‘Chicken Math’: Effect of Scale & Feeding on Egg Profitability

The Effect of Scale & Feeding on Egg Profitability with Heritage Hens by Jeff Mattocks

I have been watching a great conversation surrounding heritage breeds on the APPPA Plus list. It’s a great dialogue surrounding the potential profitability of using standard-bred poultry, an increasingly popular topic. One thing to keep in mind is that the Black Australorps set an egg laying record in the 1920’s of 346 eggs laid in a 365 day year.

According to the Livestock Conservancy (1), “By 1922-23 ‘Australian Laying Orpingtons’ were setting records. At Geelong, Victoria, a pen of six ‘Australorp’ hens set a world record by laying 1857 eggs in 365 days – an average of 309.5 eggs each. At the Grafton contest in 1923-24 an Australorp hen laid 347 eggs in 365 days. Soon after a hen of the Burns bloodline broke the world record, laying 354 eggs in twelve months. Another hen set a new world record when she laid an amazing 364 eggs in 365 days!”

High lay rates are only possible under outstanding management, environment, and feed protocol. As I travel around and meet with producers, I find that simple and cost effective changes to management, environment, and feed would make a huge difference in the profitability bottom-line.

To help figure out cost per dozen, I created an Excel spreadsheet for calculating cost per dozen that calculates the cost of raising the pullet and the feed cost per dozen eggs. The output of sample calculations are included in Table 1. The worksheet I shared on the APPPAPlus list is a live worksheet that you can change numbers according to your production model. It’s demonstrating two management points: scale and feeding.

Table 1: Cost to Raise 100 Heritage Pullets

Part of the lack of profitability is scale of operation, especially while raising pullets from chick to point-of-lay. This is why buying replacement pullets is often a better option for operations trying to make money. The calculations in Table 1 demonstrate how the scale of the pullet flock can reduce the cost of production by making more efficient use of labor.

My challenge to you as a group is to work collectively to raise pullets in larger numbers for your production and to sell excess pullets in your area. Currently most ready to lay pullets are Sexlinks with beaks trimmed because Sexlinks (on paper) are one of the most profitable breeds to raise for egg production. However, the breeding for the Sexlink is for commercial confinement laying operations. 

The Sexlink is a great egg producer. But it is not a great forager, doesn’t have the same predator skills, and it’s not the most weather hardy breed. Whereas the heritage breeds are outstanding in weather hardiness, predator detection, and foraging.

I think that the right selection of heritage breed layers with outstanding management, environments, and feed are as profitable as a Sexlink when all things are taken into consideration.

The choice of breed has to fit your production model, management skills, and lifestyle.

Effect of Scale on Cost of Egg Production
Tables 1 and 2 compares a 100 bird and 5,000 bird flock from day 1 to laying age. For each line item, multiply the units x cost to arrive at the total. Then add the total column to determine the cost per pullet. 

Adjust the values according to your input and actual values. For example, these calculations make an assumption that you will use 20 pounds of feed and require 150 hours of labor to raise a flock of 20 week old pullets. The miscellaneous line can be adjusted to account for incidental and overhead costs as needed.

Table 2: Cost to Raise 5,000 Heritage Pullets

Cost of Egg of Production

Table 3 calculates the average rate of lay percentage for the whole lay cycle by feed amount. Layers should be fed 1 ounce of feed per day per pound of live weight for optimum production. A five pound hen would consume 5 ounces (.313 lbs.) of feed per day and would cost $0.157 per day to feed. If that hen laid at a 50% rate of lay, each dozen of eggs would cost $3.00 in feed (see Table 3 on page 24).

When hens are given free choice grains, they waste more feed and typically consume more feed than they need. An overfed hen weighs too much, which reduces her production.

Calculating a Cost Per Dozen
Let’s assume you have a 70% rate of lay with a feed cost per dozen of $3.22. A 70% rate of lay will yield approximately 250 eggs a year (e.g., 365 x .7).

If the cost to raise a pullet is $41.00, then each egg costs $0.164 or $1.97 per dozen. The cost of production including Feed Cost ($3.22) + Pullet Cost ($1.97) is $5.19 per dozen.

If the cost to raise a pullet is $20.42, then each egg costs $0.082 or $0.98 per dozen. The cost of production including Feed Cost ($3.22) + Pullet Cost ($0.98) is $4.20 per dozen.

This article was republished, with permission from  APPPA Grit Issue 97 in January/February 2017. Jeff Mattocks is livestock and poultry nutritionist with The Fertrell Company. He serves on the APPPA board of directors.

Livestock Conservancy. “Australorp Chicken.” https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/australorp