Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Law of Diminishing Returns (Chickens)

First a definition; The Law of Diminishing Returns is defined as -
1. any rate of profit, production, benefits, etc., that beyond a certain point fails to increase proportionately with added investment, effort, or skill
2. the fact, often stated as a law or principle, that when any factor of production, as labor, is increased while other factors, as capital and land, are held constant in amount, the output per unit of the variable factor will eventually diminish
(definition taken from ask.com)

Okay so I can hear some of you right now asking "What the crap does that mean?" To be honest that is a very fair question .These definitions are too scholarly. Here is a great example; If adding 100 pounds of fertilize to an acre of corn doubles crop yield, does that mean that adding 200 pounds will triple it? Maybe. And maybe not. As you increase fertilize in an acre of ground on the same crop there will come a point where the improvement of yield will start to decrease. If we see the decrease in improvement and we decide that even more fertilize is needed, at some point we will put so much fertilize on the ground that production will actually be worse than if we had used no fertilize at all.

Okay, so now to the chickens. If you have one hen, the most you could expect during the best time of year, with adequate nutrition, and reasonable care is one egg per day. With only one chicken you can easily provide all of the food it needs by allowing the chicken access to green grass or by feeding it your families vegetable scraps. By adding a second hen, you will receive two eggs per day, but you will have to provide a greater food source. If you were to add a rooster, he does not provide eggs, but he does provide the ability to produce replacements for the current flock. Allowing for replacements to be produced also reduces usable outputs (eggs). Every time we add a unit of production (a hen or rooster) they will use the available resources faster.
Right now we have 3 hens and 2 roosters. One of the roosters has a date with the cooking pot very soon. We will continue to keep 3 hens and 1 rooster. This means our maximum production will be 3 eggs per day. We do not eat 3 eggs per day. In fact most of the time we only cook eggs on Saturday. When I cook eggs on Saturday morning, I cook at least a dozen eggs at one time. Okay, so 7 days of production is 21 eggs, once a week I cook 12 leaving an average of 9 unused eggs per week. That is no problem, we let them build up and boil them to either eat as is or use in potato, or chicken salad. This means that our chickens output does not produce a surplus. There are actually times that we still have to buy eggs. I need another hen. I am not trying to produce a surplus. I am not interested in selling eggs. I just want to harvest eggs, allow the hens to raise a clutch of chicks or two each year and put some meat in the freezer.

I use my chickens for several different purposes. 1). of course is eggs, 2) meat, 3) fertilize, and 4) I use them to prep my garden. In the nest box and roost area I use wheat straw as bedding. Every time I clean out the chicken pin I compost the litter. Chicken manure is one of the best types of fertilizer there is, but if you do not compost it first the nitrogen content is so high that you can damage your garden plants. By composting the manure, the nitrogen is reduced and it becomes a true soil conditioner.

Our chicken pin cost less than $200.00 to build. It is portable. Another thing that I use the chickens for is for garden site preparation. We move the chicken pin from time to time. This provides the chickens with forage. In the right conditions chickens can forage as much as 30% of their needed feed. This reduces our cost of keeping the chickens. If you leave the chicken pin in one spot long enough there will not be a single sprig of grass left. By allowing them to stay long enough to take out all of the grass and seeds in a section of the garden, this means that I will have to do less weeding. They also fertilize the ground and it takes a lot less effort to till the ground. When used this way the chickens have a better diet, they get to scratch around and do natural chicken things and they benefit my family in more ways than just providing eggs and meat. For me this is the best way to utilize chickens. They have several jobs and they do them well.

Now the other side. My aunt has 54 chickens. She collects an average of 48 eggs per day. She sells eggs for $2.00 per dozen. If she were able to sell every single egg they collect, she would gross $8.00 per day. One problem, she cannot sell all the eggs she collects. There is another problem; her pin is stationary, all of the grass is gone. This means that every calorie that those chickens eat must be provided, purchased, or grown by my aunt. Those chickens have no ability to provide for themselves. The chickens also are not able to provide all of the benefits that they could in a different environment.

Many times smaller and simpler is better. It is extremely difficult to produce enough eggs to make a profit. I believe in the homestead environment it is best to produce enough for your family and maybe enough to give some away. The KISS principle almost always pays off, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Sometimes the best profit from an endeavor is self reliance.

Remember to always Keep It Rural.

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