With egg prices higher than ever, more Americans are deciding to try their hand as backyard egg farmers.

Sparked by an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza, egg prices in January 2023 were 120% higher than January 2022. This, paired with food price inflation higher than 10% in 2022, is driving consumers to do anything to save a buck.

The backyard bird

This winter Americans were rushing out to the countryside to snatch up their own chickens. Regardless of experience, or legality, to dodge the incredibly expensive egg price.

In interviews with various media, breeders said there was already growing interest in layers bred to live and produce in backyard settings. They attributed this to both rapid inflation and anxiety from 2020 onward about shortages in the coming years.

Add this to the American attraction to independent, off-the-grid living. Chip and Joanna, Harry and Meghan and Carrie Underwood are all raising chickens at home now! Probably not to save money on eggs, but you never know.

An expensive hobby

In an opinion for The Washington Post, Tove Danovich, an author on backyard birds cautioned readers that raising chickens at home is only for the hardcore.

She warned backyard eggs are the “most expensive free food ever.” Even a breeder of backyard birds agreed, its often cheaper to get eggs at the grocery store than keep layers at home.

Securing a backyard bird doesn’t instantly put eggs on your plate every morning. There’s a necessary, specialized infrastructure for them to survive to adulthood, live and lay. Then, the constant need to feed, water and protect them from illness and predation.

Finally, the up to six month long wait time between the chick or pullet stage of life and the productive stage. Backyard hens don’t lay consistently, either. Backyard layers will not lay for the entire winter, she said.

Anecdotes from experienced backyard farmers suggest backyard birds are really for serious hobbyists who are willing to invest serious money, time and emotion into raising their animals. Just like any other good farmer would.

Food safety risks

Moreover, inexperienced farmers are more likely to violate established norms designed to minimize the risk of foodborne illness and disease spread.

In an interview with CNN, Dr. Kathy Benedict, a veterinarian epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned those backyard birds are carrying potentially harmful Salmonella bacteria on their bodies and droppings.

In 2022, she said, 225 people were hospitalized and two died in illnesses tied to backyard poultry. About 1,200 others got sick with a Salmonella illness connected to a backyard flock in the same year.