SAN ANTONIO — Lots of people are squawking about the high price of eggs and many are considering raising backyard chickens as a way to save money, but does that work?
Chicken fanciers say there are many costs that people don’t stop to consider, and inside city limits there are lots of rules that must be followed.
Still, many people think the advantages make the effort worthwhile.
School chicken project
Leading a volunteer work day at Democracy Prep Academy on Rigsby Avenue, gardening guru and outdoor education advocate Stephen Lucke told the crowd who showed up to help kids grow healthier
“The coop is not big enough for the amount of chickens we want to have here,” Lucke said.
The school is expanding an already successful chicken project, where kids know it’s chickens first, then eggs.
Eighth-grader Jeremiah Cruz has been helping out all along, and he showed up to do some of the heavy lifting on the expansion project.
Cruz said anyone thinking about raising chickens needs to do their research first.
“They need their food and they need their nutrients. There are certain types of food you need to give to a baby chicken,” Cruz said.
"Chickens help build that sense of community and a sense of shared ownership. We take turns taking care of the chickens, either cleaning out the coops, harvesting the eggs," Democracy Prep Principal Virginia Voice said.
But, do backyard chickens pay off for the average family?
“It’s not like you just put them in your backyard and they lay eggs for you,” Chicken mom Kim Rocha who has been advocate for years said.
Kim and her husband Frank Rocha know. Their Facebook group, San Antonio Backyard Chickens, has more than 6,400 chicken-loving followers here who know there are start-up costs.
Kim said group members are very supportive, especially of those who are new to the flock.
“You can be looking at a couple hundred dollars up into almost limitless,” Frank Rocha said.
Raising chickens in San Antonio
What the city code says
In addition to the expense, inside city limits, it’s important to follow city and HOA codes…and there are a lot of rules about numbers, distance from neighbors, sanitation and more.
“You can now have up to eight chickens and one rooster without an issue in your backyard," Lisa Norwood of the city’s Animal Care Services division said.
Norwood said many people who’ve never been exposed to the concept don’t realize that hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs, and many times roosters don’t make good neighbors in a dense urban environment.
Norwood said in addition to rules about setbacks from neighbors, there are guidelines for humane treatment of the flock.
“So when you're planning for your backyard, coop, ensure that that coop is at least 50 feet from any surrounding neighbors,” Norwood said.
And she said there needs to be enough room in their home on your range.
“So as an example, each poultry needs to have at least six feet of living space in in their coop and in their run,” Norwood said, adding that cleanliness is a factor as well.
“Chickens poop. Chickens poop a lot,” Norwood said.
See more from Lisa Norwood's interview (article continues underneath):
Frank Rocha said once you do some research and watch how other bird lovers have found success, life with chickens gets easier.
“We have a routine we go through every morning. We scoop the poop just like we would do cat litter.”
“There's always the salmonella health risk that always comes up,” Kim added, but she said education is the key.
And chickens can’t just run wild throughout a neighborhood. Animal codes could put you in hot water, with citations if chickens escape from your yard or they are not cooped up at night.
“Those tickets can range from $250 on up. Pretty pricey if you consider that they are per violation. It's a lot easier to go to the store and pay for the eggs,” Norwood said
Which costs less: the chicken or the egg?
Almost everyone agrees –it’s probably smarter to buy eggs.
When asked if anyone saves money with chickens, Frank exclaimed with vigor “No, no, no, no, no, no. it's the most expensive eggs that you'll ever have.”
“By the time you buy feed and brooder lamps and all that and bedding and coop and all that. We're talking, you know, you're at minimum in it for $700," Kim agrees.
The Rochas say many people don’t realize hens have limits. It’s never an egg a day all the time.
“So you buy this darling baby chick. You've got to wait at least five months for this baby chick to start laying. And you got to feed that and you got to feed it. And it's not cheap to feed feeds going up,” Kim said.
“Happy chickens produce eggs. Upset, depressed chickens don’t.” Lucke said. He added it’s important to make sure backyard chickens are safe from predators.
The Rochas have built extensive safeguards into their chicken yard, making sure that threats from ground-based predators like raccoons are minimized, as well as threats from above, like birds of prey.
Many people say if your goal is better eggs and food security hens might help.
“I will say it is a fresher egg. It's a much healthier egg that you're going to get, you know, from something that's been sitting in a warehouse someplace," Frank said.
"You’re reducing what we call food miles and that’s reducing your carbon footprint and you’re being a good steward of the planet.”