When he factors in his up-front costs for the coop setup and chickens and the monthly bill for organic feed versus what he's getting in eggs and free chicken manure for his garden, it doesn't look good: "The geekier ones among you may have already noticed that we face a serious problem. The value produced by two hens comes to $27.66 p/month, while the cost of organic feed alone is $31.50! We’re losing $4 p/month, and will certainly never recover the up-front costs."
It's all about paying for the feed. Levin charts out what happens if you can rely on 40 percent of your chickens' food coming from kitchen scraps and scavenging bugs and other stuff around the yard, and finds you will break even on your chickens in 14 months if you use organic feed. (If you go for nonorganic, 6.) He also shares some sensible tips for backyard chicken farmers that can help them make their flock more cost-effective.
"At the end of the day, it would be completely irrational to decide whether or not to acquire backyard or urban chickens based on this financial analysis," concludes Levin. "Obviously, no one would perform such an analysis in order to determine whether or not to get a dog—and they don’t even lay eggs!" Instead, he and commenters point out that there are many nonmonetary motivations for raising chickens, from emergency preparedness to personal satisfaction.