You’ve got chickens. Now what? While many backyard flock owners are content to simply enjoy all the pleasures that poultry keeping brings, you might consider the idea that your birds might bring in a few bucks. Don’t start counting your chicks before they hatch, however. First, determine what niche is right for you. Whether you live in an agricultural zone or in a bustling suburban environment, there’s always the possibility that at least one chicken owner already does what you’ve been contemplating. Set aside an afternoon to drive around your area and see what other flock owners offer. Once you have an idea of what’s available locally, you can start turning your ideas into reality. Here are five ideas to help get your home-business blood flowing.
1. Egg Entrepeneur
Selling your hens’ hard work is perhaps the simplest way to get started in a homegrown business. All you need are egg cartons and your girls do the rest, right? It’s actually a little more involved than that. First, check with your township or city whether any ordinances prohibit the sale of eggs. If it does—and I know several places where such a regulation is in place—your next step is to determine whether this affects only residents within township/city limits or everyone living under the town’s auspices. If you find yourself under an egg-sale ban, you can still move forward, albeit with some hurdles. You can offer your eggs in exchange for a donation. It’s not technically a sale, but you might end up with a nickel instead of what your eggs are truly worth. You can also appeal to your state’s department of agriculture, asking to file a right to farm. This can be a long and detailed process, but it would let you bypass local legislation and be protected by the state. Be sure to check with your department of agriculture for any regulations regarding the sale of farm-fresh eggs in your state, and stick to those guidelines.
2. Feather Farmer
It might seem odd, but there is a huge market for chicken feathers. Many crafters and costumers use chicken feathers—natural or dyed—in a variety of artistic creations. Hackle feathers in particular are popular for hair ornaments (like this one):
Chicken feathers are also a key component in fishing flies (like the one shown above the hair ornament). It’s not necessary to sacrifice the bird in order to get your inventory: Molting season is ideal for collecting dropped plumage. Gently brush the dust and dirt out of them, discarding irreparably soiled feathers and those with broken quills. Dye the feathers if you wish, then bundle them into baggies, making certain that you group feathers of the same size and color together. Your best bet for feather sales is online at such sites as eBay or Amazon; a quick perusal of other listings will give you an idea of what your pricing should be.
3. Manure Merchant
Chicken poop is far more abundant than eggs and ideal to sell to home gardeners and small-crop farmers as fertilizer. An adult bird produces an average of a half-pound of manure for every pound of feed consumed, meaning you should have a ready and renewable supply at hand. You can sell this by the bucketful or you can repurpose your empty chicken-feed sacks to hold your stock. Chicken manure consists chiefly of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Most of the nitrogen and potassium content are immediately available after the manure is produced but can be lost to leaching if the fertilizer is not incorporated immediately into the soil after it’s spread. Organic residue such as bedding, feather fragments and spilled feed then decompose and assist with the release of the phosphorus. Be sure to instruct your customers that, for optimal results, they should mix the manure into their garden soil right away instead of leaving it applied but uncovered, as the benefits of their fertilizer purchase will dissipate.
4. Hatching Egg Vendor
If roosters live amongst your hens, there’s an extremely high probability that your fresh eggs are fertilized eggs. If you raise specific breeds of chickens—and keep the breeds and varieties separate—then you can sell these fertilized eggs to customers wishing to hatch their own chicks. Be sure you’ve verified your eggs’ fertility (by incubating several test eggs), then visit your breed’s national club website to determine the selling price of a dozen hatching eggs. Set your price, then advertise on craigslist, your social media accounts and community boards in your area. Be sure to store hatching eggs correctly to maintain their viability and sell them no later than 10 days from the time of lay. Also make certain to inform your customers that you are not responsible for the eggs once they are sold, as too many factors—fluctuating temperature and humidity, improper handling, malfunctioning incubator, irresponsible broody—can affect the hatching percentage.
5. Chick Purveyor
If you have an incubator or a reliable broody, consider taking your hatching eggs a step further and hatch your own chicks to sell. Check local ordinances to see whether you are allowed to hatch chicks and learn whether you are restricted to a certain amount of infant poultry at any given time. Be aware of when people in your area tend to buy baby chicks; this way, you won’t be stuck with two dozen peeps in August because everyone purchased theirs in May. Visit your breed club’s page to get an idea about pricing, ensure you have enough brooders and heat lamps for your venture, and decide whether you will sex the chicks or sell them as straight runs. Above all, remember that this is a business venture. If you fall in love with every fluffy chick you hatch, you might end up needing another way to earn income—just to support your growing flock.