?
I have been asking myself this question quite a bit recently, as I set out to just keep chickens for the eggs and breeding and never really considered any direct profit I could make. For a few years now there has been schemes designed to get people to keep chickens for profit, promising them a second income, most of them are wildly inacurate. This is nothing new as my research found " poultry culture for profit" from 1907 by the Rev T.W. Sturges, and I'm sure there must be many others from even earlier.
Sources of income are either the sale of meat, eggs, either for eating or hatching or live birds. Here in the UK it is only allowable to sell eggs from the driveway and ungraded unless you are a registered producer. Producing birds for meat is limited to yourself and family unless you are licensed.
Fresh free range or hatching eggs bring in regular cash.
Keeping laying hens intensively for the mass market is profitable, keeping upto a hundred thousand birds in caged, free range or barn environments for supermarkets and the like can definitely be an earner, especially as markets of this size are predictable and there are huge economies of scale to be had in transportation and feed purchase.
There is of course no economic sense in producing a product unless someone is willing to pay the price that will allow you to realize a reasonable profit. So do you keep cheap to purchase hybrids with predictable laying patterns or rare breeds, where the birds will have a higher value but less laying return?
What is the volume of product your customers want and how often will they want it?
How much "free" time do you need? - If you plan to maximize profits by having all the labour come from your own family, you must remember that birds need to be checked, fed, and watered daily. Eggs also need to be gathered frequently, processed, and refrigerated. Animal production can lead to a very restrictive lifestyle.
Do you have the size of operation that can produce a reasonable volume of product, and through the year, egg production is notoriously seasonal which is why commercial operations use lights to control the day length. Many buyers will not want to deal with producers who can only supply a small volume.
I conducted an very unscientific poll of a few of my fellow chicken keepers locally, all of whom sell their surplus eggs from rare breeds and raise small numbers of birds every year.
Profit in all cases was between £3 and £9 per bird per year and did not take into account the initial set up costs. £9 per bird isn't going to make anyone rich and the real benefit comes in the money they save you by providing you with eggs and chicken.
Selling a few rare breed hens won't make you rich but it may pay for your feed bill.
All of the people in my survey keep show quality poultry and sell the surplus, none of them keep hybrids just for eggs. The problem, in my eyes, that surfaces is when you keep birds purely for their financial benefit, you may begin to overlook the needs of the birds or just not care about the quality of the breed you produce.
One of the problems I have come across far too often is the sale of hatching eggs for very poor examples of breeds. The need to make a possible cash return on ones investment is leading to some really poor breeding and chicken keeping practises.